Israel Resource Review 4th November, 2002


A Religion of Peace?
Kenneth R. Timmerman
Senior Writer, Insight Magazine.

CAIRO--Many people in the West believe that Islam is a "religion of peace," one that condemns the murder of innocents and respects the intrinsic value of human life. Top Islamic clerics and scholars I interviewed recently in Cairo set me straight on this.

Now, having spent much of the past 20 years covering the Middle East conflict, I have heard my share of pronouncements that would be prosecuted as hate speech in the West. It did still come as a bit of a shock to find out that senior government-appointed clerics, especially here in this second-largest receiver of U.S. foreign aid, Egypt, would not just tolerate hate speech, but have become its most dedicated practitioners.

The Egyptian state appoints the Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the land and a man who has the power to issue fatwas and interpretations of shari'a law. Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb was named by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the post earlier this year after his predecessor issued a ruling in favor of Palestinian suicide bombers. But if Mr. Mubarak was embarrassed by that Mufti's public embrace of murder, he may have to reconsider his new choice.

Mr. Al-Tayyeb received me in his office near Al Azhar University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the Arab world. Throughout a 90-minute interview, conducted mostly in Arabic through a government-provided translator, he repeated in excruciating detail his reasoning for encouraging Palestinians to murder innocent civilians through suicide attacks. He also displayed a remarkable flexibility when it came to defining terrorism.

To him, American Christian leader Jerry Falwell is a "terrorist" because he has said things that offended Muslims. Palestinians, on the other hand, are justified in massacring Israeli civilians in cold blood "because they are defending their land and have no other weapons at their disposal." Pointedly he added: "If you do not do this, you have no loyalty to your country."

As I interviewed him I remembered that President Mubarak is ostensibly a U.S. "partner" in the war on terrorism. And yet he appointed this cleric who believes that Palestinian suicide bombers who enter restaurants, pool halls, discotheques, and shopping malls to murder innocents--children and adults, Israelis and foreign tourists and whoever else happens to be around--are doing God's work. Furthermore, the cleric openly condemns any Palestinian who refuses to take such a step as a traitor.

For its "partnership" in the war, Egypt receives an average $2 billion each year from Uncle Sam. U.S. officials in the region insist that Mr. Mubarak has provided "invaluable assistance" in helping to interrogate al-Qaeda terrorists currently held in Egyptian jails. If that is true, it only makes it all the more strange that not only the Mufti but also government-owned Egyptian newspapers are spreading a very different message.

The Mufti is not alone. I also went to speak with a group of Islamic scholars at Al Azhar University, and asked them the same question. Mohammed Abu Laila is a professor of comparative religion and head of the English-language department at Al Azhar. He earned his PhD at Britain's Exeter University, and did his thesis on Christianity.

Perhaps for that reason he sometimes picked his words better. "We don't hate Jews because they are Jews," he said. "We hate what they do against Palestinians. If a Muslim did this, we would hate them, too." Mr. Abu Laila also condemned the September 11 attacks.

But then he also believes America has launched a "war on Islam" and that President George W. Bush has "never presented evidence" of Bin Laden's involvement. This is a widely held view throughout the Muslim world. "I need him [Bin Laden] to appear in court and say, 'I did it,'" Mr. Abu Laila said. As for the Palestinian suicide bombers, he takes the view that their methods are legitimate. "If your country or property is under attack," Mr. Abu Laila says, "then it is just to defend it through any means. This is not terrorism. Holy Jihad is defensive. You misunderstand this in the West." Like Hamas leaders do when they defend these terrorists acts, Mr. Abu Laila never uses the term "suicide" but refers only to "martyrs" who are engaged in a just war. "The martyr is donating himself for his cause, to defend his family and his land," he said.

Perhaps reading my mind, Mr. Abu Laila assured me that "Life is sacred in Islam. But we are facing the Israeli state, which is militarily based. Israeli citizens are like warriors. They have their weapons with them at all times. So who are civilians, the Palestinians or the Israelis?" My interviews with these scholars made it clear that Westerners concerned by the violence in the Middle East need to understand that the two parties to this conflict do not use the same logic, nor do they believe in the same moral code. Those of us who have been brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition have been taught that respect for life is one of God's most basic commandments.

But according to these Islamic scholars--and they are not alone--the search for "justice" legitimizes the wanton targeting of innocent civilians. Targeting is the key word here. Civilians die in all wars, something known as "collateral deaths." But according to these scholars, Islam accepts purposely seeking out innocent civilians in order to sow terror in their society.

A few days before coming to Egypt, I had dinner with an Israeli settler I've known for several years. He has spent years getting to know his Arab neighbors and counts them among his closest friends. The evening I met him, he was preparing to distribute clothes to local Bedouin families, the kind of thing he does on a regular basis. Dov Weinstock (known as "Dubak" to his friends) has a simple phrase to describe this difference in logic. "To understand the way the Arabs think, you've got to change the diskette," he says.

Indeed, obeying a different moral operating system, the Arab leaders who continue to promote and finance Palestinian suicide bombers will not stop until they have achieved total victory, or total defeat. Mr. Abu Laila put it well: "If the Israelis do not give in to Arab demands, the conflict in this area will continue until the end of time. We all believe in Armageddon."

This apperared on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal on November 4, 2002

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Israeli Peace Now MK Launches Attack Against Official Palestinian Authority Media
David Bedein

This week, Meretz Knesset member and Peace Now leader Ron Cohen unleashed an unprecedented attack against the Palestinian Authority's PBC (Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio and TV Station, describing PBC broadcasts and telecasts as "subversive and racist".

MK Cohen dispatched a letter to the director of the PBC, Radwan Abu Ayash, to cease the PBC broadcasts and telecasts which are picked up throughout Israel and which incite Arab youth, even within Israel, to conduct suicide attacks and to engage in war against the very existence of the state of Israel.

MK Cohen went a step further than any Member of Knesset had ever done before and asked the Israel Minister of Communications, Mr Reuven Rivlin to reconsider the airwave license that the Israeli government had granted to the Palestinian Authority back in 1994 which allowed the PBC free access to the airwave transmissions over Israel.

Reached at his office in the Knesset, MK Cohen says that he was responding to a recent study of Dr. Guy Bichor, a Middle East Arabic studies scholar who has just completed a study of the children's programs on the PBC, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, in which Bichor notes the consistent trend of the PBC since its inception in 1994 to indoctrinate a generation of children to commit suicide attacks and to make war on the Jews and on the Zionist entity. As a matter of policy, the PBC does not mention the entity known as the state of Israel.

Asked why MK Cohen was making this statement now, after eight years of PBC incitement, Cohen said that the time had come to admit that neglecting the issue of official Palestinian Arab incitement was the greatest mistake made by the architect of the Oslo process, the late Prime Minister Mr. Yitzhak Rabin. Speaking on November 4th, 2002, on the day that marked seven years to the date of Rabin's assassination, . "Rabin thought that we should deal with this kind of thing after we would solve everything else, and we now know that Rabin was wrong", said Cohen in a choked voice, as he recalled Rabin's memory." Rabin made a mistake, and that there is no reason to repeat that mistake", Cohen concluded.

Radwan Abu Ayash, the director of the PBC, was unavailable for comment, and refused to appear on the popular media talk show with MK Ron Cohen that is hosted each week on the Voice of Israel's IBA (Israel Broadcasting Authority) radio show by veteran Israeli journalist Mati Golan.

Instead, Ayash delegated the PBC Voice of Palestine's program editor Muhammad Assayad to read a prepared statement, in which he accused MK Cohen of being a "stooge for the Israeli Right Wing and the Settler Radio Station Arutz Sheva". Cohen laughed and responded that he had just come from a PEACE NOW rally and that he was leading the fight the next day in the Knesset to cut funding for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Assayad repeated his prepared statement in which he accused MK Cohen of being "a stooge for the Israeli Right Wing and the Settler Radio Station Arutz Sheva", and remarked that Cohen should be appearing on the Arutz Sheva radio program of Adir Zik, who is "so popular with the settlers", in Assayad's words.

IBA talk show host Mati Golan intervened and said to Assayad that MK Cohen was not attacking a "Palestinian Arutz Sheva" or any Palestinian pirate radio show. Golan noted that this was an attack on the official Voice of the Palestinian Authority. Golan asked how the PA would respond if official IBA radio and TV were to run programs that would promote the murder of Palestinian Arab children. Assyad hung up the phone.

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