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Reader comment on item: Jihad: The Fight Over Meaning

Submitted by Garry Prior (Australia), Jun 6, 2002 at 11:50

I have read Dan Pipes consistently for about 8 months and have found myself broadly in agreement with him, most of the time. I found some of his earlier articles illuminating, lucid, cogent and compelling. He helped me form my own response to 9/11 and he is heavily factored into my continuing response to all recent events. I live in Malaysia, a moderate Muslim country, and I am familiar with Islam from a South East Asian perspective, and I have tried to fathom the response of Muslim friends and acquaintances to events.

I do not agree with Dan Pipes comments on this forum. I think his literal interpretation of Jihad (however accurate or otherwise) is an artificial construct and can only polarise relations with those Muslims who can say truthfully and sincerely that they support their religion but not everything done its name.

As an Englishman, I would not say that England has always been right. I dislike "jingoism" in all its forms, but that does not mean I am disloyal to my country, when I dsagree with a course of conduct adopted by it. However, if I am pushed into a corner where I have to choose one side or the other, then in all probability I will choose to support my country, because I see that as my duty.

I think that many Muslims are faced with the same dichotomy. Many (probably most) do not support Militant Islam and do not want to live under a Taliban type regime. They do not support the atrocities committed in the name of Allah by various groups who seem to equate blood-thirstiness with holiness, and who kill fellow Muslims in greater abundance than they do infidels. But if they are forced to choose between their religion or their private beliefs, most will choose Islam, whatever the crimes it covers under its broad mantle, because they see that as their duty.

The West must not allow either itself or those who profess the Islamic faith to be forced to make such a stark yet artificial choice.

Open discussion reinforces understanding; banning discussion reinforces rejection and suspicion and a sense of being outcast. The West (US in particular) have recast so many words ("War" on terror or drugs, "Crusade" against crime and so on) that they lose their historical meaning. This is more than semantics. If a Muslim can believe truly that a personal struggle is "jihad", and that by observing it he or she is in compliance with his or her faith, without having to go the full way to "armed struggle", then I believe that is all to the good, both for Islam and the rest of the world.

If I can see someone conduct his life in accordance with a set of beliefs which involve a degree of sacrifice or unselfishness on his part but which are generally beneficial to his neighbours, then as practising Christian, I applaud and am gratified by the example, whether that person be a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist or anything else. We might disagree on the theology, but God is honoured, however misguided we or others may consider the particular religion or philosophy to be. I do not think anybody's interest is served by criticizing the method adopted or the underlying motivation.

Why should not Harvard hear a speech on a personal view of Jihad? The listeners do not have to agree but they will learn something by listening, if only to understand the perspective of the speaker. As to "My American Kamf", perhaps it would have been enlightening for Harvard to have heard such a provocative speech, if only to remind themselves why Americans were dying in Europe. Truth is the first casualty of war, but freedom of speech is a close second. Propaganda has its purposes but it is always dangerous to believe one's own propaganda, and Dan Pipe's recent stridency is in danger of becoming propaganda and this latest is indirect censorship by trying to force the Harvard Governing Body to choose between the opprobrium of manipulated public perception and the probity of permitting unpopular but valid intellectual disagreement.

I supported Dan Pipes when various student or Islamic bodies sought to ban his appearance on campus. But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and Harvard should relish the meal.







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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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