JLH has translated an essay from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the situation Algeria during the 1990s, when Islamic zealots carved a wide swath of terror in their efforts to overthrow the secular government. The author describes the German Left’s persistent refusal to examine the violence that has been an inherent part of Islamic doctrine for more than a thousand years.
Islam and Violence
The Left in the Mildew of a Thousand Years
You could report whatever you wanted out of Algeria — the leftist dynasty in Frankfurt’s Nordend didn’t want to know about a fossilized Islam. It said: Anyone who attacks Islam is attacking Muslims.
A contemporary witness reports.
January 19, 2015
“A last-minute friend, who probably didn’t know what he was doing”: In 1996, seven monks of the monastery Notre-Dame de l’Atlas were kidnapped and murdered by a GIA (Islamic Military Group). One of the monks forgave the killers in his final testament.
When I returned from Algeria to Frankfurt after the ten “black years.” I couldn’t believe my ears. My lefty German friends — 68ers, trade unionists, Greens, SPD members — informed me that the 150,000 dead, the countless schools burned down because of mixed classes, the acid attacks on women’s’ uncovered legs, the beheading of managers of steam baths, the destruction of vats of wine by salvos from Kalashnikovs, the murder of members of religious orders — nuns as well as priests, and the execution of my Muslim friends — all that had nothing to do with Islam. The GIA was not about Islam, but about resistance against the corrupt, dictatorial military regime, in other words, it was about justice and democracy. It had nothing to do with religion. Of course, they could understand that I was traumatized, but it was distorting my ability to see the thing analytically.
I asked them: Then why had the Islamists killed intellectuals, writers, artists, theater people, film-makers and singers, all of whom likewise were against the corrupt regime? Why should they do that, when they were interested in the “well-being of the people”? The answer was like, “That comes from the spiritual uprooting of Algeria caused by colonialism.” Even though, for example, the doctor and writer Laadi Flici in his youth had fought on the side of the rebels and against the French parachute troops during the “battle of Algiers.” Yet he was shot down in his medical practice in the run-down Casbah of Algiers, even though he was helping the poorest of the poor.
No Outcry After the Massacre of Non-Muslims
In the eyes of the Islamists, Flici had made a cardinal error, just like all the other murdered intellectuals. They wanted a way out of the misery but not through the establishment of a theocracy. In that sense, they were the Islamists’ most serious competition. For the Islamists, the most important thing was the sovereignty of religion, of Islam, in all areas. The “well-being of the people” — if a factor at all — was secondary
When this line of argument had no effect, I told about Tamesguida. In 1993, commissioned by the Algerian regime, the Yugoslavian firm Hydro-Elektra, built a dam in the ravine there. On a December night, armed underground Islamists crept up to the barracks of the company’s employees, tied their hands behind their backs and looked to see who was circumcised and who was not. Twelve Croats were led to the river and made to kneel there together. And — following religious distinctions — the Islamists cut their throats one by one. The Bosnian, Muslim workers who were spared were just as much “supporters of the tyrant” as the slaughtered Croats. And then, the judging was extended to “devout — infidel” and the Muslims were divided between “true” and “false” Muslims.
The Refrain of Peaceful, Tolerant Islam
I do not recall any outcry about these murders in the name of Islam from Muslim legal scholars or Muslim religious organizations in Europe, which was still secure at that time. The refrain of peaceful, tolerant Islam was repeated, as if nothing had happened. Only when the Muslim organizations feel they are in it up to their necks do they move a little, and entrench themselves behind the wall that separates Islam from Islamism. Just like my leftist political comrades twenty years ago, when the religious motives for massacre could no longer be denied.
They were in line with the Algerian military regime, which — when it spoke at all of the horror in the land — always declared that that had nothing to do with Islam. It was terrorism. Terrorism was being opposed militarily, quietly, with no questions about Islam, for Islam was the state religion. Just as the fight against terrorism in Germany today is left to the security services — although the Left is not even happy about that. The main thing is that Islam is not examined critically. What is examined is German society’s “exclusion” of Muslims, its “Islamophobia,” the “surveillance insanity” of its security services, and so on.
Who Belongs to This Club?
When Nikolaus Schneider, the council president of the Evangelical Church in Germany in November 2014, demanded of Islamic organizations an in-depth conversation with topic points on the legitimization of violence in the Koran and the Islamic tradition, taz (online tageszeitung) dropped its sharpest guillotine blade on him: “The Club will applaud him.”
Several of my Muslim friends would belong to this “club” — if they had survived the violence committed in the name of Islam. The Algerian writer Tahar Djaout for instance, the satirist Said Mekbel, the doctor Laadi Flici. They would have applauded Nikolaus Schneider for putting that central question about the roots of the metastasizing violence in the name of Islam. The murdered members of “Charlie Hebdo” would also belong to this club. Ten years before Nikolaus Schneider’s question, the Tunisian Islamologist Abdelwahab Meddeb had written: “Muslims must face the question of ‘Islam and violence.’ The connection is a fact, both in history and in the scriptures. We have to deal with the Prophet, who both killed and called for killing.”
Clandestine Rejoicing After 9/11
The carnage in Algeria and then 9/11 were as inconceivable to me as if the Man in the Moon had whipped out a knife and started stabbing at the Earth. But my lefty Frankfurt friends received the news about the attacks in New York and the raging Islamic regression with suppressed enjoyment.
Now permanently branded as Islamophobic and xenophobic, although I had more Muslim friends in North Africa than I had non-Muslim ones in Frankfurt, I searched desperately for some indication that critiquing Islam was not Islamophobic. I had to find a Muslim who could not be discounted as a “westernized intellectual,” a Muslim who could not be any more “Muslim” and nonetheless criticized Islam in its present-day form. Finally, I found him — Soheib Bencheikh, at that time Grand Mufti of Marseilles, legal advisor to 46 Muslim communities in the city on the Mediterranean. Even the Islamic organizations in Germany would not be able to shrug off his Islam criticism as “unscientific.”
Soheib Bencheikh came from a Muslim family that had been deeply devout for generations. Seven of his uncles were imams. His father, Sheikh Abbas, was a renowned Islamic scholar and furthermore president of the High Islamic Council of Algeria and later rector of the Muslim Institute of the Grand Mosque in Paris. His ancestors had founded “zaouias” — religious-social communities in Algeria. After a childhood in Saudi Arabia and school years in Algeria, Soheib had studied Islamic theology at Al Azhar University in Cairo. So he knew the Near East and North Africa. This religious scholar saw that the root of the horrifying developments in Islam lay in Islam itself. “The greatest good of a religion is in its theology, but its greatest evil also comes from its theology — if it stagnates.”
“Justified Fear of Islam”
To the question of whether fear of Islam is justified or merely an expression of “Islamophobia,” Soheib Bencheikh replies straight into the camera: “The fear of Islam is fully justified. Terrible crimes are committed in the name of this religion. A monstrous barbarism is happening now because of this religion. Being afraid of Islam is completely normal. Even if I were not a Muslim, I would wonder what kind of a religion that is, that serves as an authority for criminals.”
Soheib Bencheikh spoke of “Islam” and did not push the crimes committed in its name onto “Islamism.” The protective wall between the two, which spared Islam from confronting its own nature, did not exist for him. On the contrary: “The depth and spiritual dimension of the Koran were cast aside. Instead, there was exacting imitation of what a human being — the Prophet — is supposed to have done. This runs the risk of establishing Islam at the level of the Bedouin society of that time, and anchoring it forever in the sixth century A.D. The remit of the heavenly hosts was with rules of food and clothing — like heavenly housekeeping! Really a flat, desiccated idea of religion!”
That, I thought, should impress my leftist companions. Had they not themselves invented the saying: “Under the cassocks, the mildew of a thousand years,” in order to promote reform? So they should find the Islam criticism of a Bencheikh illuminating, who was essentially also saying: “Clinging to the minbars* is the mildew of a thousand years. Often in the world of the mosques, stupidity and ignorance reign. Never a word of self-criticism. Never! The whole world is wrong and we are resting on our small truth. This demonstrates a mental laziness typical for the end of great dynasties.”
Muslims’ Intelligence in Chains
But now I had the feeling that my time with the leftist dynasty in Frankfurt Nordend was slowly coming to an end, because they were so reluctant to break through the protective barrier between Islam and Islamism. The barrier consisted of Muslims. They made it unassailable by saying, anyone who attacks Islam is attacking Muslims. As if anyone who attacked Stalinism was attacking the Russians, or anyone who attacked Christianity was attacking all church-goers, or anyone who attacked capitalism was attacking workers and employees. On the contrary, it is possible to criticize an ideology because of what it does to people you like. I had seen enough women and men in ten years in North Africa suffering under Islam, so that its ideology could not be a matter of indifference to me. Soheib Bencheikh saw a glimmer of hope — in Europe.
He said: “We will progress theologically if we use the freedom we enjoy in France — this good fortune of living in a modern constitutional state. Here are things that we never had and that we must bring about in Muslim thought. Every century must produce a new picture of the Koran. Must interpret it with the intelligence of the time. Or the religion will be destroyed — and that is already happening. This comes from the literal-minded, house-keeping concept that is chaining the intelligence of Muslims!”
As far as freeing them from these chains, we can forget the German Left. They, who once founded the first “Club Voltaire” in the Federal Republic, have long ago put Voltaire himself six feet under.
The Tear on the Charlie Hebdo Cover
A year after seven monks had been kidnapped by the “Armed Islamic Group” from the mountain monastery Tibéhirine in the forested solitude around Medea, 80 kilometers south of Algiers, I traveled with Monsignor Teissier to this monastery, made famous by the film “Of Gods and Men,” and since then standing empty. The seven monks lay buried in the monastery’s courtyard. As Teissier held a memorial service for relatives of the murdered men, someone looked on — half hidden behind a tree. Someone in ragged pants, with a stubbly beard. It was one of the hill farmers with whom the monks had run a small agricultural co-op. There were tears in his eyes.
Before the kidnapping, Prior Christian had turned in his testament to his likely killer: “And you too, friend of the last minute, who probably did not know what he was doing, for you too, I say this ‘thank you’ and the ‘à Dieu’ that you have brought to pass.” Perhaps the ‘everything is forgiven’ on the title page of the anti-clerical Charlie Hebdo which has puzzled some, may even be understood in the sense of the monk’s testament: these killers too did not know what they were doing. The Algerian hill farmer knew it. I think his tears legitimized the tear of the Prophet on the Charlie Hebdo title page for all those who can see more in religion than a “heavenly housekeeping.”
Lynch Justice in the Name of Everyday Islam
Voltaire’s spirit now moves between Tangiers and Tunis. It organizes anti-Ramadan picnics in Morocco and Algeria to demonstrate against forced belief and for freedom of conscience. It is flogged, taken into custody and risks going to prison. It meets for the first kiss-in on Muslim soil in front of the parliament in Rabat, as a reply to the trial of a 14-year-old girl and two 15-year-old boys. The girl had kissed her friend and his friend had posted a picture of it on the internet. “Kill them!” demanded the pious ones on the internet. Then there was the solidarity kiss-in of ca. 40 people, who were immediately beaten to a pulp by counter-demonstrators. “Kill him” was the storm of protest from the devout after a Moroccan journalist had demanded that the punishment for sex outside of marriage be removed from the law.
“Kill him,” cried a wild mob of students at the University of El Jadia in Morocco, after the dean had allowed a reading by Moroccan author Abdellah Taia. He could only avoid being lynched by running. Abdellah Taia was the first intellectual to come out as a homosexual. The persecution of the anti-Ramadan picnickers, the kissers, the journalists calling for sexual freedom, the homosexuals was not carried out because of “Islamism” but everyday Islam, as reflected in the laws of Morocco and Algeria. Everywhere in the world where Islam comes to power, women’s rights and freedom of thought are reduced, minorities are persecuted. Pointing this out — this dangerous core of Islam, even here at home where it is, thank God not in power, is castigated by the Left as “Islamophobic.”
Assassinations At Charlie Hebdo Justified
“We should be honest and admit it: What leads to extremism, more than terrorism, is the never-ending saturation by a vacuous religious discourse forced on us by those in power. The real catastrophe is the prevention of rational thinking from taking root among us,” said Abdellah Taia, and in so doing tore down the wall between Islam and Islamism that is erected again and again on every German talk show on the subject of Islam.
Abdellah Taia is now not the only North African Muslim “Voltaire” tearing down the wall which protects “tolerant, peaceful” Islam from its obscurantist, violence-prone side. Two days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the Algerian researcher and journalist Saïd Djabelkhir wrote: “Traditional religious discourse justifies this attack. It takes courage for us to acknowledge this, but it is the reality.” For this Islam researcher, the best possibility for combatting terrorism is in “attacking the religious texts and archaic interpretations and discourses which continue to call forth and justify terrorism.”
Using Silent Vigils Against Extremists?
Perhaps, in case they don’t have the courage to say such things themselves, the Central Council of Muslims will invite these Muslim thinkers to their next vigil, as a sign of international solidarity in the name of peace-loving Islam. Or maybe the lead editorialist of the important Algerian newspaper “El Watan” when the discussion is about the feared “amalgam” of the peaceful Muslim majority and fanatics. “It is clear,” writes the newspaper, “that we, too, as individual Arabs/Muslims should work on the amalgamations which we ourselves
are producing. It is horrifying that young people in Algeria and elsewhere — educated people — justify the murder of the journalists and artists of Charlie Hebdo. From Algiers to Dubai, there are comments in the internet that make your blood run cold, and testify to our inability to carry out the change that Islam needs. The question must be, what allows such aberrations in dealing with our religion?”
How difficult it will be to ask this question was indicated by the philosopher Abdennour Bidar in December in his “Open Letter to the Muslim World”: “I behold you bringing forth a monster that calls itself the ‘Islamic State.’ The worst of it is that I see you losing your time and your honor by refusing to admit that this monster was born from you — from your wrong turns, your contradictions, your endless internal conflicts between past and present, your everlasting inability to find your place in human civilization.”
With these people at my side, I look forward to the next round of discussions with my comrades in Frankfurt Nordend. The subject will be “The Wall Must Go.” That is, the defensive wall between Islam and Islamism. Beyond it, there may lie lush landscapes.
* minbar = pulpit in a mosque