A Reply to John Brennan's Speech on Terrorism

Tuesday, 01 Jun 2010 11:43 AM

By Tawfik Hamid

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On May 26, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a discussion with John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

His speech, "Protecting the American People from Terrorism and Violent Extremism," laid out the president’s comprehensive approach to protecting the American people from terrorism and defeating the short-term threat from al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

The speech in several ways conveyed a similar message to the speech he delivered to the CSIS on Aug. 6, 2009.

Brennan supported the view that the United States should avoid using expressions such as “terror,” “terrorist,” and “terrorism” in the president’s speech to the Muslim world as, in his view, this (using these words) will threaten the U.S. relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world.

The avoidance of using the former words to avoid hurting Muslim’s feelings actually indirectly implies that most Muslims are terrorists. After all, why should Muslims be offended by a war against terrorism if they are not terrorists themselves? In fact, Muslims are the primary victims of terror attacks, something also mentioned in Brennan's speech.

Brennan also supported the president’s view “declaring that America is not and never will be at war with Islam.” What truly matters in this regard is that if Islam is at war with America or not? It is not very valuable if you are not at war with someone unless he also reciprocated the same peaceful attitude toward you.

Ritualistic Islam that is limited to the practice of the five pillars of Islam in a mosque is probably not at war with America, but theological Islam that teaches Muslims to wage war against non-Muslims and offer them one of the following three options: to convert to Islam, to pay a humiliating tax (Jizia), or to be killed, or promotes the use of violence to establish Shariah laws instead of secular constitutions is certainly at war with America.

It would have been much better if Brennan avoided going into Islamic theology by stating that jihad means “to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal.” While this meaning for Jihad is correct in some circumstances, it ignores the broader and well-established definition of the word in the approved Islamic theological books as a war to spread the religion.

Brennan also did not mention that jihad is predominantly used in the Arab media to describe the spread of Islam via wars. We also have not seen Islamic peaceful groups or organizations named “jihad.” We only see the word predominantly used by the violent groups.

Since, unlike Brennan, Arabic is the native language of the leaders of many — if not most — of these groups, their understanding and usage of the word has more credibility than his definition for the word.

Brennan may also need to explain the verses in the Quran that use the word “jahid” (An Arabic word that means to perform jihad) {At-Tauba [9:73]

9:73 O Prophet! (“jahid”) against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be cruel to them. Their abode is hell — an evil refuge indeed}.

Brennan must inform us if this meaning for jihad is also “to purify oneself or to wage or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal.”

It would be better if Brennan avoided talking about jihad until reading enough about it, otherwise he'll give the audience selected information about the topic is unscientific and can be misleading. I was shocked with these comments about jihad as I assume that the president’s principal adviser on counterterrorism should have studied jihad meticulously as it represents the ideology that is used by the terrorists to justify their acts.

Pretending that jihad is only a peaceful concept jeopardizes our national security efforts simply because it is not predominantly taught in such a peaceful way.

For example, jihad is defined in several mainstream Islamic books including Minhaj Al-Muslim, which is written by one of the leading Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia and published globally. It defines jihad in the following order:

1. Fighting the disbelievers;
2. Using violence against the sinners;
3. Resisting the devil; and
4. Resisting a person’s own desires.

The “wisdom behind jihad” as the book described (Vol 2 Page 167), is that Allah alone is worshiped. Interestingly, the book quoted many violent verses and hadith to support the violent meaning of jihad and on the contrary provided strong theological evidence that the hadith that supports a peaceful meaning of the word as a “weak” hadith or in other words ‘unbinding’ (Vol 2 Page: 167).

The assumption that jihad represents only a peaceful concept can be accepted only after the Muslim world changes the definition of the word in its mainstream Islamic books and clearly rejects the traditional violent interpretations of the word.

Ignoring the violent definitions of the word jihad to sugarcoat the meaning of the word is dangerous, as it limits our ability to know the facts and the true nature of the threat.



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