A War Against Whom? 

By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute


It appears that we have entered a war.  I wish to evaluate both President Bush’s actions since Sept. 11 and those of the American Muslim community.  I realize that wartime is a dangerous time to risk offending parties in such a precarious position, but I am more afraid of offending Allah.

The good news is that for the most part Mr. Bush has handled the situation well.  He has understood the fine line he needs to walk between assuring the American people as a whole that effective action will be taken and the American Muslim community that he wants them united with the rest of America, on his side in his decision to treat the Sept. 11 horrors as an act of war rather than as a criminal offense.  And the American Muslims have on the whole reacted well, sharing in the grief of our non-Muslim neighbors (as well as our own: there may have been hundreds of Muslims killed on that day) and offering to help with funds and blood donations.

Yet I am disappointed in both parties.  In Mr. Bush for his absurd assertion in his speech to Congress that the motivation of the terrorists was a hatred of freedom and democracy, and disappointment in American Muslims who, in their understandable reluctance to believe that Muslims would do such an evil act have given credence to every absurd rumor to come out over the Internet or the backyard fence.  Muslims must condemn Usama bin Laden’s calls for the murder of civilians whether or not he was involved in planning or funding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  At the same time, Mr. Bush should stop evading the fact that the motivation for bin Laden’s ire is not freedom and democracy (however he might feel about those issues) but the disastrous American interventionist foreign policies.  America has not been a sleeping giant, but a sleepwalking superpower blundering across the world stage making enemies without understanding why.

Even if bin Laden was not behind the September carnage, a declaration of war against him is logical.  After all, he declared war on the United States in February of 1998.  His signature appears on a fax sent to the London al-Quds al-Arabi of a directive that stated that specified “crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims” and on the basis that struggle “is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries” that therefore “to kill the Americans and their allies–civilians and military–is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim” (Bin Laden, et al. 1998).  If someone knows that bin Laden has repudiated this fax they should produce the evidence now, otherwise it is a top priority for American Muslims to denounce it and him.

The fact that a man trains people to kill and tells them it is okay to use the techniques they learn against the innocent (and then gives a prayer of thanks when he hears that someone has done just that) is sufficient cause to consider him a terrorist.  As Muslims we are obligated to use the same standard of justice with regard to Usama bin Laden as with regard to Ariel Sharon.  This is what the Qur’an means when it says: “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both.  Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest ye swerve and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do” (4:135).

As for Mr. Bush, if he is sincere in his desire to avoid a demonization of Islam, then why in his speech to Congress did he say that the terrorist were motivated by a hared of democracy and freedom?  Bin Laden, whom he accuses, never once criticized democracy or freedom in his directive of Feb. 1998.  He denounced the presence of American troops in the land of the two holy mosques.  He denounced American embargo and bombings that have killed so many Iraqis.  He denounced the American support of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.  The acts that he criticized are distorted perversions of democracy and outright abominations against freedom, no less than the bombing of the World Trade Center was a distortion of jihad and an abomination against the peace and justice commanded in the Qur’an.

Mr. Bush has made it clear that he is not out after only one man, nor even just his network of presumed collaborators, but also those who “harbor him.”  What this means is that when someone commits a criminal act or a violent act against a community and another community gives protection to that man, refusing to extradite him to those he has injured that the injured community has the right to retaliate against the community that protects him.  Revenge is not only an ancient lust, it is a modern one as well.  Napoleon promised to kill ten of the enemy for every one of his killed.  The difference between retaliation in the Napoleonic code and qisas (the law of equality) in Islamic law is that the Qur’an strictly limits retaliation.  One for one and like for like.  In this limitation says the Qur’an “there is (a saving of) life to you O ye men of understanding! that ye may restrain yourselves” (2:179).

Against whom have we gone to war?  Is it Mr. Bush’s intention to restrain himself, to give measure for measure, or perhaps less, until the conspirators are turned over so that the guilty may be punished and the innocent left alone?  Or shall he expand his war to Sudan, Iraq, even Iran as some Zionists have demanded, or even worse?  Does he aim to remind the exiled Saudi who was so happy to see six thousand civilians killed in fifteen minutes that America is the country that once killed tens of thousands of civilians in fifteen seconds (at Hiroshima)? 

Bin Laden calls his incitement against America a “fatwa” and Americans sing “God Bless America” as they stand on the brink of the slaughter of Afghanis.  It would be wise to remember how often both sides of a war have insisted that God was on their side.  Truly godly people know that the important question is: Are we on God’s side?  Whether Mr. Bush chooses a proportioned and narrowly targeted action or a broad retaliation in Afghanistan, and later elsewhere in the Muslim world, will demonstrate whether or not he is on God’s side, as will whether he continues the material support of the slaughter of non-combatants with American weapons by Israelis.

As I reflect on these things, one thought keeps returning to my consciousness.  A glorious act of jihad (struggle in the way of God) took place on September 11.  It was not the provocative murder of innocent civilians by the embittered terrorists.  It was brave fight by the passengers on the plane from Pittsburgh that successfully foiled the conspirators from attacking one more target and who knows how many more innocents.  They could have had no motive other than to please God, for their death was a virtual certainty.  But unlike the suicide bombers, their purpose was to save life, not to destroy it.  Of this Allah, the Exalted and Glorified, has truly said: “We ordained … that … if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (5:32).


Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu-Yasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, and Fazlul Rahman (signatories), "Text of World Islamic Front's Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders"–Al-Quds al-'Arabi, English translation by Emergency Response and Research Institute, Chicago (9/24/2001) http://www.emergency.com/bladen98.htm (last accessed 9/24/2001).