Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Orientalism and terrorism

In the wake of the Paris attacks, old stereotypes about Islam are resurfacing, writes Ammar Ali Hassan

Al-Ahram Weekly

No sooner had the dark hand of terrorism struck in France than the Western media, along with a large segment of the population there, pointed an accusing finger at Islam. The religion is terrorist by nature, went the general chorus.

Amidst the din, the words of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls — “We are not fighting a religion or a civilisation. We are fighting terrorism.” — were lost.

Once again, the old stereotypical image of Islam and the “Orient” has resurfaced in full vigour. The fallacious image, which became entrenched in the West with the rise of Orientalism, continues to thrive and spread in spite of the IT revolution, waves of migration between the East and West, and advances in programmes and methodologies of research and instruction.

The famous thinker and critic Edward Said described the Orientalist view of the East as a “composition”, a lens through which the West wanted to view the East, a fiction that had nothing to do with the facts and that was coloured by myth and tendentious perceptions. That image remains fixed in the Western intellect.

This applies even to its approach to our literature and arts. It hones in, for the most part, on those literary works that feed fallacies that have remained rooted in the mentality for centuries and stubbornly refuse to leave.

As a result, the West conjures up, in a flash, all that entrenched legacy of fantasy the moment it is injured by extremists who take Islam as a banner for their political creed, or who cynically exploit Islam to justify their acts of murder and destruction. Such mayhem is their primary means to realise the aims of their sick minds.

They have constructed around Islam dense thickets of ideas shaped by erroneous jurisprudential opinions, warped and unscrupulous interpretations of Quranic texts, and inspirations derived from tales of the deeds of ancient Ummayid or Abbasid caliphs, whom they regard as the epitomes of the true faith, the core of the creed and models all should emulate.

The Western image, unfortunately, represents the reverse side of the beliefs of Islamist extremists. Foremost among these was the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyed Qotb. In his books, such as This Religion, The Future of this Faith, The Battle between Islam and Capitalism, he referred to the West in such terms “Crusader”, “aggressive”, “spiteful”, “atheistic”, “licentious”, “materialist”, “exploitative” and other such words that have become ubiquitous in the ideas and writings of Islamist extremists on the West.

The West does not want to understand that the people who have paid and continue to pay the greatest price for the acts of terrorists are the Muslim people themselves. On the very day of the attack against Charlie Hebdo, a terrorist incident in Sanaa claimed nearly twice the number of dead as the attack in Paris. The French policeman Ahmed died in a battle against terrorists on the same day as the Egyptian policeman Mohammed was killed by terrorists in Egypt.

The vast majority of the victims of the terrorist organisation Daesh (Islamic State) are Muslims. Al-Qaeda in Yemen kills Muslim soldiers and civilians. In Egypt, the majority of the police and army officers and soldiers who are killed in the war against terrorism are Muslim, and bombs are planted in public spaces frequented by civilians in a country in which the majority of the population is Muslim.

For decades, since the 1940s when the Muslim Brotherhood’s underground paramilitary wing began terrorist operations, Muslims have fallen victim to the crimes committed by terrorist groups. About 100,000 Muslims died during just one bloody decade, from 1989-99. Muslims are killed every day by the terrorist organisations fighting for power in Libya. Muslims are the prime victims of terrorism in Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere.

When carrying out their indiscriminate campaigns of murder in Muslim countries, terrorists will say that those societies are heretical. This, they claim, justifies bloodshed and plunder. In their approach to the West they fall back on the ancient political view that divides the world into the “house of war” and the “house of Islam.”

Their concept of allegiance to the “true creed” aggravates the divide, especially as these terrorists believe that they and they alone represent Islam. The lie that they live shapes every aspect of their belligerent, bloodthirsty behaviour that flies in the face of all the teachings and spirit of Islam.

Terrorism targets everyone. Therefore, everyone must unite against it. There is a vast difference between Islam with its Quran, which makes it clear that this is a religion with a mission of mercy and compassion for all mankind, and the ideas in the minds of extremists that drive them to acts of terror and organised crime. These acts are rejected by Islam and by the overwhelming majority of the Muslim people.


The writer is a political analyst.

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