Violence and terrorism in the Middle East

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Recently, there has been a lot of debate on whether Islam is similar or different from other religions regarding the potential to incite violence/terrorism. Some researchers claim that Islam as a religion may not incite violence and/or terrorism any
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   Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics  26 (May 2016) 101 Ethics. Bloomington and Indianapous: Indiana University Press, 9-13. Talukder, M.M. H.   "On Patient-Physician Relationships: A Bangladesh Perspective", Asian Bioethics Review , Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 65- 84, June, 2011. Travaline,J.M. ,Ruchinskas, R. and DÕAlonzo, G.E. (2005). Patient-Physician Communication: Why and How. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association   Volume 105. Number 1, 13-18. van den Hoven, M. (2006). A Claim for Reasonable Morality. Commonsense Morality in the Debate on the Limits of Morality. Quaestiones Infinitae  . Volume LII. Utrecht: Utrecht University. Veatch, R. M. (1981). A Theory of Medical Ethics  . New York: Basic Books. Violence and terrorism in the Middle East - Nader Ghotbi, Ph.D. Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), Beppu, Japan Email: nader@apu.ac.jp Abstract Recently, there has been a lot of debate on whether Islam is similar or different from other religions regarding the potential to incite violence/terrorism. Some researchers claim that Islam as a religion may not incite violence and/or terrorism any more than other mainstream religions, and refer to the fact that the majority of Muslims are peaceful. Others suggest that the majority of recent terrorist attacks are committed by certain groups of Islamic fundamentalists known as Salafi Jihadists   and violent aggression including terrorist attacks is more common in parts of the world where Salafi   Muslims live, such as in the Middle East. A third group explains that many areas in the Middle East have been impacted by sociopolitical conflict, war and failed states thus making them vulnerable for terrorism; therefore the association with Islamic fundamentalism is only secondary to geopolitical issues. This article examines some of the common beliefs among Islamic fundamentalists in order to demonstrate if and how aggression may be incited and aggressive violence including terrorism be justified in this worldview. It is demonstrated how a strict emphasis on pure monotheism ( tawheed  ), sovereignty of God ( hakimiyyat  ), a belief in GodÕs omniscience ( ilm  ) and predestination ( qadar  ), emphasis on right ÔintentionsÕ ( niyyah  ) rather than right actions, and unequal treatment of humans based on religious beliefs are Ôrisk factorsÕ that may incline some salafi (fundamentalist)   Muslims   towards  jihadism  . The article concludes by suggesting awareness programs to help reform the philosophical worldview of Salafi   communities by focusing on the value of life and Islamic humanism. Keywords:  Islamic fundamentalism, monotheism, Muslims, omniscience, predestination, salafi jihadism  , terrorism.  Introduction The increasing number of terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists who claim to have followed on their Islamic teaching has caused a controversy both in the public and among academicians on whether Islam is a peaceful religion or it incites violence per se. Some academics argue that many other religions have teachings that could be misused for rationalizing violence, and that the recent increase in the number of terror attacks is related to geopolitical changes including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1980s and the invasion of Iraq by the US forces in 2003. Others hold that not all terrorist attacks may be attributed to such geopolitical issues and many attacks have been committed even in conflict free places by radical Muslims who were barely affected by the mentioned calamities. Some researchers (Henslin, 2009) have asserted that none of the religious terrorists, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Hindu, etc. represent the mainstream of their religion. There are usually well known elements that appear to incite some religious people towards terrorism; first, they believe that they are under attack by a rival religious group (for example by Christian troops in Iraq, communist Russians in Afghanistan, etc.). Second, they are convinced that God wants their rivals destroyed. Third, they have concluded that violence is the only solution to the problem. Fourth, they believe that God has chosen them for this task, and fifth, the community they belong to nurtures such points of view. Under these circumstances their morality changes into a form that justifies killing for the right cause. Karen Armstrong (2001, 2007 and 2014) is a well-known author on the history of religions in general, and on the history of Christianity and Islam in particular. She has also authored a book about the relationship between religions and violence throughout history. She explains (Armstrong, 2014) that violence is usually covered by a religious cloak, while the real reasons for violence have often been in the political context. In other words, political conflict has often framed religion as the source of violence. In the case of Islam, she describes how the early Muslims preferred peace and would only turn to fighting in defense. However, after a large Islamic empire formed and needed a tool to establish political order, violence became a more common issue in Islam; the same thing had happened with Christian empires before. Even so, Muslim leaders usually had the Ò people of the book  Ó including Jews and Christians under protection. Reading ArmstrongÕs book, one may conclude that religion throughout history has influenced the form of political governance because people have commonly believed that religion would bring significance to any social movement. However, the source of violence has almost always been the state which colored its politics with religion. Armstrong recommends against blaming religion for violence and reminds us that nationalism has far more often been used to incite violence. Therefore, one may conclude that the association     Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics  26 (May 2016) 102 between violence and any religion including Islam is not a causal relationship but is just a correlation. Frazer (2011), Jones (2014) and Turner (2010, 2014) explain in detail the role of Salafism and the Salafi movement in the formation and organization of terrorism based on a religious ideology. It is worth noting that even among the Salafi, most are purists or quietists, while a small percentage estimated at 10% may become politically active, with a much smaller number of the latter choosing to support or join Salafi  jihadism  . However, the existence of this chain points to the possibility that there may be Ôrisk factorsÕ in the salafi   worldview that increases the chances of committing acts of terror and violence under the name of religion. Therefore, this paper attempts to explore if there are ÔphilosophicalÕ beliefs influencing the worldview of Islamic fundamentalists, and reflected in common beliefs shared by most Muslims, which explain why a radical salafi   Muslim may be more prone to the use of violence in a conflict. Methodology This research is partly based on a review of the literature about Islamic fundamentalism and salafi   principles and a few academic papers and books published on this subject, and partly on qualitative research using focus group discussions with a small group of radical Muslims believing in or familiar with salafi   views, from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The findings of literature review were put forward for ÔdiscussionÕ by the members of the group, while notes were taken from the discussion for more detailed analysis. Members of the group discussion were all serious, strict Muslim men who were made assure of anonymity and in exchange were asked to honestly reflect on their solemn opinions regarding Islamic fundamentalism and violence. None of the group members were salafi  jihadists   nor did they support the violence committed by the associated groups, though they provided their view of what the ideology behind the violent actions of these groups was. The group members did not support violence committed by the group called Taliban   though some were sympathetic to the reasons (such as governmental corruption) why such actions were committed. However, they were quite familiar with the worldview of members of Taliban   and their teachings. An ethical explanation on the use of the information was provided and oral consent was taken for the use of the shared information only for research purposes. The discussion started by asking a series of questions that are listed in Table 1. Notes were taken and screened for concepts that were both related to the topic of this research and also were held in common with other members of the study group. The ensuing debate was analyzed. Table 1:  The main questions used in the focus group discussion to invoke a critical debate A-   Why is there suffering in the world? What is the IslamÕs answer to the question of human suffering? B-   What is the scope of GodÕs knowledge? How does it affect human freedom and fate? C-   What duties does a man have towards God and to other people? How are these duties different? D-   Among acts, intentions, and consequences of acts, which one is the basis of morality? E-   Is there any difference in the value of humans, and if so, what is it based on? F-   How do you explain the violence that exists among Muslims living in the Middle East? G-   How can one help reduce violence among Muslims living in the Middle East? Findings I shall first summarize the findings of literature review about the topics that were put into qualitative research discussion through the questions outlined in Table 1. The ensuing group discussion and debate helped with a better ÔtuningÕ of the information while participants confirmed some parts and added explanation to others along salafi   (fundamentalist) Islamic views. Thus, following the findings of the literature review, these points will be discussed. Monotheism (tawheed): The first question that any belief system based on one almighty God should answer is related to the presence of evil in the world (Abel, 2004). Basically, if there is an almighty and powerful God as the source of all creation, how can evil exist? An almighty God would not create evil, nor could it be forced by other forces to allow evil to exist. However, evil exists in this world and is not limited to human misdeed. There are many natural causes of disease such as pathogenic bacteria and parasites, harmful chemical and physical agents of disease, as well as natural disasters including earthquakes and fires, etc. which cause a lot of suffering for all living things including humans. In fact, one of the questions that the first group of Muslims asked Prophet Muhammad was why there was so much suffering for Muslims. If one believes in the existence of another major power to support evil, such as the devil or Satan in Christianity, evil can be ascribed to the devil and goodness can be ascribed to God. However, the prophet of Islam firmly believed in only one God; the devil is not such a powerful entity in Islam and may only tempt humans to do wrong and lacks the power to influence the world by itself. Therefore, the Prophet explained that suffering was coming from God just as his mercy, for a number of reasons: First, humans do not have the wisdom of God to know that suffering was really evil. For example, nature includes many forces that humans do not know well, and though they may consider them to be evil, it is because of their incomplete understanding. Only God has full knowledge of everything and therefore GodÕs perspective of what is evil and what is not would matter, not the incomplete perspective of humans. Second, suffering of the Muslims in this world could be a test of their true faith, and may reduce from their suffering in the afterlife and also lead to rewards that   Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics  26 (May 2016) 103 are promised for the faithful. Therefore, Muslims have been encouraged to change their view of what is usually considered as evil; death, suffering, and destruction come from God, with his knowledge and will, just as life, pleasure and growth also come by GodÕs will. Therefore humans should generally learn to ÔacceptÕ pain, suffering and death as the will of God, and ÔsurrenderÕ themselves to the will of God. In other words, in Islam no one suffers without GodÕs will. Omniscience (ilm) and predestination (qadar): In Islamic theology, God is the all-powerful and all-knowing creator. Quran describes God as being fully aware of everything that happens in the universe, including private thoughts and feelings, and asserts that one cannot hide anything from God: Quran 3- 29. Say (O Muhammad): ÒWhether you hide what is in your breasts or reveal it, Allah knows it, and He knows what is in the heavens and what is in the earth. And Allah is able to do all things.Ó Quran 10: 61  Ò And you are not engaged in any matter or recite any of the Quran and you do not do any deed except that we are witness over you when you are involved in it. And not absent from your Lord is any part of an atomÕs weight within the earth or within the heaven or anything smaller than that or greater but that it is in a clear register  .Ó Quran 49:16:   Ò Say, would you acquaint Allah with your religion while Allah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth, and Allah knows of all things  ?Ó Knowing all things includes knowing what all humans will do in the future. Some Muslims believe that there is no way to change what has already been destined to happen, known as predestination ( qadar  ). However, fortunately most Muslims respond by saying that this rule applies only to nature but not to humans who have been given a free will and responsibility to make the right choices and decisions they freely make. Therefore most Muslims agree that humans have been given free will by God and only evil humans would commit evil. But how does a Muslim know if what he is doing is right or wrong? As discussed in the previous case, both life and death come from God and only God knows what is right and what is not. So how can one know what one is doing is right, when the true knowledge of right and wrong is with God? This question brings us to the next two concepts.  Emphasis on right ÔintentionsÕ (niyyah): In general, any deed can be broken down into three components: intention, action and consequence. Islamic fundamentalists, including salafi     jihadists   in Afghanistan and Pakistan appear to believe that the component that matters the most is the ÔintentionÕ to follow the GodÕs will (that may be worded to them by a reputable Islamic clergy as the leader), as well as the ÔconsequenceÕ (victory for Islam and Muslims, defeat for invading infidels who are forced to leave) rather than the ÔactionÕ itself. Therefore a salafi     jihadi   may ÒintendÓ to follow the will of God Òin order toÓ bring victory to Islam, and he thus may have to commit actions of violence that Òunder normal circumstances are not permissibleÓ, such as killing a human. Prophet said: Ò Deeds are [a result] only of the intentions [of the actor], and an individual is [rewarded] only according to that which he intends  .Ó This hadith   clearly suggests that actions are judged according to intentions. Prima facie duties: Ethics in Islam is not purely deontological. In Islam, actions are not simply divided into right and wrong; each person at any moment may have a number of obligations some of which are more important than others. A Muslim decides to conduct a series of actions as ÒdutiesÓ, and to refrain from other actions that are to be avoided, based on a proper ranking of them. Basically, humans are always held responsible for duties they have towards God, such as in worshipping him only. These actions need to be followed with almost no exception. This does not mean that duties to other humans especially fellow Muslims can be forsaken, but emphasizes on the priority; if commitment to one duty is incompatible with the other one, duties to God are the ones with priority. Also, in general there are many ranks of necessity for the various actions by a Muslim, as to how necessary it is to do or ÔnotÕ to do (to refrain from doing) certain deeds. Generally speaking, from a religious/ethical standpoint all actions are classified into five broad ranks as the following: 1-   Wajeb   (Ò fariza  Ó) refers to obligatory actions which must be done, when possible. 2-   Mostahab   refers to actions that had better be done, but mostly are not obligatory. 3-   Mobah   refers to neutral actions with a neutral ethical status meaning that there may be no obligation or duty to do or to refrain from doing those actions. 4-   Makruh   refers to actions that had better be avoided but are not fully prohibited. 5-   Haram   refers to prohibited actions which must be avoided, if possible. This classification is a general guideline for overall decision-making. Interestingly, actions considered Ô mostahab  Õ are right actions which one may still choose not to do and actions considered Ô makruh  Õ are relatively wrong actions which one may still choose to do. The category of Ô mobah  Õ actions is not such an inert one either; commonly it signifies that the judgment to do or not to do an action is left to the person because no moral obligations are attached to the act. An example would be the looseness of the obligation to tell the truth to a non-believer. Moreover, under given circumstances, some actions that belong to one certain category may move to another category. For instance, eating pork in Islam is generally well recognized as forbidden (Ô haram  Õ) but in a case that the life of a Muslim depends on eating pork, for example when no other food is available and he may starve to death, it may be acceptable (Ô mobah  Õ) or even obligatory (Ô wajeb  Õ) to eat pork at an amount needed to sustain life. At any given time, a Muslim may be under more than one obligation and sometimes these obligations     Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics  26 (May 2016) 104 are in conflict. There may also be instances when Ô wajeb  Õ obligations are in conflict with one another. For example, a Muslim must obey parents and must obey the religious directions too; what if they are opposite to one another? The following verses in Quran support this view: Quran 9:3:   Ò Allah and his messenger dissolve obligations  .Ó Quran 66:2:   Ò Allah has already sanctioned for you the dissolution of your vows  .Ó That is why in difficult situations, a Muslim may ask for a Ô decree  Õ to resolve such conflicts. What a Muslim should do depends on the relative importance of various obligations on him. Other than duties towards God which are absolute, most other moral duties are not absolute, as opposed to the Kantian and deontological ethics, in general. The right order of duties as well as any ÔexceptionsÕ can be learned by referring to oneÕs pure intention ( niyyah  ) or asked from the religious leader. It should not be forgotten, however, that Quran also strongly values human life as the following verse shows; though this may be interpreted by fundamentalist Muslims as applying only to fellow Muslims: Quran 5:32  : Ò... We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.... Ó Inequality of humans in their prescribed treatment by Muslims:   The other significant issue is a controversy over belief in universal human dignity versus a higher status for Muslims over non-Muslims. Quran regards monotheist religions including ÔtrueÕ Christianity and Judaism highly and refers to their texts with a lot of respect. However, the following verse may be interpreted differently: Quran 3:85:   Ò If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who are losers  .Ó Quran 3- 110: ÒYou [Muslims] are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al- MaÕruf and forbid Al-Munkar, and you believe in Allah. And had the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) believed, it would have been better for them; among them are some who have faith, but most of them are Fasiqun (disobedient to Allah - and rebellious against AllahÕs Command).Ó Obligations that a Muslim has towards other Muslims, such as not to lie to them, may not hold as strongly to non-Muslims, particularly non-monotheists. It is therefore not easy to make a general statement on the standpoint of Islam on universal human dignity and human rights. To explain this better, it is helpful to note that a personÕs ÔrightsÕ may be translated into ÒdutiesÓ or ÒobligationsÓ of others to treat that person in a certain way. Accordingly, human rights may be looked upon in the perspective of ÒdutiesÓ of an individual Muslim (or the Islamic state) towards other individuals, and not the ÔrightsÕ of the people, as in current mainstream schools of ethics. Thus, Muslims may not be obliged by the same duties towards non-Muslims, as they are towards fellow Muslims. An action that is forbidden ( haram  ) towards a Muslim may only be Ònot recommendedÓ ( makruh  ) or may sometimes be acceptable ( mobah  ) towards a non-Muslim, and an action that is obligatory ( wajeb  ) towards a Muslim may be just ÒrecommendedÓ ( mustahab  ) or sometimes ÒoptionalÓ ( mobah  ) towards a non-Muslim. Fundamentalist Islamic ideologies Based on the belief that Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers were implementing true Islam, and any later innovations ( bidÕa  )   are wrong, salafism   is commonly associated with a strict literal interpretation of Islam. They ascribe this belief to a hadith   from Prophet Muhammad, which says: Ò The people of my own generation are the best, then those who come after them, and then those of the next generationÓ. A salafi   can be from any of the four main schools of Sunni Islam. They usually condemn certain practices of other Muslims, especially the shiÕa  , as polytheism ( shirk  ). Still, most salafis   would only preach ÒpuristÓ Islam and stay away from political activity. Some salafis   have become politically active, and among this latter group, a small number have chosen to follow Islamic Jihadism  . They particularly became apparent in 1990s and are currently fewer than 10 million in number, worldwide. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, salafi   schools ( madrasa  ) were financed by Saudi sponsors who supported the powerful group known as Taliban. Therefore, even though Afghans and Saudis come from different schools of Sunni   Islam ( Hanafi and Hanbali  , respectively), they shared this purist fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. As a movement, salafis   have been growing very fast even into European countries. What distinguishes salafi jihadism   from others is their commitment to  jihad   with enemies of Islam, particularly the USA. Quran 2- 190: ÒAnd fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.Ó 2- 191: ÒAnd kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Mecca), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.Ó 2- 192: ÒBut if they cease, then Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.Ó 2- 193: ÒAnd fight them until there is no more Fitnah and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against oppressorsÓ. Bruce Livesey estimates that Salafi jihadists   constitute less than 0.5 percent of the worldÕs 1.9 billion population of Muslims (i.e., less than 10 million). Even so, this is still a large number of potential supporters of terrorism, under the current geopolitical situation in the Middle East.   Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics  26 (May 2016) 105 Discussion During the literature review, five major risk factors were identified that could be a reason why a strict Muslim would be at higher risk of resorting to violence or accepting it as a possible solution in a conflict situation. These included the issue of suffering and its source, a belief in predestination ( qadar  ), an emphasis on intentions rather than actions for morality, prioritizing obligations to God compared with duties to other people and the use of prima facie   order to loosen some of the latter duties, and a belief in unequal treatment of humans based on religious beliefs. These five major issues were put into debate with our small group of Muslim men with fundamentalist ( salafi  ) views, and discussed to find out if they were pertinent to the issue of violence observed in their experience. Interestingly, some points were not apparent in the beginning but later turned out to be acknowledged and/or accepted by the discussants as a possible risk factor. This implied that the issues were not superficial but lied at the base of an individualÕs worldview. The group agreed that a Muslim may be deceived /brainwashed into actions of violence because of strong feelings of loss, injustice and anger, affliction with poverty, and encouragement by other trusted Muslims who have similar beliefs as described in the part of findings. Therefore, the group believes that these beliefs work as risk factors in specific backgrounds. Unfortunately, for those believing in Islamic fundamentalism ( salafi  ), level of education may not be such a protective factor as they tend to focus on Islamic tradition near the time of its srcin, rather than more contemporary reforms. Almost all discussants in our small group offered both ÔtheoreticalÕ and ÔpracticalÕ advice on how not to be deceived into the ÔwrongÕ conclusions. For example, they said that Ò God would want us to avoid suffering  Ó, and Ò Islam was not about austerity but leading a moderate life  Ó. Also, they believed in the Ò free will of humans  Ó and therefore they would condemn an Ò immature belief in predestination  Ó. They mentioned how their experience of the turmoil in their people showed them the very high value of protecting human life, especially of innocent children and civilians. They also said that Ò people cannot be judgedÓ   by other people for their beliefs as Ò only God knows the truth  Ó of what they believe in, and hasty judgements are commonly false. However, they could understand how some other Muslims could be coerced by emotional others into the cycle of violence especially if they had been exposed to violence; they talked about the cycle of violence, of avenging for the deaths, and of getting used to witnessing violence in their communities. The author of this paper thus together with the discussants came to the conclusion that the above mentioned ideas could be used as ÒexcusesÓ to justify violence among a specific but large number of na•ve people who had suffered or had experienced violence in their own life and thus were ready to make such ÒincorrectÓ interpretations of Islamic concepts. We all agreed that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East even in conflict ridden regions were tired of violence and would like it to stop. The discussants suggested that the misguided teachings to the Taliban and similar groups were to blame for such wrong interpretations of Islam. Having said that, we could also identify what concepts could be misused to justify violence to a Muslim who has fallen into the trap and has given himself as a tool to the wrongful leaders of violent and/or terrorist organizations. The next step was to examine what ideas were especially prone to misuse; here I shall mention them as risk factors. The most significant risk factor for inciting violence appears to be how evil may be attributed to God because of strong emphasis on monotheism ( tawheed  ). ISIS which is currently the most violent Islamic group active in Syria and Iraq takes its ideology from Wahhabism which has been described by its followers as an Islamic Òreform movementÓ to restore Òpure monotheistic worshipÓ ( tawheed  ); they prefer to be called mowahhidun  , which is an emphasis on pure monotheism . Apparently, by omitting a role for the ÔevilÕ and attributing all that happens to God, the approach of a radical believer to world problems is fundamentally changed. Essentially, a radical Muslim may only see himself responsible towards God and not to the people, other than fellow Muslims, anymore. This can be seen in their black and white flag where the phrase ÒMuhammad Messenger of GodÓ is written upside down so that the word God ( allah  ) is placed at the top and Muhammad is placed at the bottom. This particular positioning of the words in that phrase implies that God has a unique position and humans, even the prophet, are only below him. The next significant risk factor is reliance on the right ÔintentionÕ ( niyyah  ) rather than the right ÔactionÕ. This causes a radical Muslim not to think critically of actions he is committing but mainly of the intentions (towards only God and in the hope of approving GodÕs authority over all else). So he may harm or kill a person if his intention is only to follow God and his decrees. Next, the prima facie order of duties causes a number of flaws to appear in the morality because it allows for committing Òmore importantÓ duties and a loosening of Òless importantÓ or less ÒstrategicÓ ones especially in times of war and conflict. The remaining risk factors also play some roles though it is hard to say if any of them outweighs others. A lack of belief in universal human dignity and rights makes this situation worse. Among radical Muslims, the blood of non-Muslims may be considered as Ô mubah  Õ, implying that their lives are at peril and their properties and lives can be taken as a Muslim wishes, without moral sanctions. Among Islamic  jihadists  , this view of inequality of humans may be extended to as far as other Muslims who do not show complete loyalty to the group and to the religious leader. Meanwhile, whatever happens is not critically reviewed for learning a lesson because it happened with the knowledge of God and thus with GodÕs omnipotence it would be inevitable to happen, anyway.
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