Understanding the Middle East Crisis: Rekindling Fundamentalist Islam

The Koran-RS

Part 3 of a Series

An Armenian survivor described the slaughter of refugees at a church in ancient Edessa. After breaking down the door, Turkish troops mockingly called for Christ to prove himself a greater prophet than Allah. Then according to the survivor,

“They began killing everyone on the floor of the church by hand or with pistols. From the altar they gunned down women and children in the gallery. Finally the Turks gathered bedding and straw, on which they poured some thirty cans of kerosene and set the church ablaze.”

In 1915, another outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Turkey took the lives of 1.5 million Christians! A German missionary later reported that 549 villages were laid waste and the surviving inhabitants forcibly converted to Islam. A total of 21 protestant pastors and 170 Gregorian (Armenian) priests were subjected to unspeakable tortures before being murdered for refusing to denounce their faith and accept Islam.

After the defeat of the Turkish dominated Ottoman Empire by Allied Forces in the First World War, most of the Middle East initially fell under the control of Britain and France. There began a half century of increasing Western secular influence in the Middle East. The commercial and military leadership class became especially secularized. The development of the region’s petroleum resources and the billions of dollars of oil money pouring into Iran, Iraq, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia initially tended to accelerate secularization. Nevertheless, there was a third genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians in Turkey in 1922 and 1923 that claimed one million lives. Several hundred thousand Christians were eventually able to make it to safety in Britain and the United States, and only about 100,000 remained in Turkey.

In 1923, Turkey broke away from Allied dominance and became became a Republic. Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” (an honorary title meaning “Father Turk”) became its first president. He abolished the Ottoman Caliphate and its authority over Islam and established a policy of Westward-looking secularism. Ataturk died in office in 1938.

However, following the Second World War, many factors began to accumulate that tended to discredit secularism and Western influences in the Middle East. The vast majority of the people did not profit much from the enormous wealth of oil. Many Muslims also began to look at Western secular values and question the desirability of their influence. Increased literacy in the region worked to encourage greater Muslim interest in the Koran and the teachings of Muhammad. Badly needed democratic reforms often worked to increase the visibility and influence of fundamentalist Muslim clergy and scholars. .

In 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood, advocating a return to early Muslim teachings and Islamist government, was founded by Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna. The Brotherhood despised the West and the secularized and westernized leadership of the Egyptian government and frequently made their points by violence. A scholarly writer and minor official in the Egyptian Education Ministry, Sayyid Qutb, joined them following two years of study in the United States from 1948 to 1950. During that time, his observations on what he considered to be decadent American culture turned him into a vociferous anti-American critic. By the time of the military overthrow of the Egyptian government in 1952 and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in 1954, Qutb had already published fourteen works on poetry, literature, and political economics. He emerged as a spokesman and the chief intellectual inspiration for the Muslim Brotherhood after writing the first installment of In the Shade of the Koran, in 1954.

Qutb and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders made common cause with Nasser’s nationalist movement at first but became frustrated with Nasser’s secular philosophy and refusal to establish an Islamist government. Following an assassination attempt by Muslim Brotherhood activists on Nasser in 1954, Qutb was imprisoned until 1964. It was there, based on his interpretation of the Koran, that Qutb developed a modern application of Jihad including a terrorist strategy to implement Pan-Islamic government according to Islamic Law (Sharia). Continued assassination attempts on Egyptian officials following Qutb’s release from prison and the 1964 publication of his most influential book, Milestones, advocating and outlining an aggressive strategy for implementing terrorist Jihad against secular governments, resulted in his re-arrest the same year. He was executed by the Nasser government in 1966.

The Muslim Brotherhood has become one of the most influential advocates of Islamic government and Jihad in the Sunni Muslim world, and the writings of Sayyid Qutb have become a major source of Jihadist and terrorist inspiration. Among Qutb’s many disciples was the Saudi Arabian mega-terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

Many factors have contributed to the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and its militant ideology of Jihad besides the Muslim Brotherhood and the inspiration of Sayyid Qutb. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 became a major cause of Muslim resentment against the West. This was exacerbated by Israel’s humiliating defeat of three Arab armies in 1967. The Muslim Brotherhood is also compatible with the fundamentalist beliefs of the oil-rich Saudi Arabian Wahhabi sect of Islam. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 provided a major triumph of Islamic government over its secularized, pro-Western predecessor. The 1979 to 1989 conflict between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan attracted thousands of highly motivated Muslim volunteers to the cause of Jihad against the West. These veterans form a well trained and indoctrinated manpower resource for terrorism and Jihadist causes. Muslim emigration (a form of Jihad) has created an immense fifth column of potential Jihadists in Western countries. All these factors were “milestones” leading toward 9-11 and the alarming rise of Islamist terrorism around the world.

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