- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

In czarist Russia, there was a religious sect known as the "Old Believers," the Raskolniki, whom the Russian Orthodox Church regarded as dangerous heretics. Henri Troyat, in his biography of Catherine the Great, says the Raskolniki "decided to sacrifice themselves upon a funeral pyre in order to escape from a world ruled by the Evil One." The empress was horrified at their pronouncement. She decreed that the Raskolniki would come under her personal protection.
Writes Troyat: "But they had taken a liking to collective suicide. They continued to give themselves up to the flames, no longer in order to escape justice but in order to enter the Kingdom of God as quickly as possible. A ukase was promulgated authorizing the Raskolniki to live according to their beliefs. They felt no gratitude to the empress. Making it easier for them to exercise their faith would only diminish their mystic zeal, they thought. The paths that led to Heaven must be paths of suffering. Tolerance which softened souls, was a snare of the Devil."
Cults and religions that prefer death to life in the name of salvation are to be found in other cultures. The mass suicide poisoning in November 1978 in Jonesville took 913 lives. Some 900 men, women and children were burned alive in Uganda in March 2000 by cult leaders who called themselves the "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments." In these tragedies, however, the cultists did not take the lives of innocent bystanders as Osama bin Laden's Islamic followers did on September 11.
The New York attacks resemble the ghastly action of the Aun Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) cult, whose hit men in 1995 placed 11 bags of sarin, a nerve gas invented by the Nazis, at a busy subway station in Tokyo. Twelve persons were killed and more than 5,500 injured by one of the most toxic substances known to science. Sarin has been described as a perfect terrorist weapon: odorless, colorless and relatively cheap to manufacture.
The suicide bombers recruited in the Middle East live by a death cult philosophy that legitimizes the destruction of innocent bystanders as a way of achieving paradise. What is particularly noticeable in the Middle East since September 11 is the openness with which leading spokesmen are praising megadeaths and suicide in the name of Allah. Dr. Abdallah Al-Naggar, a religious columnist for the Egyptian government daily, Al-Gumhuriya, wrote on Oct. 7 of the differences between a "Muslim believer's" approach to death and that of his enemies. His article as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, can be read as an endorsement of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings:
"The believers in Allah rightly do not dread their enemies and do not fear [waging a] Jihad, because they see Jihad as a profitable bargain, selling their lives to Allah [to get paradise in return].
"Their enemies protect their [own] lives, as criminals do. [Allah] has already said about them: 'You will find that they are the people who protect their [own] life more than anyone else …'
"The believers do not fear the enemy [during] the struggle and do not protect their lives. Allah has promised them one of two good things: victory or martyrdom. Each of these is a great hope. It would be a mistake to think that force of arms is the key to victory. As Allah has already said: 'Many a small group has, with the help of Allah, overcome large groups,' adding, 'Oh believers, if you stand by Allah, He will stand by you.' "
The "profitable bargain" in the first sentence of the article refers to a Koranic verse often used by Islamist Mujahideen (Jihad warriors): "Allah has bought from the believers, their souls and their properties for they shall inherit paradise. They will fight for the cause of Allah and they will kill and be killed … This is a promise of truth …"
In reading the article it should be noted that it ran in what can be regarded as the official Egyptian government newspaper, which is read and broadcast widely in the Middle East. It should also be noted that in 1997, 58 tourists, mostly German, were shot and killed by Islamist fundamentalists while viewing a temple in Luxor, Egypt.
In the Egyptian newspaper Al wafd, (April 27, 1996), Sheikh Muhammad Sayed al-Tantawi defended suicide bombings: "One who blows himself up among enemies, in order to defend his land, is considered a martyr." On April 4, 1996, according to the Egyptian paper Al Sha'ab, Sheik Tantawi said, "the youth of the Islamic resistance who blow themselves up in order to cause casualties, are considered the greatest of those who die, because they die as martyrs." Asked specifically to state the position of the Shari'ah, Islamic law, on someone who kills himself in an explosion, Sheik Tantawi said: "Those who say such action is haram [forbidden] must first ask themselves: What is the reason behind it? Why do youths feel compelled to sacrifice themselves?"
And Willis Witter reported in this newspaper from Pakistan that in Afghanistan, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar on Oct. 18 opened a radio speech to his troops with these words, "The day for death is fixed, and we are not worried…As Muslims, we believe in life after death, and all sacrifices should be for that ultimate life."
One of the troubling questions about Islam since September 11 is whether professed Muslim moderates are really moderates and truly oppose terrorism, especially acts in which there are innocent victims. Equally troubling is the question as to whether Islam, the state religion in 56 countries, can live in peaceful coexistence with the West. Writes the Economist (Oct. 13): "Many Muslims in many parts of the world flatly say it cannot. The anti-Western and specifically anti-American rage that animates the most militant strands of Muslim fundamentalism brooks no compromise."
As for Muslim moderates, said to be ensconced in Cairo's Al-Azhar University, its president, Ahmed Omar Ha'shem, recently declared: "There will be no stability and no end to terrorism, so long as the Palestinian people are under occupation." I read that as an endorsement of Osama bin Laden.

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