Islamists - Not Who They Say They Are
by Daniel Pipes
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Those Moslems variously known as fundamentalists or Islamists often appear to outsiders to be the most authentic adherents of their faith. They refer constantly to God and conspicuously pray in public. Men sport full beards and women wear veils. They urge Moslem solidarity and demonstrate a suspicion of non-Moslems.
A closer look, however, finds that Islamists are hardly model Moslems.
Preoccupied with gaining power (and succeeding in several countries - such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Sudan), they often show more talent at politics than at living by Islam's precepts. In fact, Islamists, for all their ostentatious piety, tend to be severely deficient as believers.
Financial probity, for example, is a recurring trial for them. On the grand scale, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was the Islamist bank par excellence; when it failed in 1991, spawning perhaps the largest and most complex banking scandal in history, its seemingly devout owners had embezzled billions of dollars from 1.3 million mostly Moslem depositors in over 70 countries.
On a slightly lesser scale, the "Islamic capital-investment companies" that flourished in Egypt in the 1980s also collapsed from corruption, as did similar institutions in Turkey. And a recent University of Texas study finds that "Islamic banks in Iran and Sudan are avenues for corruption and embezzlement."
Nor are Islamists above petty theft. As the two men who carried out the suicide attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 prepared for their operation, they knew they would not be returning to their rented living quarters, so they cheated their Yemeni landlord out of the last month's rent. "I was angry," commented their landlord, adding almost unnecessarily: "There was nothing Islamic in that."
But it is Islam's strict code of sexual modesty that Islamists most often transgress. Islamist terrorists kill in the name of Islam, but frequently are hardly models of Islamic probity. The man who directed the World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, once lived in the Philippines where, his biographer Simon Reeve recounts, he was seen "gallivanting around Manila's bars, strip-joints and karaoke clubs, flirting with women." Rashid Baz, convicted of killing a Hassidic boy on the Brooklyn Bridge, was described by his father as someone who "never went to a mosque in his life. He likes girls and cars and sports."
Drawn to pornography like moths to light, Islamists integrate dirty pictures even into their terrorism. In one case, US law-enforcement officials found that a wide variety of Islamist organizations - Osama bin Laden's, Hamas, Hizbullah, and others - had placed encrypted information such as maps, photographs, and instructions within the X-rated pictures on pornographic Web sites.
In offices, Islamists are known to be sexual harassers. Thus did a female employee at the Saudi mission to the United Nations in New York publicly complain last September about enduring years of sexual harassment from "male fundamentalist members" of the Saudi mission.
When in authority, Islamists exploit women. The Iranian government recently arrested the head of an Islamic revolutionary court on charges of running a prostitution ring involving runaway underage girls.
Perhaps the most appalling instance of Islamist sexual degeneracy takes place in the course of hostage taking, when rape is common. Recently in the Philippines, for example, Islamists violated at least one of the Western women whom they held hostage on Jolo Island.
"It was without doubt the worst thing that happened there," a fellow-hostage commented afterwards, adding that the act of sexual molestation "was particularly surprising" because otherwise the hostages were relatively well treated.
This pattern of misbehavior is important because it reveals the Islamists' true profile: these are ruthless, power-hungry operatives who cannot rightly claim the aura of piety they strenuously assert. They are less observant Moslems than they are political extremists.
This record of stealing and fornicating has another implication: as the analyst Khalid Duran notes, Islamist demands for power are based not on worldly experience, technical accomplishments or policy sophistication, but on their allegedly higher moral standards. The sort of flagrant misconduct documented here completely undercuts such claims to authority.
For true Islamic ethics, one needs to turn to those many traditional Moslems who live according to the precepts of a faith as it organically developed over 14 centuries. Not radical, not inclined to force their vision on others via violence, these are pious Moslems who deserve respect.
For a larger listing, not just confined to Islamists, see the bibliography on "Criminality" in my writings.
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