- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

The history of mankind is filled with overwhelming stark evidence that religions have at times been hijacked by political leaders in their struggle for power within and among nations.

The inflammatory statements made by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, during the 10th Islamic Summit Conference on Oct. 16, 2003, regarding the canard of an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world, is only another recent chilling illustration of this dark record.

Such indoctrination of theological animosity inevitably will intensify the most brutal acts of terrorism, both conventional (e.g., suicide bombings) and unconventional (e.g., biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear, and cyber).

The half-century-long Arab-Israeli conflict has provided a most convincing lesson that the perverse political use of Islam has sadly contributed heavily to distortions, suspicion, fear, hatred, terrorism and wars. More specifically, in communicating with their co-religionists at home and abroad, both Arab and non-Arab Muslim leaders have habitually focused on traditional anti-Semitic themes by citing Koran verses, relating Islamic historical experiences, evoking religious principles and practices, and misinterpreting customs and ceremonies.

Unfortunately, these efforts have ignored the numerous calls for tolerance found in the Koran and have instead aimed at “exposing” the “evil” nature of Jews and their religion, vilifying Zionism, and sanctifying the destruction of Israel. Any serious research of the conflict reveals Jews have been described as the “most abominable of God’s creatures,” “God’s adversaries,” the “deadliest enemies,” “worst of beasts,” “poison,” “pests,” “dishonest,” “cunning,” “arrogant” and “corrupt.”

Moreover, according to the critique, the Bible, upon which Judaism is based, was “forged” and “counterfeited” by “riffraff” who “falsified God’s message.”

In light of these repugnant qualities and immoral activities, Muslims are, therefore, called upon “in the name of Allah” to raise the flag of “conquest and victory with Allah” in a “sacred Islamic battle” and in a “holy liberation struggle” to “end the war that Mohammed began.” As “protectors of religion,” Muslims will “crush the foreign evil,” “purify Holy Palestine from Zionist filth,” “cleanse the sanctity of usurped Arab land,” and thereby “regain honor and justice” and “bring back peace to the sacred Islamic homeland.”

The religious duty of “jihad,” which regards any deviation as a “shameful sin against religion” and a “renunciation of Islam,” must, therefore, be considered as the key obstacle to the manifold regional and global efforts to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Tragically, the identification of this religious obligation of “Arab resistance” to the Jewish state has had a profound influence on molding Islamic Israelphobia, particularly among more observant Muslims throughout the world.

To be sure, the legitimization of religious violence is directed not only against Israel and world Jewry. The global terrorist network, al Qaeda, also known as the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, exploits theology to the fullest extent against all adversaries. For instance, Osama bin Laden issued a statement in May 1998 in which he asserted that it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to attack perceived “enemies of God.”

More recently, on Oct. 18, 2003, in a videotape broadcast, bin Laden promised more suicide attacks inside and outside the United States. He also threatened nations supporting the “unjust war” in Iraq, particularly Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and Spain. Even cooperating Muslim countries, such as Kuwait, will be targeted by “God’s soldiers.”

A glimpse of such terrorist escalation was just provided by a series of attacks in Baghdad, ushering in the holy month of Ramadan. These coordinated suicide bombings, including the attack on the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, killing some 34 people and wounding 224 others were allegedly perpetrated with the support of “foreign fighters” affiliated with al Qaeda.

In sum, what is of particular concern to anyone truly interested in international peace is not only the education in religious hatred advanced by nonstate movements. The greater danger to civilization is the fear that if the recent Malaysian episode, which was not condemned by the representatives of the 57 countries attending the Islamic Summit Conference, becomes an acceptable norm of morality, then individuals, groups, and nations would increasingly be drawn into distinct and clashing religious societies inhaling messages of uncompromising self-righteousness and conditioned for a mood of sacred violence without end.

Thus, the seeming emerging contemporary trend is that instead of minimizing theological confrontations and maximizing ecumenical interfaith relations in the post-September 11, 2001, era, political leaders are still servants to ethnic, racial and religious intolerance, terror and ultimately war.

It would be prudent, therefore, to consider developing a new “war of ideas” and expanding the rule of law capabilities. This strategy could entail the following elements:

• First, appeal to political leaders to de-escalate, if not completely eliminate, negative religious components in their rhetoric.

• Second, declare the sanctity of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other major religions in a joint statement by the clergy of these faiths.

• Third, seek condemnations by both public and private bodies of all forms of theologically oriented communication advocating hatred and violence from any source.

• Fourth, promote theological research by religious and educational institutions on the role of religion in advancing the cause of peace in regional conflicts that defy easy solutions.

• And fifth, draft a new international convention to criminalize religious incitement for violence.

It would be rather presumptuous to suggest such approaches will reduce the threat of terrorism to humanity. The preservation of peace, however, requires taking some immediate action in this troubling area of global security concerns.

Yonah Alexander is senior fellow and director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va. Jason Korsower is research coordinator at the Center.

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