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Civilizations in conflict: tension and turmoil between the West and the Muslim world have always existed, but is a catastrophic global conflict inevitable?

"I was afraid," recalled Esther Najjar, an Arab Catholic from Gaza, to a wire-service reporter following an attack by Muslim radicals on several local churches. With mobs attacking five Christian churches--one of which was gutted --throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and angry demonstrations taking place near her neighborhood, Esther kept her two youngest daughters home from school.

The attacks followed a speech delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pontiff cited a Byzantine Emperor's negative assessment of the religious legacy left by Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic faith.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," wrote Emperor Manuel II Paleologus to an unidentified Persian scholar in the late 14th or early 15th century--a time when Constantinople was intermittently under siege by Turkish forces (and also being looked at with covetous intent by some Christian kingdoms, as well).

The apparent intent of Pope Benedict was to extol the virtues of what he called "the best of Greek thought"--with its focus on appealing to logic and reason--as a means of understanding transcendent truths about God, and of persuading others to believe.

Missing the Message

The address, delivered at a university where Benedict once taught, was both subtle and profound, littered with provocative and debatable assertions that the Pope hoped would be examined and debated as part of a respectful dialogue. Predictably enough, the machinery of the contemporary media was too coarsely attuned to pick up the subtleties of the Pope's speech, which was depicted--on the basis of brief portions of the quotes from Manuel II, orphaned from their context--as a broadside against Islam and its founder, Mohammed. The results were quite predictable.

Throughout the Muslim world, demonstrations quickly erupted. Maledictions were hurled at the Pope, who was burned in effigy in Pakistan and Iraq. Pakistan's legislature unanimously passed a measure condemning the Pope's speech. The murder of a nun in Somalia was suspected of being an act of retaliation against the Church by Islamic radicals in that country. The Pope himself was subject to several death threats, one of which was issued by Iraq's Mujahadin Shura Council, which declared: "We will destroy the cross ... then all that will be accepted will be conversion" or death.

Given what was perceived as a worldwide eruption of Islamist rage over a speech that was intended to be a respectful invitation to dialogue, many in the West have likely come to believe that the much-discussed "clash of civilizations" with the Muslim world is irrepressible.

According to Charles Featherstone, a one-time convert to Islam who is now studying to become a Christian pastor, that perception is wrong--perhaps tragically so.

Ideology, Not Religion

A U.S. Army veteran who is currently in a Masters of Divinity program at Chicago's Lutheran School of Theology, Featherstone has worked abroad in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Fluent in Arabic and exceptionally well versed in the religious and cultural history of the Dar-Al-Islam ("House of Islam"), Featherstone believes that while troubles and tensions between the West and Islam are inevitable, a disastrous global conflict need not be.

"Muslims are touchy and sensitive," Featherstone tells THE NEW AMERICAN. "Too touchy and sensitive. Even when I was a Muslim, I wanted to tell people to shut up and calm down. But a lot of Muslims will let this stuff simply slide--they expect it."

Why, then, are we treated to spectacles like the violent reaction to Pope Benedict's address, and the recent riots over cartoon caricatures of Mohammed? A large part of this is a result of perceptions engineered by the media, insists Featherstone, who studied journalism at San Francisco State.

"All it takes are a few demonstrations attended by photographers and/or TV crews and--bang!--you have 'widespread violence,'" he points out. "It's not hard for leaders or agitators with similar ideas and worldviews to communicate via SMS [cellphone Short Message Service] or e-mail ... to organize small demos in different time zones." Most--nearly all--Muslims worldwide "shook their heads and said 'what else do you expect?' and went about their days" in reaction to the Pope's remarks, Featherstone believes. But there are plenty of professional agitators ready and willing "to whip up a crowd, and there are plenty on the other side of the Christendom/Dar-Al-Islam divide who want a clash of civilizations."

"Christendom and Dar-Al-Islam are locked in a fairly lethal dance right now, and have been off and on for nearly 1,400 years," Featherstone observes. But the militancy of some elements of the Muslim world today is the result of a joint effort between revolutionary Islam and increasingly bellicose Western exponents of a secular crusade for "global democracy."

"The Bush crusade is, frankly, one more insult and injury [as perceived by many Muslims], a reminder of powerlessness," opines Featherstone. Many Muslims, looking at the invasion of Iraq, think of the nominally Christian West, "These people can kill and take and there is nothing we can do to stop them."

This impression creates a fertile ground for revolutionary activists looking to sow the seeds of terrorist violence.

"Revolutionary Islam is an attempt to deal with the problem [of perceived Muslim helplessness], and has been for the more than a century since Hassan Al-Banna founded the Ikhwan al-Mulimeen, or Islamic Brotherhood, in Egypt as a way of turning Islam into a political ideology. And never forget that the Islam of the revolutionaries is first and foremost a political ideology."

Roots of Radicalism

Al-Banna was a 22-year-old Egyptian school-teacher when he founded the Brotherhood--the fountainhead of modern Islamic terrorism--in 1928. Angry over what it described as the Egyptian government's lack of zeal in fighting against Zionist settlers in Palestine, the Brotherhood preached a revivalist version of Islam and promoted indoctrination of young Muslim males in the discipline of jihad, or "holy war." But the group's superficial piety was a facade carefully designed by the professional revolutionary who inspired Al-Banna's efforts: Persian-born Jamal Eddine Al-Afghani.

Afghani is described by Middle East analyst Robert Dreyfuss in his book Devil's Game as "founder of Pan-Islam [and] the great-great grandfather of Osama bin Laden." Outwardly the most pious and ascetic of Muslims, Al-Afghani was actually "a heterodox thinker who was a Freemason, a mystic, a political operative, and above all ... someone who believed in the 'social utility of religion.'"

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, author of Islam in Modern History, concluded that "there is very little in twentieth-century Islam not foreshadowed in Afghani"--particularly the development of self-replicating subversive and terrorist networks built on the cell model: small, compartmentalized groups under strict hierarchical discipline.

During the 1860s, Afghani was an agent of Russian interests in Afghanistan (which is why the Persian-born radical adopted his surname). From roughly 1870 to his death in 1897, Afghani worked on behalf of the British government. Afghani's most important disciple was an Egyptian Sufist (or Islamic mystic) named Mohammed Abduh. According to scholar Elie Kedourie, the link between Afghani and Abduh was "very much that of the master and disciple in some secret, esoteric cult." Although raised as a Muslim believer, at some point Adbuh discarded his ancestral faith in favor of Afghani's religion of revolution. Through Abduh, Afghani was able to exploit the Sufist tariqa, or brotherhoods, for his revolutionary purposes.

Between 1871 and 1879, Afghani and Abduh used Cairo's ancient Al-Azhar mosque as a recruiting center for their subversive network, gathering acolytes from Egypt and the surrounding nations (including a group of pseudo-Christian mystics from Syria). Afghani also founded a lodge of his Arab Masonic society in Cairo, which soon became the headquarters of what Egyptian officials called a group of "young Thugs" (a term which, at the time, alluded specifically to another oath-bound fraternity of murderers, India's notorious Thugee cult).

Afghani was expelled from Egypt. But Abduh remained behind, becoming the nation's Mufti, or supreme interpreter of Islamic law, in 1899. This was a monumental coup for the revolutionary network Abduh represented, since it placed one of their own--a cynical non-believer adept at exploiting sincere Muslims for subversive ends--in a position within the Islamic world broadly analogous to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Anglican Christianity. In 1928, the seeds sown by Afghani and nurtured by Abduh came to fruition with the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood was organized into cells--called "families"--of five to seven members. Within these small groups, adherents "underwent indoctrination and systematic, sometimes extended military training in the various branches of guerrilla warfare to qualify as 'active brothers,'" wrote Richard Mitchell in his 1969 study The Society of the Muslim Brothers. "When the training was completed, they were instructed to pretend that they had given up their membership in the Brotherhood and to join some other organization active in religious affairs or sports."

"The Brotherhood was more than a movement," comments Dreyfuss. "It was a cult, it was a revivalist party, it was an intelligence operation, it was a paramilitary unit, and it was an international organization that was rapidly building branches in many Middle Eastern countries." During World War II, the Brotherhood was infiltrated by agents of British, Nazi, and Soviet intelligence. Intermittently outlawed in Egypt, the country of its origin, the Brotherhood continued to extend its influence.

In September 1953, a little less than a half-century before the 9/11 attacks--the most notorious crime attributed to the Brotherhood's most infamous spin-off, al-Qaeda--the White House of Dwight Eisenhower played host to 27-year-old Said Ramadan. The youthful Egyptian was the Brotherhood's chief international organizer, in addition to being the son-in-law of the group's founder, Hassan al-Banna. Ramadan's trip to Washington to attend a conference on Islamic Culture was paid for by a CIA grant.

During the 1980s, when Washington disbursed aid to Afghan Mujahedeen following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, much of it was lavished on groups that grew out of that nation's branch of the Brotherhood. After the Soviets left in 1989, Washington continued to provide aid to the Taliban, even as the junta gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden.

Incredibly, the U.S. taxpayer--through the CIA and Agency for International Development--also helped underwrite an "educational program" created by the University of Nebraska that "consisted of blatant Islamist propaganda, including creation of children's textbooks in which young Afghanis were taught to count by enumerating dead Russian soldiers and adding up Kalashnikov rifles, all of it imbued with Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric," recounts Dreyfuss. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, occupation authorities had the task of collecting and replacing the CIA-funded Taliban textbooks which, as the Washington Post noted, "were filled with talk of Jihad."

To an indefinable but significant extent, the revolutionary Islamist ideology behind the "clash of civilizations" was nurtured by the government that now poses as our protector.

The Way Out

There is no sense in minimizing Islam's bloody history, or ignoring the explicit passages in the Koran mandating violent jihad against non-Muslims. But there is cause for hope once it is understood that our present conflicts are being engineered by revolutionaries who want to undermine any possibility of the West coexisting with Islam.

"Muslims in general, and Saudis in particular, are no less capable of kindness, decency and politeness than anyone else," wrote Featherstone in an essay published last Christmas. "Two years ago (and I suspect this happens nearly every year), the ulema (religious scholars) of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province issued a fatwa (ruling) warning Muslims that they were not allowed to wish Christians a Merry Christmas ... and that Muslim merchants could not sell anything intended for use in a Christmas celebration or as a gift."

"I'm certain some of you are reading this and going, 'what an awful thing, and how typical of those evil Muslims,'" continued Featherstone. "But consider--the fatwa would not have been issued if Muslims had not been wishing Merry Christmas, or selling merchandise, or giving gifts."

"Muslims--Saudis, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Arabs from various and sundry countries--were kind to their Christian neighbors--Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Arabs--when they didn't have to be," concludes Featherstone. "When the law said they shouldn't be."

Which brings us back to the experience of Esther Najjar, the Catholic mother whose family was menaced by Islamist mobs in Gaza following the Pope's speech.

"First they attacked the church, and then there was that protest against the Pope," she recalled. "Some of the protesters tried to come down the street, and we were terrified they'd attack the house. But our Muslim neighbors stopped the protesters."

In that small gesture of heroic decency--neighbors coming to the aid of neighbors targeted by agents of a murderous global revolution--we see an example of what must happen if we are to avoid the "clash of civilizations" that is being orchestrated by cynical, power-hungry people.
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Title Annotation:RELIGION
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 16, 2006
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