By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Both Bulliet and Esposito say that the governments in Arab and other heavily Muslim countries bear some of the responsibility for the rise of Al Qaeda and other terrorist movements. Such governments, Bulliet says, have often suppressed even moderate Islamic political activity "with almost the same vigor that they attacked the violent movements.
"When you look across a good deal of the Arab and Muslim world, you have relatively new nation-states, most emerging after World War II," Esposito says. "Many of them are coming off 200 years of European colonialism...What you wind up seeing are very fragile states that have had a history of problems with authoritarianism, instability and violence. Until, say, 20 years ago, [government opponents] would cloak themselves in secular terminology. Now in the last 20 years, religion has re-emerged as a more significant force in society" for both mainstream and radical groups.
Bulliet says that, in fact, ignorance about the tenets of Islam has allowed misinterpretations of the religion, such as that offered by the extremists, to gain ground.
"One of the sad things in modern Islamic history is that, with the growth of nationalist governments, the quality of Islamic education at the mass level went down," Bulliet says. Because many secular governments--new, fragile and often undemocratic--saw religious forces as a threat to them, he says, they discouraged the study of Islam. "In the Arab world, general knowledge of Islam became worse" beginning in the late 19th century, he says. Many of the best-known people in Islamic thought now are self-taught, and many have never really studied the religion in depth. "The scholars are few and far between," he says.
The growing ignorance of people about their religion "opened the way for this flood of new ideas, some of which are benign and some of which are pretty ugly. When I see that kind of manipulation, it saddens me," he says.
Indeed, in giving its fractured version of history, the terrorism manual speaks with as much venom about the governments of Arab and Muslim countries as it does about the West.
The document refers to the fall in 1924 of the remnants of the Ottoman empire as the last legitimate rulers of much of the Muslim world. Afterward, it says, the Islamic nation was afflicted with rulers "who turned out to be more infidel and criminal than the colonialists themselves." Such rulers started to "openly erect...societies and organizations like Masonic Lodges, Lions and Rotary clubs, and foreign schools. They aimed at producing a wasted generation that pursued everything that is western."
Such "unbelief," the writer says, is what drove a long list of Middle Eastern leaders--including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi--"to torture, kill, imprison and torment Moslems." The manual also justifies torturing prisoners during interrogation partly on the basis that Arab governments do the same thing to Islamic radicals. "Let no one think that the aforementioned techniques are fabrications of our imagination or that we copied them from spy stories," the manual says in the section on interrogation. "On the contrary, these are factual incidents in the prisons of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and all other Arab countries."
The document repeatedly stresses that true Islamic governments through history are installed only by violence and that government must be by force. Young Muslim men who are now awakening to such "truths" have "realized that an Islamic government would never be established except by the bomb and rifle," the manual says.
Rubbish, say Esposito and Bulliet and other scholars.
"Historically, that's foolish," Bulliet says. "Islam has spread in many parts of the world without guns or bombs. Indonesia never got invaded, or Malaysia...That's 250 million Muslims, a quarter of the Islamic world, whose history does not include establishing Islamic government by bombs and rifles."
"That's really sad," Esposito says. "I'm trying to picture the person writing that...This person is fulfilling the distorted stereotypes of Muslims. It's not true at all."
Statements like that and, indeed, the massive political and philosophical fallout of the September 11 terrorism, both men say, may in the end cause a major shift in the attitudes of the Muslim community in the United States and elsewhere, causing them to be more open than ever before in their condemnation of radical twists placed on their religion by extremists.
"This is going to really highlight the radical interpretation of Islam that is going to require, it seems to me, that many people address it," Esposito says. "Even though many Arab and Muslim leaders are going to be totally offended by this [statements in the manual and other terrorist documents], this is going to require that they be right out there along with everybody else, saying, this isn't what we represent."
Bulliet says he believes it may be a major turning point for American Muslims. "I think we are going to look back historically and say, from this date on, Muslims committed themselves to America," he says. "As we move on, I think this will bring Muslims into the American community in ways they were not before."