Islamic Fundamentalism and Israel

By Bernard J. Shapiro

Part I: Early Relations Between Jews and Islam

Muhammad was born in Mecca around 570 C.E. and began having visions telling him that he was the Messenger of God when he was twenty five years old. Jewish traders and merchants lived throughout the Arabian peninsula and he had the opportunity to discuss with them in great detail their religion. Muhammad saw himself as the prophet of a new monotheistic religion, Islam. He felt that as the most recent prophet, his revelations took precedence over those of Moses and Jesus. In fact, he was quite critical of Christians for claiming that Jesus was the son of God, considering that a violation of the principle of monotheism.

Muhammad had a difficult time converting the Arabs of his home town, Mecca, to his new religion. He was abused there and actually became and outlaw and was literally force to flee. In the year 622 Medina had a thriving Jewish population, and it was here Muhammad sought refuge. He knew that the Jews believed in monotheism (in fact he learned it from them) and he felt that they would be fertile ground for his new religion. He found out, much to his displeasure, what the Christians of Europe already knew: the Jews were a stubborn lot and simply would not change their religion.

Muhammad felt betrayed by the Jews who rejected his new faith and preceded to fill the Qur'an with anti-Jewish passages. ( The early Christians did much the same thing turning some of their gospels into anti-Jewish diatribes.) This in a nutshell, is the origins of the Islamic antipathy to the Jewish people. The Qur'an often uses the word dhilla (humiliation or abasement) to indicate the status God has assigned to those who reject Muhammad, and in which they should be kept until they accept him. In the Qur'an (II,61) we read thus in a chapter on the Children of Israel, "They were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness: they brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because they disobeyed and were transgressors."

During over 1300 years under Islamic rule, Jews were tolerated along with Christians as people who had revealed religions and prophets of God. Since they did not accept Muhammad as the final authoritative true prophet of God they were assigned to the inferior status of Dhimmis. In Moslem society there were three classes of the population that were inferior and had no rights: slaves, women, and non-believers. The Jews as Dhimmis were much better off that slaves or women, but they were inferior to every Moslem male in the country. For example, in Iran in the nineteenth century the law read "A Jew must never overtake a Muslim on a public street. He is forbidden to talk loudly to a Muslim. A Jewish creditor of a Muslim must claim his debt in a quavering and respectful manner. If a Muslim insults a Jew, the latter must drop his head and remain silent."

Christians were preferred to Jews in Moslem society because they had not opposed the Prophet actively as the Jews were claimed to have done. Christians , though ugly, were seen as less ugly than Jews, whose ugliness is accentuated by inbreeding. Al-Jahiz, a fourteenth century Arab commentator noted:

"The reason that the Christians are less hideous-though they certainly are ugly-is that the Israelite marries only another Israelite, and all of their deformity is brought back among them and confined with them ../...they therefore have not been distinguished either for their intelligence, their physique, or their cleverness. As the reader certainly knows, the same is the case with horses, camels, asses when they are inbred."
The laws in Islamic countries used to debase an humiliate Jews were many and varied. In brief: Jews had to live in separate parts of town since they were considered unclean; they had no right to trade in stuff goods; if they entered a Moslem street they were to be stoned; they were not allowed to go out in the rain since the rain would wash dirt off of them that could sully the feet of Moslems; if a Jew is recognized on the street he must be insulted and beaten unmercifully, if a Jew enters a shop he is forbidden to inspect the goods and must pay whatever price the merchant asks; ad nauseam.

The reason for my historical outline of Jewish-Islamic relations is to set the stage for an analysis of what has become today a vicious conflict. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East brings the Arab-Israeli conflict to a new primal stage. It is important for Jews to understand reality when it comes to issues of Israel's security. Issues of war and peace must be discussed in a framework of knowledge and understanding. Too many people in the Western world fail to understand the meaning of Arab and Islamic history. Even worse they fail to understand the Islamic mind set and its deeply held beliefs. Israel is headed toward a cataclysmic confrontation with the Islamic world.

Part II: The Conflict Today

In part one we learned how hatred and discrimination against Jews originated in the Islamic world. In part two we will see the conflict between Israel and the Islamic world in its modern day incarnation. When we speak of Islamic fundamentalism, we are talking about a state where political rule and religious authority are vested in the same entity. That entity is the supreme religious personality or Ayatollah as in Iran. Mohammed established the tradition of unified political and religious rule. After his death a series of Caliphs (e.g., Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman and Ali) ruled the Arabs as both religious and secular leader. The Qur'an was the source of all legislation and Islam was supreme in all aspects of life.

Today there are only three Islamic fundamentalist nations: Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan. The influence of the fundamentalists is much stronger than these few countries seem to show. Islamic movements are very strong in Algeria, where they recently won a democratic election. A military coup prevented them from coming to power, but their strength was demonstrated recently by their ability to assassinate the president of that country. The fundamentalists are gaining strength in Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. The conservative Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman are very vulnerable to the message of Islamic fundamentalism. The five republics of the former Soviet Union in central Asia have predominately Moslem populations and already have been penetrated by Iranian emissaries hoping to spread their brand of Islamic fundamentalism.

The problem for Israel is very simple, but also devastating in its impact on the possibility of peace with its neighbors. The fundamentalists have added the dimension of religion to the nationalist struggle between the Arabs and Israel. While there was no shortage of hatred for Israel and the fact that the Arabs were Moslems was always a factor before, now we have a xenophobic religious jihad (holy war). Recently, a group of Moslem clerics gathered in Jerusalem and issued a religious opinion or fatwa which bars any negotiated agreement with Israel. It also states that temporary agreements may be reached like taking over Judea and Samaria, if it is in the Arabs' interests, but permanent peace is forbidden and the battle to liberate all of the occupied Moslems lands (i.e. Israel) must continue. Let there be no misunderstanding, the message of Islamic fundamentalism to Israel and the Jewish people is: no compromise -- war until total victory over the infidels(Jews).

In pursuit of that aim, Iran hosted an International Conference to Support the Islamic Revolution of Palestine on October 19-22, 1991. The conference was held a few days before the Madrid Peace Conference and was mostly ignored by the press which focused on Madrid. It was attended by over 400 delegates from 60 Moslem countries including Egypt which is supposed to be at peace with Israel. A veritable who's who of the terrorist world, including Ahmed Jibril (Pan Am 103) attended. The conference hall had a 100 foot banner across the front proclaiming: "ISRAEL MUST BE DESTROYED."

Even today, Islamic forces are engaged in warfare against Israel. The battles across the Lebanese border are primarily with the Hizballah and Islamic Jihad, both supported and run by Iran. Inside Israel, especially in the Gaza Strip, the fundamentalists are organized under the name Hamas and are responsible for most of the stabbings and other attacks on Israeli civilians. Members of Hamas are responsible for many brutal murders of their rivals in the Palestinian community and so called "collaborators" with Israel.

The Algerian model is quite instructive of how the fundamentalists operate. They are perfectly willing to compete in democratic elections, but once in power all aspects of democracy would disappear. In much the same way as Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 following elections, the Islamic militants would exploit the desire for democracy in many Arab countries. Once in power they would make the Qur'an the principle source of legislation with all the dire consequences for women and minorities. The fate of non-Moslem minorities would be similar to that meted out to black Christians and Animists of Southern Sudan: expulsion, forced starvation, and mass murder.

Israel faces an apocalyptic threat from the Islamic fundamentalist nations as they rush to acquire nuclear weapons. In Iran alone, some 25 Russian nuclear scientists have joined hundreds of Iranians, Pakistanis, Algerians, and Libyans in a "Manhattan" type project to develop nuclear weapons. There are un-confirmed reports that Iran already possesses four Soviet nuclear warheads illicitly bought from the Moslem Republic of Kazakhstan. It is widely known that Pakistan is well on the way to a nuclear bomb. Syria, Libya, Algeria, and Iraq could have nuclear weapons by the year 2000. It is important to remember that 75% of Israel's population and industrial base is concentrated along the narrow coastal strip from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Two to four nuclear bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima (equivalent to 10,000 tons of TNT) targeted on this area would practically annihilate the Jewish state.

Israel's answer to this threat was spelled out a few weeks ago by OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Herzl Budinger when he said, "Israel must create the greatest disruption, whether military or political, in order to prevent the introduction of nuclear weaponry in the region." (Translation: preemptive military action if political action fails.)

The Islamic threat is serious and no one should minimize its true nature. During WWII the chief Islamic leader among the Palestinians was Haj Amin al-Husseni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He traveled to Berlin to lend his support to Hitler. After viewing the death camps he petitioned Hitler and I quote, "You should accord to Palestine and to the other Arab countries the right to solve the problem of Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries in accordance with ../..../...the same method that the question is now being settled in the Axis countries." At that time the extermination of Jews was in full swing, so there can be little doubt about what the Mufti meant by solving the Jewish problem. Because of the victory of the Labor Party in Israel's recent elections, there seems to be an unrealistic, almost euphoric, feeling that peace is just around the corner. In the Book of Esther we find the story of Purim. You may remember that Queen Esther succeeded in foiling Haman's evil plan to kill the Jews of Persia. It is significant that Haman was hanged and the Jews were saved and not that King Ahashuerus negotiated peace between Haman and the Jews. The simple lesson is that there is no way to make peace with someone as evil as Haman who wants to destroy you. This might sound pessimistic, but a study of Jewish history would lead one to believe that only the pessimists were realistic. Consider this: The German Jews who were pessimists fled Germany in the 30's; the optimists went to Auschwitz in the 40's![This article appeared in the Jewish Herald-Voice on June 25, 1992]

Shapiro's Rule #1: We must know the truth about our enemies and never drop our guard.

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