“[The] Western distinction between just and unjust wars linked to specific grounds for war is unknown in Islam. Any war against unbelievers, whatever its immediate ground, is morally justified. Only in this sense can one distinguish just and unjust wars in Islamic tradition. When Muslims wage war for the dissemination of Islam, it is a just war. … When non-Muslims attack Muslims, it is an unjust war. The usual western interpretation of jihad as a ‘just war’ in the Western sense is, therefore, a misreading of this Islamic concept.” – Bassam Tibi, Muslim international relations scholar
An understanding the Islamic doctrines explained in this quote is essential to understanding what is happening right now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. It is something that I’ve attempted to explain to others several times in the past, though less succinctly.
I very commonly hear Soldiers here and American civilians back home marvel at Iraqis’ lack of gratefulness for the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Especially for Soldiers, it’s often difficult to reconcile the destruction of what Iraqis readily admit was a brutal tyranny with the apparent hatred, or at least indifference, expressed by what seems to be a majority of Iraqis in regards to their American (and Coalition Forces) liberators.
For a great many Americans there is also a confusing disconnect between the images which the news media showed them during Coalition Forces’ initial arrival into Iraq and the violent insurgency that started a few months later. How, they wonder, is it possible that the same people who joyously tore down statues of Saddam and greeted Americans with smiles and hugs began only three months later to commit terrorist acts against them? To the Western mind this doesn’t make sense. Are those we saw celebrating the downfall of Saddam the same who are now attacking their liberators? If so, why did they change? If not, where are those revelers now?
For the Islamic mind, though, there is no contradiction here. The people of Iraq hated Saddam Hussein and were genuinely happy to see him fall from power. And they don’t want him back. They are also genuinely opposed to having unbelieving Americans in any position of power over them, including having the status of being their “liberators.”
Mr. Tibi’s statements here explain exactly why Americans have received such a reception. In spite of the fact that he destroyed the ancient way of life of an entire people by draining the marshes of Maysan, in spite of the fact that he used chemical weapons to mass-murder citizens of his own country, in spite of the fact that he used torture and brutality to keep his nation in line for 20 years, in spite of everything evil thing that Saddam Hussein did, he was still a Muslim. Osama bin Laden once famously referred to Saddam Hussein as “a bad Muslim.” The most overlooked but most important feature of his statement is that, although he was a “bad” one, Saddam was still a “Muslim.”
And for a Muslim, any Muslim, to be defeated, or even warred upon, by unbelievers is unacceptable. Historically, separatist movements develop in nearly every area to which Muslims immigrate for a similar reason. According to Islamic doctrine as laid out in the Qur’an, Hadith, and jurisprudence, non-Muslims are supposed to be constantly reminded of their inferiority to Muslims. In the case of non-Muslims who live under Islamic rule (which, according to Islamic eschatology, all eventually will) they are to observe the laws which constitute dhimmi status. These laws include, among much else, paying a special tax, wearing distinctive clothing which is not to exceed Muslim garb in splendor, bowing the head and averting the eyes while speaking to a Muslim, and making way for Muslims as you pass. For non-Muslims living outside of Muslim rule (temporarily) their inferiority involves continual warfare, as it is illegal under Shari’a (Muslim law) for a Muslim nation to draw up a permanent peace treaty or alliance with a non-Muslim nation. Peace is a temporary state in which both sides are granted a respite from the ongoing warfare.
There is nowhere within Shari’a which allows for the possibility of Muslims living permanently and peacefully under non-Muslim rule. A Muslim takeover is always the assumed inevitability, because Muslims are not to be made to feel inferior to non-Muslims.
A thorough understanding of these concepts makes the complex situation in the Middle East today and throughout history much easier to comprehend. I’m not sure what such an understanding lends to developing a solution to the problems, as I’m unsure what the solution is or even if a real, lasting solution is possible. What I do know is that any solution is entirely impossible without complete honesty concerning these important Islamic doctrines, as they have defined the way in which Muslims have interacted with non-Muslims throughout Islamic history and into today.