|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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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