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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Egypt as the home of political Islam, and Syed Qutb, the influential Muslim thinker as the intellectual inspiration

On holy wars SEVANTI NINAN The Hindu MEDIA MATTERS Magazine Sunday, Sep 02, 2007 Christiane Amanpour’s exploration of religious fundamentalism provides cold comfort for us in India.
How much does an Indian viewer get out of Christiane Amanpour’s six-hour exploration of religious fundamentalism? Particularly in a fortnight which saw yet another grisly act of terror? A few chilling insights and some cold comfort. Because her story is about those turning away from an idea that India struggles to hang on to — secularism.
“God’s Warriors”, as she calls them, despise the notion. The religious right in America is fighting a “toxic, secular society”, some of them educating their children at home because they believe “a hostile secular world can harm them”. Meanwhile Muslims in the United States are more religious than their parents were, twice as likely to attend mosques. And in Egypt, its mainstream more Islamic than it was before, Amanpour is told that a secular State is one without a moral purpose.
The self-chosen
The series, telecast on CNN last fortnight, is about three kinds of God’s warriors — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. All three are fervent and unequivocal in their belief that they are God’s chosen ones. One could quibble about her choice of groups to interview but if you are wondering what the future holds in terms of spreading fundamentalism, there are some dismaying answers here. The Christians want to bring back spiritual values through the ballot box and win their battle against abortion with a little help from the conservatives George Bush has appointed to the Supreme Court.
The Jewish warriors are working to deepen Israeli occupation of the occupied territory because Christ will return only when Jews live all over Israel. The Moslem warriors — scattered across the United States, the Netherlands, Iran, Egypt, Palestine — are taking to radical Islam and celebrating martyrdom “because it leads us to heaven". The fundamentalists in this documentary series are not all political, some simply chose to live out a personal jihad. Others get d rawn into radical Islam and then re-emerge from it, as in the case of a Jewish American from Oregon who is profiled.
Though it is a series primarily about religious fundamentalism and not terrorism, it explores where the latter is coming from, pinpointing Egypt as the home of political Islam, and Syed Qutb, the influential Muslim thinker who was hanged for conspiracy against Abdul Nasser, as the intellectual inspiration of Osama Bin Laden and others. Inside Egypt, she tracks the Muslim Brotherhood whose long term goal is to establish Shariat law in the country. And meets the mother and sisters of a suicide bomber. “Do you think your son is going to Heaven,” she asks one of them. “We all wish to be martyrs,” replies the sister. But the most desirable kind of martyrdom is not suicide, somebody else explains, since the Koran says suicide is haraam.
Endorsement of Islam’s diktats about women comes from various urbane, elegantly veiled women both in the U.S. and in Iran. A female member of the Iranian Majlis who studied in Texas smiles calmly at the suggestion that women are constrained in a society where their worth is only half that of a man, whether in legal testimony or in compensation, when killed. What rights do women have? “Every right a woman needs to lead a good life.” What about being stoned to death for adultery as still happens in Iran? Just three to four cases in 28 years, she smiles, countering that rights of inheritance and divorce granted to Muslim women from the religion’s inception made it more progressive than others.
Rise of religion
The resurgence of religion in modern times is only part of the story told by Amanpour who is striving visibly to be non-judgemental, perhaps out of an instinct for self preservation. She lets herself go a little more when dealing with Americans and Jews. A revealing aspect of the larger story is the growing alliance between evangelical Christians and Jewish settlers in Israel. There are no less than 35 American charities dedicated to raising money for Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territory. As one of the fund raisers, the wife of a Jewish American legislator explains, “If we give any part of that land to Arabs we are looking at terrorism.”
This mini series has received flak in the US for putting Islamic fundamentalism on an equal footing with Christian and Jewish extremism. And for not placing the latter two in statistical context. Jews in the U.S., responding through blogs, are apoplectic at the picture she draws of them, bristling at many of the facts she serves up. But Muslims the world over could equally argue that the fervent Islamists shown in “God’s Warriors” are a miniscule minority. The question is, are they a catalytic minority? The view from India, in the wake of yet another terror attack being ascribed to an Islamic outfit, would be yes.

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