September 19, 2001
By David F Forte
Islamic radicals hijacked airplanes to attack and undermine the
West. They killed thousands of innocents without a single moral
qualm. But their enmity is not just directed against us. They also
mean to hijack Islam itself and to destroy 13 centuries of Islamic
civilization. We are not in a war between two civilizations. We are
fighting an enemy of two civilizations.
Osama bin Laden has a strikingly simple and violent conception
of the world. It is bipolar. Taking his lead from ancient Islamic
legalists who wrote when the world knew nothing but empires, bin
Laden divides the earth into the dar al-Islam (the realm of Islam)
and the dar al-harb (the realm of war). Between the two there is
But for bin Laden, the dar al-Islam is no longer the realm of
Islam, or as is sometimes translated, the realm of peace. In common
with many Islamic radicals, bin Laden believes that the Islamic
world has fallen into perfidy and apostasy. He makes civil war on
Islam as much as he makes international conflict with the United
He targets moderate Islamic leaders like Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak, former Pakistani President Benizir Bhutto, and
Jordan King (then Prince) Abdullah. He has no respect for the Saudi
government because it permits the stationing of Western troops,
contrary to his view of the ancient Shari'a's prohibition of
non-Muslims living on the holy soil of Arabia.
Bin Laden and other Islamic radicals claim they represent
ancient Islam. It is true that they do represent one tradition in
Islam, but it is a tradition that Islam early on rejected as
opposed to the universal message of its Prophet. In the earliest
centuries of Islam, a great civil war was fought over who should be
the successor to Muhammad. The battle was between the partisans of
the assassinated third Caliph, Uthmann, and those who supported the
fourth Caliph, 'Ali. This was the conflict that ultimately led to
the division between Sunni and Shi'a Islam. But there was a moment
when a truce and an arbitration promised a possible peaceful
resolution to the conflict.
One group was adamantly opposed to any arbitration and any
compromise. Later called the Kharajites, this sect believed that
only God could determine who should be the proper successor, and
God would let his will be known in battle. The Kharajites withdrew
and made war on both factions. They held that any person who
strayed from the perfect practice of Islam was ipso facto an
apostate and could be killed. And they believed that only they had
the true notion of what Islam required. They applied their doctrine
with a ferocity against both the developing Sunni and Shi'a
traditions of Islam, even assassinating 'Ali. Their tactics were
frightfully violent, and it took centuries before they were put
Today, radicals like bin Laden replicate that ancient sect that
threatened to destroy Islamic civilization at its inception. They
copy that sect that stood against what came to be a civilization
known in its time for its learning, science, openness and
toleration. They engage in tactics that are far beyond what is
acceptable in the Islamic moral tradition. They insult the vast
multitudes of Muslims who abhor such actions.
Partly because of the timidity of the West, these radicals have
gained influence. Some regimes protect them. Some apparently even
sponsor them. Many leaders in the West, bereft of and often hostile
to their own Christian roots, have patronizingly assumed that
radical violence was an essential part of the Islamic faith. Our
own weak responses have helped to legitimate those whom Islam
fought so earnestly to rid itself of at its beginning. If we have
respect for ourselves, if we have respect for Islam, we can no
longer tolerate the evil they represent. Two civilizations hang in
David F. Forte is a Professor of Law at the
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, and a former
Education Affairs fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Radical Islam vs. Islam
David F Forte
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