Saturday, September 11, 2010

Karen Armstrong on the 9/11 Attacks: A “Flagrant and Wicked Abuse of Religion”

To mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I share today an excerpt from the revised and updated edition of Karen Armstrong’s book Islam: A Short History.


On September 11, 2001, nineteen Muslim extremists hijacked four passenger jets, flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing more than three thousand people. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The hijackers were disciples of Osama bin Laden, whose militant brand of Islam was deeply influenced by Sayyid Qutb.

The ferocity of this attack against the United States took the fundamentalist war against modernity into a new phase. When [Islam: A Short History] was first published in 2000, I had predicted that if Muslims continued to feel that their religion was under attack, fundamentalist violence was likely to become more extreme and to take new forms.

. . . The vast majority of Muslims recoiled in horror from this September apocalypse and pointed out that such an atrocity contravened the most sacred tenets of Islam. The Quran condemns all aggressive warfare and teaches that the only just war is a war of self-defense. But Osama bin Laden and his disciples claimed that Muslims were under attack. He pointed to the presence of American troops on the sacred soil of Arabia; to the continued bombing of Iraq by American and British fighter planes; to the American-led sanctions against Iraq, as a result of which thousands of civilians and children had died; to the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, America’s chief ally in the Middle East; and to the support that the United States gives to governments that bin Laden regards as corrupt and oppressive, such as the royal family of Saudi Arabia. However we view American foreign policy, none of this can justify such a murderous attack, which has no sanction in either the Quran or the Shariah. Islamic law forbids Muslims to declare war against a country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their faith freely, and it strongly prohibits the killing of innocent civilians. The fear and rage that lie at the heart of all fundamentalist vision nearly always tend to distort the tradition that fundamentalists are trying to defend, and this has never been more evident than on September 11. There has seldom been a more flagrant and wicked abuse of religion.

Immediately after the attack, there was a backlash against Muslims in Western countries. . . . It was widely assumed that there was something in the religion of Islam that impelled Muslims to cruelty and violence, and the media all too frequently encouraged this assumption.

. . . It has never been more important for Western people to acquire a just appreciation and understanding of Islam. The world changed on September 11. We now realize that we in the privileged Western countries can no longer assume that events in the rest of the world do not concern us. What happens in Gaza, Iraq, or Afghanistan today is likely to have repercussions in New York, Washington, or London tomorrow, and small groups will soon have the capacity to commit acts of mass destruction that were previously only possible for powerful nation states. In the campaign against terror on which the United States has now embarked, accurate intelligence and information are vital. To cultivate a distorted image of Islam, to view it as inherently the enemy of democracy and decent values, and to revert to the bigoted views of the medieval Crusaders would be a catastrophe. Not only will such an approach antagonize the 1.2 billion Muslims with whom we share the world, but it will also violate the disinterested love of truth and the respect for the sacred rights of others that characterize both Islam and Western society at their best.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Islam Not the Enemy, Obama Tells America Sydney Morning Herald (September 12 2010).
Tensions High on 9/11 Anniversary – David Batty (The Guardian, September 11, 2010).
The Healers of 9/11 – Nicholas D. Kristof (New York Times, September 8, 2010).
9/11 Father: “I Don’t Understand All of This Hate – Deborah Hastings (, September 10, 2010).
This 9/11, Let’s All Take Responsibility for Ending a Summer of Hate – Rinku Sen and Fekkak Mamdouh (ColorLines Magazine, September 9, 2010).
Eight Ways to Confront Extremism on 9/11 – Sarah van Gelder (Yes! Magazine, September 9, 2010).
9/11: The Rest Should Be Silence – Michael Winship (, September 9, 2010).
Gay Saints of 9/11: Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham – Kittredge Cherry (Jesus In Love Blog, September 11, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Rebecca Solnit on How 9/11 Should Be Remembered
9/11: Seven Years On
Remembering September 11 and Its Aftermath
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
A Way to Show Your Support for American Muslims
Informed and Helpful Perspectives on the "Ground Zero Mosque" Controversy
What Catholics and Muslims Share in Common
What Muslims Want
Their Faith, Their Voice
The Anti-Muslim Sentiment of Some Americans: The Onion Nails It
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
In the Garden of Spirituality - Karen Armstrong
A Dangerous Medieval Conviction

1 comment:

Mareczku said...

Much food for thought in this article. May the victims of 9/11 rest in peace.