Beginning with this issue, the Terrorism Monitor on a regular basis will analyze the Arab media’s portrayal of the ideological sources of terrorism. This will include the most recent broadcasts of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabi, and other Arab television networks and will focus on the issues of militant Islam as well as Baathism, since it is these philosophies which are having the greatest impact on current terrorism. This article will outline the core viewpoints of militant Islam and Baathism as they are reproduced in Arab mass media.
Unlike past threats to the US such as that from Nazi Germany or Soviet Communism, today’s anti-American forces understand very well that they lack the strength to drive US troops out of the region through conventional military force. For that reason, the representatives of anti-American forces choose terror as the tool by which they seek to achieve their goals. These elements represent mostly totalitarian, anti-democratic governments. They believe — with good reason — that the very existence of the American political system, of its freedoms, traditions, and values are attractive to the people of Islamic countries and thus embody a great threat to their regimes and ideologies. That is why they use mass media to deter and distort information about US policies and values.
Militant Islamists’ ideology is racist and anti-Semitic. Its origins date to the movement founded in 1928 called the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, expressed “considerable admiration for the Nazi Brownshirts.”(1) Like the Nazis who wanted to kill all Jews and enslave others who did not belong to the Aryan super nation, Osama bin Laden also calls for killing all Jews, Americans, and other infidels who prevent Islamists from building a pure Islamic state with global dimensions. In a statement made on February 23, 1998, bin Laden claimed that “to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible.(2)
According to the most influential Islamist ideologue, Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, the greatness of the Arabs came from the greatness of the Arab goal, which was to liberate the world from ignorance. The message of Muhammad took the Arabs and “raised them to the position of human leadership.”(3) Moreover, militant Islamists demand the total obedience of all Muslims to their ideological rule. According to Sayyid Qutb, those who do not accept the leadership of militant Islamists are false Muslims. Qutb claims that “hypocrites” who rule the Muslim world are not Muslims at all. Muslims who acknowledge Islam one day a week and ignore it on the other days, are Islam’s bitter foes, no matter how loudly they chant their prayers.(4) Even those who try to unite modern ideas with Islamic dogma in the form of “Islamic democracy” or “Islamic socialism,” are considered enemies of Islam. Osama bin Laden put Qutb’s ideas in the form of a practical order: “We also call on the Muslim ulema, leaders, youth, and soldiers to launch a raid on Satan’s US troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them and to displace those who are behind them so that they may learn a lesson.”(5) This same spirit of harsh criticism for “false Muslims” is apparent in most broadcasts of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabi, and Nile news.
The ideology of militant Islam is also very hostile toward democracy and liberal ideas. Islamists hate liberalism because the latter separates the state from religion and denies a political role for the clergy. Militant Islamists fear that liberal ideas about religion will spread from the West to the Muslim world and will penetrate the Muslim mind. That is why it is so important for militant Islamists to use mass media to block the spread of liberal ideas into Islamic countries and to criticize all aspects of political, economic, cultural, and religious life in the US and other democratic countries. Such criticism comprises a large part of the commentary broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabi, and other Arab television networks.
Another key element of militant Islam is its premise that every Muslim should accept the extremists’ interpretation of the Koran. Its adherents claim that the Koran offers a way to live, and a proper understanding of the Koran can be achieved only by serious struggle, especially through participation in a violent campaign for Islamic ideas. Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabi, and other Arab stations spend a considerable part of their broadcasting time to teaching the Koran and to hosting discussions with ulema, (experts in Islamic theology), about ways to participate in holy war – jihad.
Like militant Islam, the major ideas of Baathism center around racism and anti-Semitism. The Baath party stems from the Pan-Arab movement that adopted an ideology based on the nationalist and racist theories of Satia al-Husri. The Baath (or Renaissance) Party was founded in 1943 as an openly racist movement. Sami al-Jundi, one of the early Baath leaders, stated, “We were racists, admiring Nazism, reading its books and the source of its thought…”(6) In the Baath myth about history, the Arab nation was named to be the people of God, but had been corrupted and polluted by the “people of evil” who were Jews. Arab television makes a considerable effort to show a crisis of morality, culture, and values among non-Muslims. These stations broadcast extreme examples of negative moral behaviors culled from the Western media and present them as a daily reality of Western society. They try to prove that Arabs and Muslims in general are superior to Westerners: Christians and Jews.
Communist totalitarian ideas, especially those of Joseph Stalin, were once the model for the Baathist approach to party building and one party state rule. Saddam Hussein always admired Stalin and his way of leadership. Baathism, too, opposes democracy and liberal ideas on principal. According to Baathism, the Arabs can return to their “pure, original nature” only under the leadership of a revolutionary leader — the head of the Baath party and the head of an Arab state. This revolutionary leader will guarantee the rebirth (‘baath’) of the Arab nation only on condition of mass obedience to him, Baath party rule, and its morality. The whole cult of Saddam Hussein was built on this idea, that he would save the Arab world and create a new Khalifat that would challenge the US and its allies and become much stronger than the Western democratic states. All the repressive measures of Saddam’s apparatus were presented as a war against enemies of the Arab nations.
Even today after the demise of Saddam’s regime, Arab mass media attack the coalition forces for destroying the Baath system of a leader who loved his people and his nation. Yet ironically, most Arab media do not accept the creation of a new interim Iraqi government on the pretext that it was not “democratically elected.” Such an argument is but another example of the magnetism of democratic values in the Arab world, where there is not a single democratically-elected government.
1. Paul Berman; Terror and Liberalism; W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London: 2003; p. 58.
2. World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders; Federation of American Scientists; February 23, 1998.
3. Berman; p. 78.
4. Ibid; p. 94.
5. World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders; Federation of American Scientists; February 23, 1998.
6. Berman; p. 55.