President Clinton was right: the military strikes in Afghanistan and the Sudan were against terrorists, not Islam. But he avoided a larger issue— the growth of militant ideology among leading religious clerics and Islamist organizations, in particular those headquartered in the West. It is the same theology behind suicide bombings against civilians in Israel, machine-gun attacks on tourists in Egypt, and the bombing of the World Trade Center building. Unless it is recognized and challenged, militant Islamic fundamentalism will continue to create future Osama Bin Ladins—no matter how many missiles the U.S. military fires.
There are, to be sure, many variants of Islam—just as there are variants of Judaism and Christianity. And, like radical Jewish fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism represents a minority wing that would impose religious doctrine from an earlier historical era. Yet, unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam has yet to undergo a reformation or enlightenment—and that allows some clerics to claim religious justification for violence.
Which they do. In books sold and distributed throughout the Islamic world, the founding theologians of Islamic fundamentalism—Sayyed Qutb and Abul A'la Maududi—declare that all Muslims have a duty to spread the domain of Islam by any means necessary, including force. In the 1980s, leading Islamic clerics like Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran mandated violence to conquer "the land of the infidel." Tapes of their exhortations to violence sell vigorously even today—although there's no shortage of living clerics to sound the same cry. In recent years, Sheik Hassan al-Turabi of Sudan, Sheik Yusuf al- Qardawi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheik Ahmed Noufal of Jordan, Sheik Ahmed al-Qattan of Kuwait, Mohammed Abu Faris of Jordan, and Sheik Rachid Ghannouchi of the Tunisian an-Nahda have all endorsed the legitimacy of violent jihad against the "enemies of Islam." Sheik Tantawi, the head of Egypt's al-Azhar University, widely considered a "moderate," has openly endorsed the legitimacy of Islamic "martyrdom" operations—specifically, blowing oneself up among one's enemies (which Sheik Tantawi differentiates from suicide operations, because suicide is prohibited in Islam).
Driving Islamic militants is a fear that the Christian West, abetted by the Jews, is bent on destroying and subjugating Islam. Sheik Yusuf al-Qardawi, one of the world's most revered Islamic clerics, has written that "we are being confronted by the unrelenting hostility—and infiltration—of secularism, communism, Zionism, and Christianity" and that Islam is the victim of a "devilish alliance of Zionist, Christian, and atheist powers for a vicious and united campaign against Islam and Muslims." Sheik al-Qardawi, whose website contains a religious sermon condoning the killing of Jews, speaks regularly to groups in the United States. He exhorts Muslim youth to impose Islam by "fighting" or, alternatively, to give money to warriors waging jihad. At the annual meeting of the Muslim Arab Youth Association in 1995 in Ohio, he predicted that "we will conquer America... not through the sword but through dawa."
Dawa describes the entire range of social, religious, and educational programs designed to proselytize and convert nonreligious Muslims and non-Muslims to acceptance of militant Islam. Some Islamic charities have become vehicles to spread dawa—and, as it happens, they raise a lot of money for militant Islamic movements. For example, in connection with a civil forfeiture action, a court ordered the seizure of nearly $1.5 million in assets of Mohammed Salah and the Quranic Literacy Institute in Chicago, based on an FBI affidavit alleging that the money was funding Harnas activities. In some cases, the charities' missions sound benign, but they and their supporters preach the language of hate. In that Ohio speech, for example, al-Qardawi repeated his customary prediction of the annihilation of Jews: "[T]his is what is told in the Hadith of Ibn-Omar and Abu- Hureira: 'You shall continue to fight the Jews, and they will fight you, until the Muslims will kill them. And the Jew will hide behind the stone and tree, and the stone and the tree will say, "Oh Servant of Allah, Oh Muslim, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him." The resurrection will not come before this happens.' This is a text from the good omens in which we believe."
Here, in the United States, one would expect Islamic groups to condemn or disavow the likes of al-Qardawi. But the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which presents itself as a civil rights group and a voice of moderation, has actually applauded al-Qardawi. It insists that holy war is not really a fundamental Islamic concept, that references to Islamic fundamentalism lead to "hate crimes," that reporting on Islamic extremism is inherently racist, and that an "anti-Muslim" bias is the only reason why the media have featured reports on Islamic terrorists. CAIR leaders have defended leaders of Hamas and other Islamic terrorist movements.
Hamza Yusef, listed on CAIR'S letterhead as a member of its board of advisers, has said publicly that "the Jews would have us believe that God had this bias to this little small tribe in the middle of the Sinai desert and all the rest of humanity is just rubbish. I mean that is the basic doctrine of the Jewish religion. And that is why it is a most racist religion." CAIR cosponsored meetings on May 24 in Brooklyn, New York, and Paterson, New Jersey, where militant Islamic clerics urged jihad and made disparaging comments about Jews.
As first reported in The Wall Street Journa4 CAIR reacted to the bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa by issuing a media advisory warning that speculation about the Islamic identity of the culprits would lead to anti-Muslim hysteria. During a subsequent interview on National Public Radio, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad likened jihad to a mission by the U.S. Army to "defend innocent people" or a mother "rais[ing] her children." Awad said he was "sad" about the bombings, but then said he was "pained and sad" about the U.S. retaliation—but did not condemn Bin Ladin.
This is sadly familiar. CAIR and other groups insist that they have condemned terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians, but, as in the most recent episode, they have refused to condemn by name the groups responsible for such attacks. (In the days following the World Trade Center bombing, even Sheik Abdul-Rahman publicly condemned as terrorism the very act it would later turn out he had helped to organize.) When pressed, groups like CAIR resort to rationalization, frequently claiming that the groups are fighting oppression. When CAIR's communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, was asked during an interview for America Online who he thought was "mainly responsible for the recent events" (the embassy bombings and the reprisals), Hooper responded: "Well, I can't speak to the specifics of the bombings and the counter-bombings, but I believe a great deal of what happened is responsible due to misunderstandings on both sides and that much can be solved by dialogue and education."
If the battle against Bin Ladin is to be won, then it will require a systematic effort to isolate and undermine the ideological underpinnings of militant Islamic theology. The Clinton administration should publicly insist that groups like CAIR condemn Bin Ladin, Hamas, and other radical Islamic movements that carry out violence. If these American groups genuinely opposed terrorism, they would condemn all Islamic fatwas and religious exhortations by Bin Ladin and other Islamic clerics calling for violent jihad against America, Jews, Christians, and moderate Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide do not support violence. They deserve leaders who will unequivocally condemn the extremist wing of militant Islamic theology.
STEVEN EMERSON is a writer in Washington, D.C., who is completing a book on radical Islamist networks.