'The Revolt of Islam' and 'The Crisis of Islam' by Bernard Lewis (2001, 2003)

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Centre Bernard Lewis, commonly described as one of the most important Arabic scholars in America, wrote an article for The New Yorker which was published on the 19th of November titled The Revolt of Islam. This article became the nucleus for a book Lewis published in 2003 called The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Because the book was essentially an expanded form of the essay, with almost no alterations to the original text, we can treat them as two different versions of the same text. Below is a selection from both. The text of the book will be distinguished from the text of the essay by blue font. With this format, it should be clear which part of the text belonged to the original essay, as it appeared in November 2001, and what was subsequently added to it, in 2003. The chapter headings are taken from the Book version of the text.

[Work in Progress]

Note: see here for Lewis's translation of Osama Bin Laden's 1998 Declaration of Jihad.

See here for a selection from Chalmers Johnson's Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire,  2000.

See here for a selection from Arnold Toynbee's West, History and Future, 1948.


In his pronouncements, bin Laden makes frequent references to history. One of the most dramatic was his mention, in the October 7th videotape, of the “humiliation and disgrace” that Islam has suffered for “more than eighty years.” Most American—and, no doubt, European—observers of the Middle Eastern scene began an anxious search for something that had happened “more than eighty years” ago, and came up with various answers. We can be fairly sure that bin Laden’s Muslim listeners—the people he was addressing—picked up the allusion immediately and appreciated its significance. In 1918, the Ottoman sultanate, the last of the great Muslim empires, was finally defeated—its capital, Constantinople, occupied, its sovereign held captive, and much of its territory partitioned between the victorious British and French Empires. The Turks eventually succeeded in liberating their homeland, but they did so not in the name of Islam but through a secular nationalist movement. One of their first acts, in November, 1922, was to abolish the sultanate. The Ottoman sovereign was not only a sultan, the ruler of a specific state; he was also widely recognized as the caliph, the head of all Sunni Islam, and the last in a line of such rulers that dated back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in 632 A.D. After a brief experiment with a separate caliph, the Turks, in March, 1924, abolished the caliphate, too. During its nearly thirteen centuries, the caliphate had gone through many vicissitudes, but it remained a potent symbol of Muslim unity, even identity, and its abolition, under the double assault of foreign imperialists and domestic modernists, was felt throughout the Muslim world.

In current American usage, the phrase “that’s history” is commonly used to dismiss something as unimportant, of no relevance to current concerns, and, despite an immense investment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in our society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but, unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it.

But history of what? In the Western world, the basic unit of human organization is the nation, which is then subdivided in various ways, one of which is by religion. Muslims, however, tend to see not a nation subdivided into religious groups but a religion subdivided into nations. This is no doubt partly because most of the nation-states that make up the modern Middle East are relatively new creations, left over from the era of Anglo-French imperial domination that followed the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and they preserve the state-building and frontier demarcations of their former imperial masters. Even their names reflect this artificiality: Iraq was a medieval province, with borders very different from those of the modern republic; Syria, Palestine, and Libya are names from classical antiquity that hadn’t been used in the region for a thousand years or more before they were revived and imposed by European imperialists in the twentieth century; Algeria and Tunisia do not even exist as words in Arabic—the same name serves for the city and the country. Most remarkable of all, there is no word in the Arabic language for Arabia, and modern Saudi Arabia is spoken of instead as “the Saudi Arab kingdom” or “the peninsula of the Arabs,” depending on the context.

In the early centuries of the Muslim era, the Islamic community was one state under one ruler. Even after that community split up into many states, the ideal of a single Islamic polity persisted.

One of the basic tasks bequeathed to Muslims by the Prophet was jihad. This word, which literally means “striving,” was usually cited in the Koranic phrase “striving in the path of God” and was interpreted to mean armed struggle for the defense or advancement of Muslim power. In principle, the world was divided into two houses: the House of Islam, in which a Muslim government ruled and Muslim law prevailed, and the House of War, the rest of the world, still inhabited and, more important, ruled by infidels. Between the two, there was to be a perpetual state of war until the entire world either embraced Islam or submitted to the rule of the Muslim state.

It is surely significant that the Koranic and other inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock, one of the earliest Muslim religious structures outside Arabia, built in Jerusalem between 691 and 692 A.D., include a number of directly anti-Christian polemics: “Praise be to God, who begets no son, and has no partner,” and “He is God, one, eternal. He does not beget, nor is he begotten, and he has no peer.” For the early Muslims, the leader of Christendom, the Christian equivalent of the Muslim caliph, was the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. Later, his place was taken by the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, and his in turn by the new rulers of the West. Each of these, in his time, was the principal adversary of the jihad.

In the lands under Muslim rule, Islamic law required that Jews and Christians be allowed to practice their religions and run their own affairs, subject to certain disabilities, the most important being a poll tax that they were required to pay. In modern parlance, Jews and Christians in the classical Islamic state were what we would call second-class citizens, but second-class citizenship, established by law and the Koran and recognized by public opinion, was far better than the total lack of citizenship that was the fate of non-Christians and even of some deviant Christians in the West.

Chapter III From Crusaders to Imperialists

The capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 C.E was a triumph for Christiandom and a disaster for the Muslims and also for the Jews in the city.

The great Counter-Crusade which was ultimately to defeat and expel the Crusaders did not begin until almost a century later.

The victories of Saladin and his capture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187 have long been and are today a source of inspiration to Arab leaders. Saddam Hussein refers frequently to two previous rulers of Iraq whom he claims as predecessors in his mission-- Saladin, who ended the Western menace of his day by defeating and evicting the Crusaders, and Nebuchadnezzar, who dealt expeditiously and conclusively with the Zionist problem.

Under the medieval caliphate, and again under the Persian and Turkish dynasties, the empire of Islam was the richest, most powerful, most creative, most enlightened region in the world, and for most of the Middle Ages Christendom was on the defensive. In the fifteenth century, the Christian counterattack expanded. The Tatars were expelled from Russia, and the Moors from Spain. But in southeastern Europe, where the Ottoman sultan confronted first the Byzantine and then the Holy Roman Emperor, Muslim power prevailed, and these setbacks were seen as minor and peripheral.

For most historians, Middle Eastern and Western alike, the conventional beginning of modern history in the Middle East dates from 1798, when the French Revolution, in the person of a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte, landed in Egypt.

Imperialism is a particularly important theme in the Middle Eastern and more especially the Islamic case against the West.

European activities in the Islamic lands went through several phases. The first was commercial expansion and, as Muslims see it, exploitation of them and their countries, both as markets and as sources of raw materials. Then came armed invasion and conquest, by which European powers established effective domination over important areas of the Islamic world.... .

...the impact of imperialism was seen as immense and, in the eyes of most people in the region, wholly harmful.

By the early twentieth century... almost the entire Muslim world had been incorporated into the four European empires of Britain, France, Russia, and the Netherlands. [...] Since the Western allies-- Britain and France and then the United States-- effectively dominated the region, Middle Eastern resisters naturally looked to those allies' enemies for support. In the Second World War, they turned to Germany; in the Cold War, to the Solviet Union.

As early as 1914, Germany, then allied with the Ottoman Empire, tried to mobilze religious feeling among the Muslim subjects of the British, French, and Russian Empires against their imperial masters and therefore in favor of Germany.

The defeat of Germany and the collapse of the Third Reich and its various agencies left an aching void. As many saw it, it was during the resulting interlude that in 1948 the Jews were able to set up their state and inflict a humiliating defeat on the Arab armies that were sent to prevent it. A new patron and protector, a replacement for the Third Reich, was urgently needed. It was found in the Soviet Union.

And then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left the United States as the sole world superpower.


Chapter IV Discovering America

The Second World War, the oil industry, and postwar developments brought many Americans to the Islamic lands... . Cinema and later television brought the American way of life, or at any rate a certain version of it, before countless millions to whom the very name of America had previously been meaningless or unknown. [...] For some, America represented freedom and justice and opportunity.

Among the components in the mood of anti-Americanism were certain intellectual influences coming from Europe. One of these was from Germany, where a negative view of America formed part of a school of thought, including writers as diverse as Rainer Maria Rilke, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Junger, and Martin Heidegger. In this perception, America was the ultimate example of civilization without culture [Spengler's Decline of the West]; rich and confortable, materially advanced but soulless and artificial; assembled or at best constructed, not grown; mechanical not organic; technologically complex but without the spirituality and vitality of the rooted, human, national cultures of the Germans and other "authentic" peoples. [...] The Nazi version of German ideologies was influential in nationalist circles, notably among the founders and followers of the Ba'th Party in Syria and Iraq.

The theme of American artificiality... occurs frequently in the writings of the Ba'th Party and is occasionally invoked by Saddam Hussein, for example in a speech of January 2002.

After the collapse of the Third Reich and the ending of German influence, another power and another philosophy, even more anti-American, took its place-- the Soviet version of Marxism, with its denunciation of Western capitalism, and of America as its most advanced and dangerous form.

But though these foreign sponsors and imported philosophies provided material help and intellectual expression for anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism, they did not cause it, and certainly they do not explain the widespread anti-Westernism that made so many, in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Islamic world, receptive to such ideas. It must surely be clear that what won support for such totally diverse doctrines was... their basic anti-Westernism [here we can make the obvious point that rather than being 'anti-Western', Nazism and Socialism were themselves 'Western phenomenon'].

But why? ...there is no lack of individual policies and actions, pursued and taken by individual Western governments, that have aroused the passionate anger of Middle Eastern and other Islamic peoples, expressed in their various struggles-- to win indepdence from foreign rule or domination; to free resources, notably oil, from foreign exploitation; to oust rulers and regimes seen as agents or imitators of the West.

Perhaps the most frequently cited example of Western interference and of its consequences is the overthrow of the Mosaddeq government in Iran in 1953. The crisis began when the popular nationalist leader Mosaddeq decided, with general support in the country, to nationalize the oil companies, and in particular the most important of them, the Anglo-Iranian Company. ... The American and British governments therefore decided, allegedly in agreement with the Shah, to get rid of Mosaddeq by means of a coup d'etat.

Because of the active intervention of the American CIA and the British MI6 in the overthrow of the regime and the return of the shah, the shah was regarded by significant groups of his subjects as at first a British, then an American puppet.

When the Iranian Revolution came in 1979, neither the British nor the Americans did anything to save the shah from overthrow. ... Even more dramatically, they for a while refused the shah and his family asylum in the United States.

Clearly, something deeper is involved than these specific grievances, numerous and important as they may be, something deeper which turns every disagreement into a problem and makes every problem insoluble. What we confront now is not just a complaint about one or another American policy but rather a rejection and condemnation, at once angry and contemptuous, of all that America is seen to represent in the modern world.

A key figure in the development of these new attitudes was Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian who became a leading ideologue of Muslim Fundamentalism and an active member of the fundamentalist organization known as the Muslim Brothers. Born in a village in upper Egypt in 1906, he studied in Cairo and for some years worked as a teacher and then as an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. In that capacity he was sent on a special study mission to the United States, where he stayed from November 1948 to August 1950. His fundamentalist activism and writing began very soon after his return from America to Egypt. After the military coup of July 1952, he at first maintained close relations with the so-called Free Officers, but he parted company with them as his Islamist teachings clashed with their secularist policies. After several brushes with the authorities, he was sentenced, in 1955, to fifteen years' imprisonment. As a result of an intercession on his behalf by President Arif of Iraq, he was released in 1964, and he published one of his major works, Ma'alim fil-Tariq (Signposts on the Way, or simply 'Milestones'), later that year. On August 9, 1965, he was arrested again, this time on charges of treason and, specifically, of planning the assassination of President Nasser. After a summary trial he was sentenced to death on August 21, 1966. The sentence was carried out eight days later.

Sayyid Qutb's stay in the United States seems to have been a crucial period in the development of his ideas concerning the relations between Islam and the outside world and, more particularly, within itself. The State of Israel had just been established and survived by fighting and winning the first of a series of Arab-Israel wars. This was a time when the world was becoming aware of the near total destruction of the Jews in Nazi-ruled Europe, and public opinion in America, as in much of the world, was overwhelmingly on the Israeli side. The wartime relationship between the Third Reich and prominent Arab leaders such as the Mufti of Jerusalem and Rashid 'Ali of Iraq was also in the news, and popular sympathy went naturally to those who were seen as Hitler's victims in their struggle to escape destruction by Hitler's accomplices. Sayyid Qutb was shocked by the level of support in America for what he saw as a Jewish onslaught on Islam, with Christian complicity.
Even more revealing was his shocked response to the American way of life-- principally its sinfulness and degeneracy and its addiction to what he saw as sexual promiscuity. Sayyid Qutb took as a given the contrast between Eastern spirituality and Western materialism, and described America as a particularly extreme form of the latter. Everything in America, he wrote, even religion, is measured in material terms. ... To attract clientele, churches advertise shamelessly and offer what Americans most seek-- "a good time" or "fun" (he cited the English words in his Arabic text). The result is that church recreation halls, with the blessing of the priesthood, hold dances where people of both sexes meet, mix, and touch. The ministers even go so far as to dim the lights in order to facilitate the fury of the dance. "The dance is inflamed by the notes of the gramophone," he noted with evident disgust; "the dance-hall becomes a whirl of heels and thighs, arms enfolded hips, lips and breasts meet, and the air is full of lust." He also quoted the Kinsey Reports on sexual behavior to document his description and condemnation of universal American debauchery. [Authors footnote: Sayyid Qutb, Al-Islam wa-mushkilat al-hadara (n.p., 1967), pp. 80ff. See also John Calvert, "'The World is an Undutiful Boy!' Sayyid Qutb's American Experience," in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 2 (March 2000), pp. 87-103. He devoted a separate book, published posthumously in Saudi Arabia, to "our battle with the Jews": Ma'rakatuna ma'a al-Yahud (Jedda, 1970). In addition to the specific Arab conflict with the Jews, he speaks of the pernicious Jewish role in the war against Islam and more generally against religious values: "Behind the atheist, materialist conception is a Jew - [Marx]; behind the bestial sexual conception, a Jew [Freud]; behind the destruction of the family and the disruption of the holy bonds of society, a Jew - [Durkheim]." The three are actually named not by Sayyid Qutb but by his editor, who for good measure adds a fourth in a footnote - Jean-Paul Sartre, made into a Jew for this purpose, as the inspirer of the literature of disintegration and ruin. It seems likely that Sayyid Qutb's inspiration for this and other anti-Jewish (as distinct from anti-Israel and anti-Zionist) passages was European or American.] 

The main thrust of Sayyid Qutb's writing and preaching was directed against the internal enemy-- what he called the new age of ignorance, in Arabic jahiliyya, a classical Islamic term for the period of paganism that prevailed in Arabia before the advent of the Prophet and of Islam. As Sayyid Qutb saw it, a new jahiliyya had engulfed the Muslim peoples and the new pharaohs-- rightly seen as an allusion to the existing regimes-- who were ruling them. But the threat of the external enemy was great and growing.

The sinfulness and also the degeneracy of America and its consequent threat to Islam and the Muslim peoples became articles of faith in Muslim fundamentalist circles.

This threat, classically formulated by Sayyid Qutb, became a regular part of the vocabulary and ideology of Islamic fundamentalists, and most notably, in the language of the Iranian Revolution. This is what is meant by the term Great Satan, applied to the United States by the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Satan as depicted in the Qur'an is neither an imperialist nor an exploiter. He is a seducer, "the insidious tempter who whispers in the hearts of men" (Qur'an CXIV, 4, 5).

Chapter V Satan and the Solviets

America’s new role—and the Middle East’s perception of it—was vividly illustrated by an incident in Pakistan in 1979. On November 20th, a band of a thousand Muslim religious radicals seized the Great Mosque in Mecca and held it for a time against the Saudi security forces. Their declared aim was to “purify Islam” and liberate the holy land of Arabia from the royal “clique of infidels” and the corrupt religious leaders who supported them. Their leader, in speeches played from loudspeakers, denounced Westerners as the destroyers of fundamental Islamic values and the Saudi government as their accomplices. He called for a return to the old Islamic traditions of “justice and equality.” After some hard fighting, the rebels were suppressed. Their leader was executed on January 9, 1980, along with sixty-two of his followers, among them Egyptians, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, and citizens of other Arab countries.

Meanwhile, a demonstration in support of the rebels took place in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. A rumor had circulated—endorsed by Ayatollah Khomeini, who was then in the process of establishing himself as the revolutionary leader in Iran—that American troops had been involved in the clashes in Mecca. The American Embassy was attacked by a crowd of Muslim demonstrators, and two Americans and two Pakistani employees were killed. Why had Khomeini stood by a report that was not only false but wildly improbable?

For Khomeini, the United States was “the Great Satan,” the principal adversary against whom he had to wage his holy war for Islam. America was by then perceived—rightly—as the leader of what we like to call “the free world.” Then, as in the past, this world of unbelievers was seen as the only serious force rivalling and preventing the divinely ordained spread and triumph of Islam.

In their country’s defense, some American commentators pointed out that, unlike the Western European imperialists, America had itself been a victim of colonialism; the United States was the first country to win freedom from British rule. But the hope that the Middle Eastern subjects of the former British and French Empires would accept the American Revolution as a model for their own anti-imperialist struggle rested on a basic fallacy that Arab writers were quick to point out. The American Revolution [, as they frequently remarked,] was fought not by Native American nationalists but by British settlers, and, far from being a victory against colonialism, it represented colonialism’s ultimate triumph—the English in North America succeeded in colonizing the land so thoroughly that they no longer needed the support of the mother country.

As the Western European empires faded, Middle Eastern anti-Americanism was attributed more and more to another cause: American support for Israel, first in its conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, then in its conflict with the neighboring Arab states and the larger Islamic world.

Indeed, Israel serves as a useful stand-in for complaints about the economic privation and political repression under which most Muslim people live, and as a way of deflecting the resulting anger.

Chapter VI Double Standards

This raises another issue. Increasingly in recent decades, Middle Easterners have articulated a new grievance against American policy: not American complicity with imperialism or with Zionism but something nearer home and more immediate—American complicity with the corrupt tyrants who rule over them. [...] Interestingly, the Iranian revolution of 1979 was one time when this resentment was expressed openly. The Shah was accused of supporting America, but America was also attacked for imposing an impious and tyrannical leader as its puppet.

Almost the entire Muslim world is affected by poverty and tyranny. Both of these problems are attributed, especially by those with an interest in diverting attention from themselves, to America—the first to American economic dominance and exploitation, now thinly disguised as “globalization”; the second to America’s support for the many so-called Muslim tyrants who serve its purposes. Globalization has become a major theme in the Arab media, and it is almost always raised in connection with American economic penetration. [...] American paramountcy, as Middle Easterners see it, indicates where to direct the blame and the resulting hostility.

There is some justice in one charge that is frequently levelled against the United States: Middle Easterners increasingly complain that the United States judges them by different and lower standards than it does Europeans and Americans, both in what is expected of them and in what they may expect—in terms of their financial well-being and their political freedom. They assert that Western spokesmen repeatedly overlook or even defend actions and support rulers that they would not tolerate in their own countries. As many Middle Easterners see it, the Western and American governments’ basic position is: “We don’t care what you do to your own people at home, so long as you are co√∂perative in meeting our needs and protecting our interests.”

...the people of the Middle East are increasingly aware of the deep and widening gulf between the opportunities of the free world outside their borders and the appalling privation and repression within them. The resulting anger is naturally directed first against their rulers, and then against those whom they see as keeping those rulers in power for selfish reasons. It is surely significant that most of the terrorists who have been identified in the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt—that is, from countries whose rulers are deemed friendly to the United States.

If America’s double standards—and its selfish support for corrupt regimes in the Arab world—have long caused anger among Muslims, why has that anger only recently found its expression in acts of terrorism? In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslims responded in two ways to the widening imbalance of power and wealth between their societies and those of the West. The reformers or modernizers tried to identify the sources of Western wealth and power and adapt them to their own use, in order to meet the West on equal terms. Muslim governments—first in Turkey, then in Egypt and Iran—made great efforts to modernize, that is, to Westernize, the weaponry and equipment of their armed forces; they even dressed them in Western-style uniforms and marched them to the tune of brass bands. When defeats on the battlefield were matched by others in the marketplace, the reformers tried to discover the secrets of Western economic success and to emulate them by establishing industries of their own. Young Muslim students who were sent to the West to study the arts of war also came back with dangerous and explosive notions about elected assemblies and constitutional governments.

Many Islamic countries have experimented with democratic institutions of one kind or another. In some, as in Turkey, Iran, and Tunisia, they were introduced by innovative native reformers; in others, they were installed and then bequeathed by departing imperialists. The record, with the possible exception of Turkey, is one of almost unrelieved failure. [...] Since the death of Nasser, in 1970, no Arab leader has been able to gain extensive support outside his own country. [...] The leaders who have come closest to winning pan-Arab approval are Qaddafi in the seventies and, more recently, Saddam Hussein. That these two, of all Arab rulers, should enjoy such wide popularity is in itself both appalling and revealing.

The rejection of modernity in favor of a return to the sacred past has a varied and ramified history in the region and has given rise to a number of movements. The most important of these, Wahhabism, has lasted more than two and a half centuries and exerts a significant influence on Muslim movements in the Middle East today. Its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-87), was a theologian from the Najd area of Arabia. In 1744, he launched a campaign of purification and renewal. His purpose was to return the Muslim world to the pure and authentic Islam of the Prophet, removing and, where necessary, destroying all later accretions. [...] The Wahhabi cause was embraced by the Saudi rulers of Najd, who promoted it, for a while successfully, by force. [....] The second alliance of Wahhabi doctrine and Saudi force began in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and continued after the collapse. The Saudi conquest of the Hejaz, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, increased the prestige of the House of Saud and gave new scope to the Wahhabi doctrine, which spread, in a variety of forms, throughout the Islamic world.

From the nineteen-thirties on, the discovery of oil in the eastern provinces of Arabia and its exploitation, chiefly by American companies, brought vast new wealth and bitter new social tensions. [...] All this has created new and receptive audiences for Wahhabi teachings and those of other like-minded groups, among them the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It has now become normal to designate these movements as “fundamentalist.” [This term] was originally an American Protestant term, used to designate Protestant churches that differed in some respects from the mainstream churches. [...] Broadly speaking, Muslim fundamentalists are those who feel that the troubles of the Muslim world at the present time are the result not of insufficient modernization but of excessive modernization. From their point of view, the primary struggle is not against the Western enemy as such but against the Westernizing enemies at home, who have imported and imposed infidel ways on Muslim peoples. The task of the Muslims is to depose and remove these infidel rulers, sometimes by defeating or expelling their foreign patrons and protectors, and to abrogate and destroy the laws, institutions, and social customs that they have introduced, so as to return to a purely Islamic way of life, in accordance with the principles of Islam and the rules of the Holy Law.

Chapter VIII The Marriage of Saudi Power and Wahhabi Teaching

Broadly speaking, Muslim fundamentalists are those who feel that the troubles of the Muslim world at the present time are the result not of insuffient modernization but of excessive modernization, which they see as a betrayal of authentic Islamic values. For them the remedy is a return to true Islam, including the abolition of all the laws and other social borrowings from the West and the restoration of the Islamic Holy Law, the shari'a, as the effective law of the land. From their point of view, the ultimate struggle is not against the Western intruder but against the Westernizing traitor at home. Their most dangerous enemies, as they see it, are the false and renegade Muslims who rule the countries of the Islamic world and who have imported and imposed infidel ways on Muslim peoples.

In the few moments that passed between the murder of President Sadat [in 1982] and the arrest of his murderers, their leader exclaimed triumphantly: "I have killed Pharaoh! I am not afraid to die." If, as we widely assumed in the Western world at the time, Sadat's offense in the eyes of the murderers was making peace with Israel, Pharaoh would seem a singularly inappropriate choice of epithet. Clearly, they were not referring to the Pharaoh of modern Egyptian school-books, the embodiement of the greatness and glory of ancient Egypt. It is the Pharaoh of the Exodus, who, in the Qur'an as in the Bible, is the pagan tyrant who oppresses God' people. It is no doubt in this sense that Usama bin Ladin spoke of President Bush as the Pharaoh of our day. At the time of the Exodus, the Children of Israel were God's people. Present-day Muslims for the most part do not recognize the modern State of Israel as the legitimate heir of the ancient Children of Israel... .

Chapter IX The Rise of Terrorism

Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers may not represent Islam, and their statements and their actions directly contradict basic Islamic principles and teachings, but they do arise from within Muslim civilization, just as Hitler and the Nazis arose from within Christian civilization, so they must be seen in their own cultural, religious, and historical context.

...the Assassins are the true predecessors of many of the so-called Islamic terrorists of today, some of whom explicitly make this point. The name Assassins, with its connotation of “hashish-taker,” was given to them by their Muslim enemies. They called themselves fidayeen—those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause. The term has been revived and adopted by their modern imitators. In two respects, however—in their choice of weapons and of victims—the Assassins were markedly different from their modern successors. The victim was always an individual—a highly placed political, military, or religious leader who was seen as the source of evil. He, and he alone, was killed. This action was not terrorism in the current sense of that term but, rather, what we would call “targeted assassination.” The method was always the same: the dagger. The Assassins disdained the use of poison, crossbows, and other weapons that could be used from a distance, and the Assassin did not expect—or, it would seem, even desire—to survive his act, which he believed would insure him eternal bliss. But in no circumstance did he commit suicide. He died at the hands of his captors.

The P.L.O. was founded in 1964 but became important in 1967, after the defeat of the combined Arab armies in the Six-Day War. Regular warfare had failed; it was time to try other methods. The targets in this form of armed struggle were not military or other government establishments, which are usually too well guarded, but public places and gatherings of any kind, which are overwhelmingly civilian, and in which the victims do not necessarily have a connection to the declared enemy.

The Arab terrorists of the seventies and eighties made it clear that they were waging a war for an Arab or Palestinian cause, not for Islam. Indeed, a significant proportion of the P.L.O. leaders and activists were Christian.

Both in defeat and in victory, the Arab nationalists of the twentieth century pioneered the methods that were later adopted by religious terrorists, in particular the lack of concern at the slaughter of innocent bystanders. This unconcern reached new proportions in the terror campaign launched by Osama bin Laden in the early nineties. The first major example was the bombing of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998. In order to kill twelve American diplomats, the terrorists were willing to slaughter more than two hundred Africans, many of them Muslims, who happened to be in the vicinity. The same disregard for human life, on a vastly greater scale, underlay the action in New York on September 11th.

The triggers for bin Laden’s actions, as he himself has explained very clearly, were America’s presence in Arabia during the Gulf War—a desecration of the Muslim Holy Land—and America’s use of Saudi Arabia as a base for an attack on Iraq. If Arabia is the most symbolic location in the world of Islam, Baghdad, the seat of the caliphate for half a millennium and the scene of some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history, is the second.

Bin Laden and his cohorts soon realized that, in the new configuration of world power [after the defeat of collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of America as the Sole Superpower], if they wished to fight America they had to do it themselves. Some eleven years ago, they created Al Qaeda, which included many veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Their task might have seemed daunting to anyone else, but they did not see it that way. In their view, they had already driven the Russians out of Afghanistan, in a defeat so overwhelming that it led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. Having overcome the superpower that they had always regarded as more formidable, they felt ready to take on the other; in this they were encouraged by the opinion, often expressed by Osama bin Laden, among others, that America was a paper tiger.

Today, America exemplifies the civilization and embodies the leadership of the House of War, and, like Rome and Byzantium, it has become degenerate and demoralized, ready to be overthrown. Khomeini’s designation of the United States as “the Great Satan” was telling. In the Koran, Satan is described as “the insidious tempter who whispers in the hearts of men.” This is the essential point about Satan: he is neither a conqueror nor an exploiter—he is, first and last, a tempter. And for the members of Al Qaeda it is the seduction of America that represents the greatest threat to the kind of Islam they wish to impose on their fellow-Muslims.

In two countries, Iraq and Iran, where the regimes are strongly anti-American, there are democratic oppositions capable of taking over and forming governments. We could do much to help them, and have done little. In most other countries in the region, there are people who share our values, sympathize with us, and would like to share our way of life. They understand freedom, and want to enjoy it at home. It is more difficult for us to help those people, but at least we should not hinder them. If they succeed, we shall have friends and allies in the true, not just the diplomatic, sense of these words.

If bin Laden can persuade the world of Islam to accept his views and his leadership, then a long and bitter struggle lies ahead, and not only for America. [...] If bin Laden is correct in his calculations and succeeds in his war, then a dark future awaits the world, especially the part of it that embraces Islam.