Most Muslims and Arabs have long since made and understood the historical relationship between the United States and Israel. For many years, we have decried the unfairness of American foreign policy towards Israel, but to little avail. The best that we have seen in recent years in respect to this relationship has been the Bush administration's unwillingness to express or demonstrate "unconditional" support. This attitude, though not appreciated by many as a major shift in U.S. policy is significant, since it creates an opportunity for the Islamic movement to emancipate itself from its "terrorist" nickname, the by-product of the Israeli propaganda war against the movement. Israel has used this nickname not only to demonize the movement, but also to make the case that it is in fact the victim, rather than the aggressor in Palestine. The message that Israel has sent out to the world is that without American, Palestinian and European support in eliminating the Islamic movement, there cannot be peace.
We are extremely nave if we believe that those who fought hard and spent millions to garner the powerful influence achieved by Zionists under the Clinton administration would simply walk away following the presidential election.
Although there are many Arabs and Muslims who criticize the Bush administration, it seems pretty clear that it has not, as did the previous administration, develop its perceptions of the Palestine/Israel conflict and the players in this conflict, based solely upon Israeli misinformation. This is perhaps why during the presidential campaign, Bush was able to commit to the establishment of a fair and balanced policy. In offering to work towards the formulation of a policy that was less slavish to Israel, Bush may have been saying in so many words that he recognizes that the previous policy was neither fair, nor balanced, and that this imbalance and unfairness was itself a barrier to peace. Those who are quick to judge the administration, and to prematurely criticize the administration due to its inability to articulate a clear, and unique policy, either forget, or ignore the fact that the Bush administration was denied a timely, and complete transition into authority. Stalling tactics employed by those who sought to hinder the exchange of authority in America prevented the replacement of Clinton administration operatives with Bush loyalists. Such notable conservatives as Howard Phillips, founder of the Conservative Caucus, apprised the nation of this situation in a full-page advertisement that appeared in the Washington Times several months ago. Although he was not addressing American policy toward the Palestine/Israel conflict, he plainly stated that the inability of the Bush team to complete its transition was a hindrance to the administration's ability to formulate and advance its policies. Others, who are following the Bush transition closely, attribute the United State's unpopular and controversial veto of a United Nation's resolution that would have provided an international peace keeping force in Palestine to the influence of operatives still in place at the United Nations, left over from the previous administration.
We are extremely nave if we believe that those who fought hard and spent millions to garner the powerful influence achieved by Zionists under the Clinton administration would simply walk away following the presidential election. After enjoying eight years of unconditional support it does not seem reasonable that they would now leave the future of Israel to an administration that clearly is not interested in preserving the biased passion of previous administration policy. Arab nationalists, who were empowered by the Clinton administration and the patron Arab states to direct Muslim and Arab activism and positions on the issues relevant to the peace process and the Arab/Israeli conflict in the United States, have also imposed their powerful influence. This influence is an offshoot of the previous administration's preference for a partnership with a non-religious Arab constituency in the United States, rather than with Islamists.
Considering the newly apparent political openness to other views, the Islamic movement should consider that maybe the time is right to introduce its programs, its ideals, and proposed programs to a world that is keen to understand exactly what it is that drives the movement. What does the movement hope to accomplish in Palestine other than successful military operations? What is the vision of Palestine's future that Islamists want the world to share and endorse? How will it seek to accomplish its objectives, and can these objectives be accomplished through power sharing arrangements with secularists and non Muslim groups? Is the movement seeking the establishment of an Islamic government in Palestine, and if so, what would this government look like? How would it function? What compromises can it make with other interests? Can it co-exist with Israel, and if so what are the proposed terms? If not, how does it envision a conclusion to the conflict? Does the Islamic movement have an economic plan, a program to resettle refugees and other displaced persons? Does it have the ability to develop the necessary relationships internationally that will be required to accomplish objectives? What are its priorities?
Although Islamists have addressed these issues to some extent, through intellectual and semi-official dialogues, and conferences, they have yet to truly present themselves to the world community of Muslims and non-Muslims. It is of the utmost importance that Islamists shift their focus, and cease to dedicate resources to projects designed mostly to persuade or influence the status quo. It should also abandon any expectation that non-Islamists and non-Muslims can or will advance its agenda. At best, those outside of the movement, and who are not committed to the ideological premises upon which the movement is based, can sympathize and speak from their own perspectives on general issues that are relevant to the universal principles that the movement illustrates. They cannot promote the movements programs and positions effectively, nor should they. Once they begin to operate in this fashion, they cease to be objective observers and commentators, and might begin to influence and shape ideals without having the necessary Islamic knowledge, experience or knowledge of the movement to truly understand or articulate Islamic standpoints accurately.
Islamists must also keep in mind that the world has never been guided to significant intellectual paradigm shifts by the status quo that did not serve the status quo's own interests. The "powers that be" will never take steps to minimize their own power, and that is exactly what changes in thinking, perceptions and popular support represent. This is perhaps one of the primary reasons why some of the Arab states and their representatives in the United States, along with other secular liberals and leftists, have quietly supported and perhaps even contributed ,to the demonization, marginalization, and calls for th,e elimination of the Islamic movement. The popular acceptance of the Islamic movement and its message threatens their tenure in power since it will marshal significant political and social change in the Muslim world.
Most Muslims are at least sentimentally inclined toward the Islamic perspective on political issues, and there is a good chance that non-Muslims, those who are objective, if given an opportunity to hear Islamic positions first hand, will not reject the movement simply because it is Islamic. It is the fear that these two potentially powerful groups of support will change their thinking about Islam, and support Islamic reform projects in the Muslim world that explains why secular Arab nationalists and others use their influence in the Muslim American and larger American community to control, and dictate Islamic activism, and American perceptions of Islam and Islamic movement. Their success is due to the movement's reluctance to move from beneath the umbrella of secular nationalists and to promote the Islamic ideal. The Islamic directive to unify and keep the peace is not meant to cripple the movement, since it is possible to unite without being sunken. Islamist activism was also seriously and adversely affected by attempts to criminalize fundraising and contributing to movement projects through the previous administration's "anti-terrorism" legislation that pretended to limit funding for terrorists activities, but actually sought to limit or end Islamic political activism.
Looking back at the prophet's (saw) activities prior to the establishment of the first Islamic state in Medina, we see that he too was faced with the problem of uniting those of the various Arab tribes, and others while simultaneously promoting Islam. The majority of Arabs at that time were not Muslims and they respected and followed the leadership of the Quraish who were Arabs, and also the tribe of the prophet (saw). They were also idol worshippers. The Quraish opposed the prophet (saws) and his followers both covertly and overtly, since they had recognized early on that Islam was a competing influence in the region. Islam's call to virtue, justice and morality, and the equality of all mankind, including women, under the auspices of one sovereign God, was a threat to those aspects of Quraish politics, traditions and culture that were contrary to Islam, including the claim of Arab supremacy over non-Arabs. Modern day Muslims often overlook the powerful symbolism of Bilal, the freed African slave, who was among the first of the prophet's followers, and who was loved and respected and treated equally among the Muslim converts. The same was true of the conversion of Salman Farsi the Persian. These relationships, but particularly Bilal's, since it was first, sent a clear message to the status quo that the class system of Arabia was being challenged, and that the slave, and those considered inferior by the Arabs, under Islamic law, were equal and free. Islam threatened and shook the very foundation of the pre-Islamic Arab civilization, and the Quraish did not take it lightly.
When we read the surah's (chapters), of the Qur'an, it becomes clear that Allah was addressing the improprieties of the culture and traditions of the Arabs through his prophet (saws), even though these same principles and truths apply to all, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality. At the same time, the prophet (saws) knew that the Jewish tribes were also opposed to this message and the ascendancy of Islam, since it also challenged their claim to racial supremacy, as well as the primacy of their law. It also presented an important barrier to any hopes they may have had of one day conquering Arabia.
The prophet (saws,), following the first hijrah (migration) of the Muslims to Ethiopia,, where they escaped Quraish persecution, began a campaign that carried him outside of Mecca, and into the villages of Arabia, preaching his message of reform. This shift in focus is important. It yielded an increase in converts and supporters among the tribes that led to the conversion of the Arabs of Medina, as well as the cooperation of some Jewish tribes. Many of the Jews and Christians recognized that the message, although it did not emanate from the Jewish or Christian hierarchy, was in fact a continuation of the teachings of previous prophets, including Moses and Jesus. These prophets had also called mankind away from slavish servitude too, and the fear of corrupting powers that had caused mankind to accept false ideas and fall into degrading practices that plagued mankind's material and spiritual progress. Primary among these ungodly ideas was racial and class supremacy, economic schemes that limited the circulation of a nation's wealth to a small section or class within the society, mistreatment of women especially forced prostitution and female infanticide, bribery, use of intoxicants, and social immorality of all kinds. All of the previous prophets had called their people to true monotheism, and submission to the high standards of God's laws. Many among the other religious groups present in Arabia recognized and accepted the message and some converted while many did not. Conversion was avoided by some due to fear that they would lose positions in their communities, or even their lives. The prophet (saws) never the less sought and accepted their financial support and cooperation in the defense of the Islamic movement, and the first Islamic State founded in Medina.
In seeking to emulate the prophet's sunnah (methodology), it may be reasonable to look for similar situations, and to adapt divinely prescribed strategies, while disregarding the historical context in which certain events took place. This means that we may not be limited to analyzing the sunnah only sequentially. There is a possibility that we can employ certain methods outside of their historic context. There is no obvious reason to assume that desirable situations can be brought about only if other specific events have preceded them. In some cases this may be true, but generally, the hikmat, or wisdom of the prophet's actions can be observed and utilized rationally expecting that the outcomes will be duplicated irrespective of time.
The Islamic movement in Palestine is challenged to present Islam, while simultaneously seeking to coalesce with other groups towards the common aims of freeing Palestine from occupation, and ultimately peace, while defending the people and implementing programs to advance the society spiritually, politically, socially and economically. These were the same challenges faced by the prophet (saw). His sunnah indicates that his first step in this direction was to expand his base of supporters, Muslims and non-Muslims, uniting first the Muslims and Arabs among themselves, and then through formal agreements, the non-Muslims and the Muslims including some hypocrites. This was accomplished through the Covenant of Medina. Islamists should re-examine this treaty very carefully, looking beyond the mere language, and the particulars of life in Medina. The general objective of the Covenant was to accomplish the necessary unity among those that shared a common interest but held disparate religious and cultural views. Islamists in Palestine can accomplish this same objective with secular Arab nationalists, and others, while sustaining its identity and without yielding its absolute commitment and submission to Islam. Granted that the prophet (saws) had the advantage in Medina, in tha,t he was a prophet, and had been recognized and accepted as the unchallenged leader of ,the Muslims and the Islamic state. In respect to this issue perhaps we should reject arguments and imagery that suggests that Islam somehow lost legitimacy in the Muslim world following the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, and accept that the Caliphate still exists, but has fallen into disarray and under the rule of some illegitimate authorities.
The Islamic ideal has more power than perhaps has been credited, and we cannot hear its message if it allows itself to be obscured. When Islamists unite with secularists and spend their resources, human and financial, in support of their programs, this might be the same as contributing to the victory of and establishment of other than Islam. Unity is essential to success in any collective endeavor, and there should be unity amongst those who are seeking common objectives in Palestine. This will require forgiveness, reconciliation, and compromise. It may be a good idea to consider that all future collaboration, along with Islamists support, be in agreement with the Islamic rules of alliance by treaty found in surat al-Tawbah, and the Islamic principle of Brotherhood set forth in surah Hujarat, ayat (verses) 9-11:
If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight you all against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of God. But if it complies, then make peace between them with justice, and be fair: for God loves those who are fair and just.
The believers are but one Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two contending brothers; and fear God, that you may receive Mercy. Oh you who believe let not some men among you laugh at (mock) others. It may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let some women laugh at others. It may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other by offensive nicknames. Unpleasant and inappropriate is a nickname connoting wickedness to be used of one after he has believed and those who do not desist are indeed doing wrong.
In spite of the hardships and deceptions that have seemingly plagued the progress of the Islamic movement in Palestine, and elsewhere, the Light of Allah continues to shine and all the promises of God still hold true. If Muslims establish the prayer, worship only Allah, obey His prophet (follow the law and sunnah), avoid shameful acts, give generously in charity, which includes kindness in speech, good treatment, even of our enemies when appropriate, and surrender ourselves completely to God's cause, we are assured assistance and manifest victory.
Anisa Abd el Fattah is editor of the Middle East Affairs Journal and director of media and public relations for the United Assoc. for Studies and Research.