Saturday, 16 February 2008

Qaradawi: The Man Refused a Visa to Britain

An interesting article by Mona Eltahawy on Qaradawi the Muslim cleric who was refused a visa for the UK (see

Qaradawi damages Palestine’s cause by turning global issue into Islamist weapon

By Mona Eltahawy

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue. It is a dispute over land, it is about an occupation that must end and it is about a people who deserve a state. But it is not a religious dispute. Clerics, rabbis, priests and any one else who claims religious authority for his opinion should stay out of it. As a Muslim, I’m particularly eager to keep our clerics away from Palestine.

For too long the easiest Friday sermon to give began and ended by cursing the “Zionists”, often interchanging Zionist with Jew, stopping along the way to enflame the worshippers with news of the latest humiliations or atrocities committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians.

The conflict has been one of the most jumped upon bandwagons in both the Arab and the Muslim world – but framing it in religious terms serves no one’s interest, least of all the Palestinians. With the Islamist Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian government the temptation is great to lose ourselves in the religious kaleidoscope they would love to wrap around the conflict. But just as Islamists are more about power than religion, so is the conflict less about religion than land.

Which is why it always rankles to hear the Egyptian-born cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi opine about the conflict as he did when asked if he had a message for Arab leaders who held a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia recently to revive an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Qaradawi said Arab countries should not take any step toward normalizing ties with Israel until a Palestinian state is created and the Jewish state withdraws from their territories. “Some people (Arab nations) have normalized with Israel, some of them reject the idea. We will not normalize and we don't accept normalization as long as the occupation is still there,” Qaradawi told a news conference in Algeria on the sidelines of a meeting attended by Muslim and Christian figures.

Moderates and martyrs

Since when do Arab leaders or Muslim leaders need the opinion of a cleric on the permissibility of ties with another country? Answer: when politics so disastrously weds religion as the Arab-Israeli conflict did almost exactly 40 years ago. The humiliation of the 1967 defeat – the Naksa, as it is known in Arabic – not only dealt a deadly blow to pan-Arabism – which up till then had been the patron father of the Palestinian cause – but it also opened the door for Islamists to claim the Israeli-Palestinian issue as their own. And ever since, they have steadily shaped it to their liking.

The Muslim Brotherhood – of which Qaradawi and Hamas are both products – and other fundamentalist groups in the Arab world used the 1967 defeat to remind the region’s mostly secular leaders that their defeat was because of those leaders’ godlessness. And ever since, the more Islamic you could make Palestine, the more legitimate you appeared.

I am not a fan or follower of Qaradawi, who astoundingly is often considered a “moderate” by non-Muslims looking for a cleric to speak for all Muslims. That they would settle on Qaradawi is typical of those who want their authenticity with an extra dose of conservatism on top. Nowadays he is instantly recognizable for his al-Jazeera show on Islamic issues, which he has famously used to brand the pan-Arab satellite channel with the Muslim Brotherhood stamp he has long carried.

True to fundamentalist colours, Qaradawi obsesses over “moral values” – homosexuality, Muslims who convert to other religions, women’s rights – but his position on Palestine will guarantee him a spot on the list of clerics who have brought ruin to the Muslim sense of justice. His support and endorsement of suicide bombings – or “martyrdom operations” as he calls them - led not only to the lionization of death among too many Palestinians, but oiled the slippery moral slope along which suicide bombings began as a “legitimate” weapon against the Zionists and Occupiers and ended as the means by which hundreds of Iraqis are torn to shreds.

So it is no wonder that Hamas has moved to the forefront of Palestinian politics. Encouraged to flourish by Israel in the 1980s as a counterweight to the secular Fatah – in the same way that the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to keep in check Nasserites and leftists – Hamas was all too happy to frame the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in religious terms that pitted Muslims against Jews.

The less democratic and more corrupt Palestinian politics became under the late Yasser Arafat, the more the Islamist way of doing things moved centre stage. And so suicide bombings, which had long been the bloody signature of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were adopted by the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade.

The first Palestinian intifada gained international sympathy because it pitted Palestinians and their rocks and caterpaults against Israel’s considerable armoury. Much of that international sympathy was squandered during the second intifada with its bloody string of suicide bombings that portrayed less a people nobly fighting an occupation than the nihilism that lies at the heart of the Islamist embrace of Palestine.

When Muftis and clerics like Qaradawi gave their blessings to suicide bombings they had to have known they did not come with an “off” button: once they were made legitimate against Israelis, what was to stop them from being used against others?

A culture of death

Over the past few years, we’ve seen suicide bombings migrate out of Israel to kill Muslims and non-Muslims alike on public transport in London, in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Egypt, and yet our imams and scholars could not condemn them outright. Suicide bombings were wrong when they killed civilians in Israel and they were wrong when they killed civilians anywhere else. When they were used to kill Israeli soldiers and were justified with the excuse that their targets were military they were still wrong because such reasoning promoted that culture of death and nihilism that will take years to erase from the Palestinian narrative. Life is desperate indeed under occupation, but the promotion of a culture of death through suicide is ruinous for the Palestinian future. Suicide is one of the gravest sins in Islam and yet the clerics inserted their asterisks making exceptions to that sin.

And what were the attacks on September 11, 2001 but suicide bombings writ large? To read Qaradawi’s condemnation of those attacks, and the pains to which he went to distinguish them from “martyrdom operations” in Israel, is to appreciate the myopic immorality of his values. And nowhere is the bloody apotheosis of Qaradawi’s views more realized than in Iraq, where suicide bombings have slaughtered hundreds of Muslims.

Was anyone paying attention when two young British men of Pakistani descent went to Israel to carry out a suicide attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub on April 30, 2003? Assif Muhammad Hanif, blew himself up at Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv nightspot, killing three other people. Two weeks later, the body of another British citizen, Omar Khan Sharif, who Israeli investigators say fled the bar after a bomb he was carrying failed to detonate, was found in the sea off Tel Aviv. Who persuaded these young men to leave Britain and go to Israel to die for Palestine?

Yes Israel must end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and yes the Palestinians deserve a state. But cynical terrorist masterminds who are all too willing to send young Muslim men to their deaths have long exploited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for their own ends. And irresponsible clerics and religious leaders, radical or otherwise, use the conflict to flesh out the ‘victimized-Muslim’ scenario. Would they deliver equally impassioned sermons encouraging our young people in the West to become more active members of their communities and to not live caught between two worlds: a Muslim one at home and in the mosque, an “infidel” one outside?

Holy lands

Muslims do not own the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it concerns Christians too. Jerusalem is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity. There are plenty of Palestinian Christians also living under occupation and their plight is not made any easier because they are Christian. Israeli soldiers and Israeli tanks do not distinguish between Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

But by allowing Islamists to co-opt the conflict, by allowing it to become an issue that is supposed to inflame Muslim anger around the world, the Palestinian cause loses the sympathy of many people who might otherwise lend support but feel alienated by the increasingly Muslim terms within which the conflict is expressed.

It is long past time to wrestle back Palestine from the Islamist grasp. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue. It is a human issue.

This essay originally appeared in

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