Mention the word ‘jihad’ to most people in the West and they will immediately conjure up a bunch of bloodthirsty

fanatics, intent on murder and mayhem. To an extent, they would be justified in this supposition. This is precisely how jihad is being interpreted by Osama Bin Laden and his followers. Ironically, the literal translation of ‘jihad’ is ‘holy war’; but, in today’s context – it is holy only in the warped minds of its protagonists. The fundamentalists’ interpretation of jihad has led many non-Muslims to believe that Islam is a religion whose principle tenets involve revenge and retribution. This is far from the truth, however. The Koran sets clear boundaries on the use of vio¬lence. Historically, Sunni religious scholars have insisted that local battles be¬tween Muslims and their enemies be fought locally and not as a jihad, in which all able-bodied Muslims would be required to participate. They have argued, as many still do, that a true jihad requires the leadership of a caliph, an office that currently does not exist. Indiscriminate violence - the killing of noncombatants, women, and children – and, especially the killing of fellow Muslims, has been almost universally condemned throughout most of the history of Islam. Wait a minute. Most of the people killed by the insurgents in Iraq, for example, are fellow Muslims. How can that possibly be justified? That, in fact, has been one of the "achievements" of Al Qaeda and the diverse terrorist outfits it has spawned. They have been able to forge an ideology that loosens the shackles on jihad and justifies indiscriminate violence, including the killing of Muslims. Although Osama Bin Laden is the popular poster boy of militant Islam, that honor should really go to Sayyid Qutb - the enormously influential Islamist thinker of the past century. Qutb was the most influential advocatem in modern times, of jihad. He emphasized that, not only was it legitimate to violently resist regimes that claim to be Muslim, but whose implementation of Islamic precepts was judged to be imperfect; it was a sacred obligation. Qutb’s major literary work is Fi Zalal al-Koran (In the Shadow of the Koran), a commentary on the Koran in 30 volumes. From his reading of the Koran, he deduced that the Christians are all destined for hell. He postulated that Christians, Jews and the Western way of life, was destined to end up in the dung heap of history. However, what may come as a revelation to most Westerners is that Qutb's fiercest venom was reserved for those who were Muslims - or rather, those who – according to him - claimed that they were Muslims. In his view, neither Egypt under Nasser's dictatorship, nor Arabia under the Saudi monarchy, had made any serious attempt to implement the Shari'a, or religious law. He regarded the territories of Islam as being governed by corrupt, Westernized dictators and princes. Sounds familiar? It is, in fact, one of Bin Laden’s favorite dictums. Again, contrary to popular Western belief, 9/11 did not evoke a uniform, immediate response from all Muslims. Establishment clerics were virtually unanimous in condemning the attacks on religious grounds. Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, the head of Egypt's Azhar University, declared, "Attacking innocent people is not courageous; it is stupid and will be punished on the day of judgment.” Other preachers insisted that Islam prohibits "all forms of attacks on innocents." This, naturally, did not suit Al Qaeda. To justify their warped ideology, they took refuge in Salafism, which believes that the only true form of Islam is that which existed during the days of the Prophet. This also implies that the Koran needs to be taken literally; and is not open to individual interpretation. It was another matter that Bin Laden cherry picked those portions of the scriptures that

suited his beliefs. For example, according to Ibn Ishaq, the Prophet earliest biographer, Mohammed ordered the decapitation of 700 men of the Jewish Banu Quarazya tribe in Medina, for plotting against him. Therefore, presumably, it was permissible – even a sacred obligation – to kill Jews. Notice how cleverly a specific incident was metamorphosed into a generic commandment. In April 2002, seven months after 9/11, the violent wing of the Salafist movement - a group called Qaidat al-Jihad - issued a carefully reasoned justification for the use of violence in pursuit of Mus¬lim interests. This manifesto, "Regarding the Mandates of the Heroes and the Legality of the Operations in New York and Washington," served two objectives: first, to establish the religious qualifications of their own, anti-establishment clerics; and sec¬ond, to show conclusively that the Quran and the Prophet's own actions provided ample support for the use of violence against civilians. The authors of the manifesto heaped scorn on the scholarly elite, using the same strategy Islamist radicals have employed for decades, of denigrating them as the stooges of the West. "These great events (9/11)," they wrote, "which changed the face of history on such a grand scale occurred in the umma (the congregation) and it will be a great regret to anyone who blames those who brought about the operation in September. Those ignorant ones do not speak with legal evidence or reasonable logic. Rather, they speak their masters' lan¬guages and in the concepts of the enemy of the umma.” The "ignorant ones," of course, are the "sultan's parrots," the clerics on the state's payroll, as the overwhelming majority of establishment clergy are. Their "master" is Saudi Arabia, and the "enemy” of the umma is the United States. These accusations, coupled with growing popular anti-Americanism, are driving clerical opinion to the extreme in much of the Muslim world. A decade ago only fanatical preachers, like the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, might issue a fatwa explicitly calling for the killing of Americans. But today, even some moderates, who are fearful of seeing their influ¬ence wane, are moving towards extremism to preserve their diminishing authority. One famous cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, who is based in Qatar, is widely considered a moderate imam; and has an international standing that has made him a source of guidance to Muslims worldwide on a wide array of issues. Qaradhawi has flatly condemned the September 11 attacks. But in 2004, he issued an opin¬ion endorsing attacks on Americans - including civilian contractors - in Iraq. His shift was not unique. At about the same time, a dozen sheikhs at al Azhar University, the preeminent seminary of the Sunni world, expressed similar views. The erosion of the authority of the established clerics is one indication that Islam might be at the very early stages of some sort of reformation. A new breed of religious authorities is emerging that is not the product of the religious establishment. As a result, indi¬viduals with Western-style educations – and not just those brainwashed in madrassas - have taken it upon themselves to interpret scripture and, in essence, to declare their insights on a par with the great commentators of the past. The challenge to the authority of establishment clerics over such cen¬tral issues as the legitimate use of force - and over the right to deliver binding religious rulings (fatwas) - comes not just from al Qaeda, but from a swelling group of self-proclaimed imams. These clerics are self-taught, inspired by the firebrand imam at their local mosque, or by pamphlets and Web sites that endorse jihad. They are also more likely to pick and choose which traditions or trends in scholarly opinion to follow.

With growing frequency, legal justifications are being offered for at¬tacks against civilians - and, in particular, children - who were histori¬cally treated as "inviolable." In late 2001, an Al Qaeda spokesman issued a statement that specified that the war against the United States would not be over until Muslims have fulfilled their "right to kill four million Americans - two million of them children - and to exile twice as many; and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Further¬more, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons, so as to afflict them with the fatal maladies that have afflicted the Muslims because of the [Americans'] chemical and biological weapons." His views are catching on among other radicals. By arguing that, in democracies, citizens are responsible for the acts of their governments, because they voted for them, the fundamentalists contend that all Americans provide vital support for U.S. military operations. Consequently, among the jihadists, the entire notion of the non-combatant is disappearing. The emphasis on killing children is justified by a law of proportionality. As one Palestinian preacher put it, "If the infidels target Muslim women, children, and elderly, then it is permitted for Muslims to repay them in kind and kill [their women, children and elderly] as they killed. This is because of the word of Allah the Supreme, 'Anyone who at¬tacks you, attack him as he attacked you.” There is a perverted logic in this approach. At a time when the United States and Israel command overwhelming conven¬tional military might, suicide bombing and attacks against "soft targets" are permitted because of the lack of alternatives. As this fundamentalist dogma becomes more widespread, it is lowering the social barriers to participation in the jihad and indis¬criminate violence. It is preparing radical Muslims to set themselves the goal of causing massive violence. The most frightening sign that massive violence is becoming morally acceptable for some individuals is the discussion that surrounds the use of nuclear weapons. In 2003, Sheikh Nasir bin Hamad, a well-regarded young Saudi cleric, produced "A Treatise on the Ruling Regarding the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction Against the Infidels." The work aimed to settle the question of whether Islamic law allowed the use of weapons of mass de¬struction in jihad. Hamad, relying on an argument of proportionality, concluded, "If a bomb was dropped on them [i.e., the Americans] that would annihilate 10 million and burn their lands to the same extent that they burned the Muslim lands—this is permissible, with no need to men¬tion any other proof.” This, then, is the awesomely terrifying face of the new terror. America and its allies are pitted against an enemy that follows no rules; recognizes no boundaries; and is consumed with an implacable hatred of everything the West stands for. This is where the attention of America’s leaders should be focused. The war in Iraq has already achieved its objective of creating a generation of jihadists, whose visceral hatred of the West is often beyond the comprehension of its ‘civilized’ citizense. In this context, setting a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq becomes almost irrelevant. It might save a few hundred American lives, but it is not going to make America any safer. This is an enemy that cannot be defeated, simply because it cannot be precisely located. This is an enemy that does not need millions of dollars of sophisticated equipment; just a few dozen ‘martyrs’ with bombs strapped to their chests. This is an enemy that does not wear uniforms; but moves invisibly and may, even now, be

among us. All the West can do, really, is rely on its vigilance – and on providence.