Will Islamists choose savagery or surrender?

For the past few days, the media have been covering the publication in Britain of a fatwa that “absolutely” prohibits suicide operations, a tract claiming that anyone conducting such an attack will go to hell. The author of the fatwa is an eminent UK-based Pakistani Sunni scholar named Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, and over the course of 600-pages he decides that: “there is no place for any martyrdom [by Muslims] and their act is never, ever to be considered jihad.”

Needless to say, the liberal/Pacifist media has warmly welcomed the fatwa; ditto for the Republican/Democratic press; and, of course, the Neoconservatives are ecstatic because the fatwa allows them to argue that our current war with al-Qaeda and its allies results from theological deviations among Muslims and not from U.S. intervention in the Islamic world. But what does the fatwa really have to do with whether of not the current war will continue?

First, I must say that I am not and never will be an Islamic scholar. Dr. ul-Qadri’s fatwa may well be both impeccable and irrefutable from a theological perspective. But there are two facts that ought to tone down the rejoicing over the fatwa: (1) there are pro-martyrdom fatwa’s out there from scholars as eminent as Dr. ul-Qadri, and, more important, (2) Dr. ul-Tahir offers nothing in terms of actions or a strategy to take the place of martyrdom attacks for those who believe they are fighting for God by resisting U.S. and Western interventionism.

If our Islamist foes were attacking the United States and its allies for the inane reasons offered by both Republicans and Democrats — they hate our lifestyle, freedoms, gender equality, elections, etc. — then Dr. ul-Tahir’s fatwa might have a chance of generating a deemphasis on martyrdom attacks as a tool of warfare. It is, indeed, quite easy to imagine a young Muslim deciding to abstain from committing suicide because my daughters go to university or because of early primaries in Iowa.

But the Republican/Democratic litany that describes the things for which we are hated has virtually nothing to do with what actually motivates young Muslims to volunteer to conduct suicide attacks. The young Jordanian doctor that killed seven CIA officers in a suicide attack in Afghanistan last December, for example, left what the 19th century called “death-bed testimony” that he was galvanized into action by Israel’s invasion of Gaza. And it is in such testimony that Dr. ul-Tahir’s work is undone, for it is the impact of Western intervention that the Islamists are fighting and dieing to resist, and not a threat they see from presidential primaries.

For Islamists, Dr. ul-Tahir’s fatwa is a message of appeasement and surrender. If one cannot use the only weapons at hand to resist that which is considered the enemy of Islam and Muslims, than the only option is surrender to that foe and willingly accept a now half-century-old status quo controlled by that foe. If the fatwa is accepted, the Islamists now on the battlefield must acknowledge that they were wrong from the start, and that it is God’s will that they live forever under the yoke of Arab tyrants and Muslim police states; that Israel — with U.S. approval and funding — can do as it pleases in Palestine and the Levant; that infidel troops can be based on the Arabian Peninsula forever; and that Muslim countries can be invaded whenever the U.S. and West feels it is necessary to do so. Historical perspective and common sense should tell all of us that a decision to abjectly submit by the Islamists is, to say the least, unlikely.

Dr. ul-Tahir’s scholarly, brave, but ineffective document is likely to have a longer life in the U.S. and the West than in the Muslim world. Naive Pacifists, office-seeking Republicans/Democrats, and war-hungry Neoconservatives will use it as one tool to protect the interventionism they adore. Pacifists will use it to argue that the threat from al-Qaeda and its proliferating allies will now ebb and so we can continue westernizing Muslims by non-military intervention. Republicans/Democrats will use it to keep status quo U.S. foreign policies and avoid a debate over interventionism in 2010 or 2012. Neoconservatives — with strong Republican/Democratic support — will use it to push forward their most important foreign-policy priority, Israel’s interests and territorial aggrandizement. And so for average Americans, ironically, Dr. ul-Tahir’s peace-oriented fatwa will mean more war.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.