Islam for Dummies Indeed

In a remarkable example of truth in advertising, Lt. General John R. Vines, the new U.S. ground commander in Iraq, has included on a booklist for his senior staff officers the deathless classic Islam for Dummies — among other books that minimize or explain away any connection between Islam and violence. Unfortunately for the General, word of his reading list hadn’t been out long when Freedom House, a human rights group in Washington, released a report on Saudi hate literature in American mosques that made his list look Pollyannaish.

In a Baltimore Sun interview after Vines’ list was made public, the author of Islam for Dummies, a retired professor named Malcolm Clark, was asked if he agreed “with President Bush that Islam is a peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists?” He replied: “Generally, yes, but ‘hijacked by fanatics’ suggests the fault lies completely with that group. Western and American actions have created a climate … for that hijacking to occur.”

Clark is evidently unaware of the centuries of jihad warfare by Muslims before there even was an America — or perhaps he just got carried away in his zeal to exonerate Islam from any connection to 9/11, Beslan, and all the other recent attacks perpetrated by men who quoted the Qur’an and cited Islam’s doctrine of jihad to justify their actions. “Many Americans,” he lamented, “equate Islam and terrorism. That’s not historically true. Go back 20 years; the majority of terrorist acts against America happened in South America and came from a leftist ideology. Still, there’s a feeling that Muslim groups in the U.S. haven’t been forthcoming enough about condemning Islamic terrorism. In fact, all the major Islamic organizations in the U.S., such as the Islamic Society of North America [ISNA], unequivocally condemned the [9/11] attacks.”

ISNA did indeed condemn the attacks. But I wonder if Clark knows that the Senate Finance Committee in January 2004 included ISNA on a list of groups that “finance terrorism and perpetuate violence.” Does Clark know that ISNA has received Saudi money?

Saudi condemnations of terrorism ring even hollower than they already did after the publication this week of the extensive report from Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom on hate literature produced by the Saudis and distributed in American mosques. One tract featured in the report tells Muslims: “Be dissociated from the infidels, hate them for their religion, leave them, never rely on them for support, do not admire them, and always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law.” A high school textbook makes it absolutely clear where such teaching leads: “To be true Muslims, we must prepare and be ready for jihad in Allah’s way. It is the duty of the citizen and the government. The military education is glued to faith and its meaning, and the duty to follow it.”

Condemn terrorism? Sure. But they don’t condemn jihad — and for the people in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and other victims of the global jihad, this is a distinction without a difference.

So while Saudi-funded mosques in the United States teach jihad and hatred of non-Muslims, General Vines’ staff in Iraq will be learning from Malcolm Clark that Islam is fundamentally peaceful and that American aggression has created Islamic terrorism.

Maybe General Vines and his staff, after they have thoroughly imbibed all of Clark’s lessons, can approach the Saudis and explain to them how they are getting Islam all wrong. Unfortunately, the Saudis are unlikely to listen, given that also in their literature for American mosques is the assertion that “it is basic to Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever, and that they are enemies to Allah, his prophet and believers.”

Wouldn’t General Vines’ staff be more prepared for the kind of opposition they will encounter in Iraq if they studied not treacly Islamic apologetics like Islam for Dummies but works that honestly explored the theological and historical roots of Islamic terrorism? Even if they read the Freedom House report itself, the troops under Vines’ command would gain a fuller and more accurate understanding of the hatred and fanaticism they will encounter in Iraq than they will from anything on his reading list. For only there, and not from Malcolm Clark, will they hear that Muslims are teaching even in America that “until the nations of the world have functionally Islamic governments, every individual who is careless or lazy in working for Islam is sinful.”

Islam for dummies, indeed.


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