Does Islamic Jihad Approve Terrorism?
A Critical Analysis of the claim that Islamic rules about Jihad may be compatible with terrorist actions!
By Hamid Hadji Haidar 1
Islamic Centre of England-London, Vice-Director
The terrorist attacks on the 11th of September 2001 in the United States has caused a long series of debates and discussions about Islamic attitude towards the use of force against non-Muslim people or their properties, which is called Jihad. Without intending to discuss all issues related to the use of military force and the Islamic viewpoint in this respect, here I would examine the main features of Jihad according to Islamic Shari'ah focusing on the attitude of Shiite Scholars only, to pave the way for reasonable judgment about compatibility of terrorist actions with Islamic Jihad.
The discussion, then, would concentrate on offensive military action, as Shiite scholars see it.
Before examining the rules of Islamic Jihad, it is worth considering that on the basis of the U.N. Charter, article 2, what is certainly prohibited is the offensive military attack to occupy the territory of or to impose some conditions on another country.2 Likewise, U.N. Charter, article 51, legitimises the self-defense against an offensive attack, be it individually or collectively.3 Apart from these two cases, there is no consensus among countries nor theorists of international law about legitimacy of other types of military actions, such as humanitarian intervention, military intervention for defense of subjects, anticipatory self-defense, retaliatory military intervention, military intervention for suppression of rebel forces in another country and so forth.
2. What is Jihad?
Literally, Jihad indicates either (1) the difficulty or (2) the force.4 In Islamic jurisprudence, Jihad includes two main types: offensive Jihad meaning the initiation of war to strengthen and promote the belief in God and His religion. This war, of course, should be waged only for the sake of God;5 defensive Jihad is the second type, which is undertaken against any military attack from other country. All Muslim scholars and, even, all Muslims unanimously believe in the legitimacy of these two types of military action.6
3. On what condition is Jihad legitimate?
The case is not so simple, of course. The offensive Jihad has many conditions and limitations. As far as our discussion here is concerned, we shall discuss three significant restrictions on Jihad.
(1) The goal of Jihad
There is a consensus among Muslim scholars that the goal of Jihad is to call non-Muslims to accept Islam and to establish justice and Divine Law.7 In this respect, according to the Qur'an, Chapter The Cow (Al-Baqara), Verse 244, God says:
Then fight in Allah's cause and do recall
That God Hears all, Knows all.8
In interpretation of the above Verse, Allamah Tabatabayee, a prominent interpreter of the Holy Qur'an, observes that,
This Verse is a declaration of the legitimacy of Jihad. God in this Verse and other similar verses legitimates Jihad contingent on its fulfillment for the sake of God. This stipulation is to indicate that this religious task has not been set for the purpose of a materialistic dominance and an expansion of sovereignty of the Islamic state; rather Muslims are tasked with promoting the religion, which is to the benefit of all people in the present life as well as for the eternal life.9
As one prominent scholar argues, this stipulation goes without saying and is indubitable.10 Therefore, the action of Jihad should be preceded by an explicit and public declaration to non-Muslims. In other words, the offensive war is legitimate provided that, (a) Muslims have publicly called non-Muslims to believe in Islam and, (b) they have refrained submitting themselves to Islam. Certainly, this condition per se prohibits any terrorist action by any Islamic state or group.
(2) Who is authorised to command Jihad?
One significant limitation to the legitimacy of Jihad originates from the necessary qualities the commander of Jihad should possess. According to Shiite jurisprudence, only Prophet Mohammad and his infallible successors (peace be upon them) have had the authority from God to command Jihad. In Shiite theology, there have only been twelve infallible Imams, the twelfth of whom --Al-Mahdi- has been occult since more than 1200 years ago.
No one except God knows his whereabouts and when he shall return to the people to fulfill his mission. All we know in this regard is that, as Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him & his family) said, if it does not remain but one day in the temporary life, God will extend that day until He sends Al-Mahdi to make the justice and truth prevail on earth, as the earth would be dominated by injustice.11
Mohammad Hasan Najafi, one of the most prominent jurists and scholars of Shiite Muslims, observes that this stipulation is acknowledged by all Shiite scholars and none of them doubts it. More specifically, he argues that according to some Shiite scholars, at present time, when Al-Mahdi is occult, Jihad is illegitimate.12 Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is among those who have explicitly emphasised the necessity of this condition as a prerequisite of the legitimacy of Jihad.13
Whilst in non-Muslim world it was just after the Second World War that the offensive war was prohibited,14 Shiite Muslims can take pride that, since many centuries ago, when Al-Mahdi went into occultation, Jihad has been prohibited.
(3) The constraint imposed by the U.N. Charter
Another restriction of legitimacy of Jihad originates from the relationship of the Islamic states with other states. If the Islamic governments make a treaty with non-Muslim nations not to fight against each other, the respect of that agreement is quite essential.15 The Islamic governments have to keep their promise not to fight against non-Muslim nations as long as those non-Muslims keep their promise, be that agreement about a temporary or a permanent peace.16 This opinion mainly is based on the Holy Qur'an, Chapter the Repentance (Al-Taubah), verses 3 and 4, which say:
God and His Messenger also declare,
Upon this Day of Greater Pilgrimage,
To all the people: "God and His Apostle
Dissolve all bounds to the idolaters;
Thus now, if you repent, it will be better,
For you, but if you give no heed, beware!
You won't escape from Allah's Power!
So, give the tidings of a woeful scourge,
Unto the Faith-rejecters,
Except for those idolaters, with whom
You made agreements, who did never
Fail you in aught, nor did they ever,
Aid anyone against you; with them,
Keep faith until their treaties run their terms;
God surely loves the self-restrainers.17
Consequently, since every Islamic country is a member of the United Nations, the article 2 of which prohibits offensive war and necessitates permanent peace, all Islamic states have to be loyal to this agreement and refrain from any initiative military actions. This is so important a religious task that even if Muslims obtain power to defeat any non-Muslim country and impose Islam on them they are not allowed to violate this treaty with non-Muslims. This is what piety requires from the Muslims.
Moreover, Islamic states are not permitted to support any group in resorting to military actions under the name of Jihad against those states with which a treaty is concluded. What is not permitted for an Islamic government to do is not permitted for it to support. The Holy Qur'an addressing Muslims in Chapter The Food (Al-Maa'ida), verse 2, says:…
Cooperate in what is good and pious,
But do not help in sin and malice;
For God is Stern in retribution.18
Therefore, as the action of Jihad without meeting the conditions pointed out, all of which are lacking today, is a sin, not only are the Islamic governments obliged to avoid Jihad, but also they should refrain from giving support to any group in conducting any military action under the guise of Jihad.
1-He has written a book titled "Use of Force in the International Relations, according to International and Islamic Law". In this book, he has established that the assertion usually made against Islamic law that instead of supporting peaceful settlement of disputes, Islam encourages offensive war –"Jihad"- is not correct. In detail, he has showed a nearly perfect similarity between prohibition of the use of military actions in the international law and Islamic law. This book is published in Persian by Ettela'at Publications, Tehran, 1997; and in Arabic by "The Organisation for Islamic Communications", Tehran, 1997.
2-Article 2/4 states that: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. http://www.un.org/Overview/Charter/chapter1.html 12/11/2001
3-Article 51 states that: Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security. http://www.un.org/Overview/Charter/chapter7.html 12/11/2001
4-Mohammad Hasan Najafi, Jawaher-ul-Kalam fi Sharhe Sharaye-ul-Islam, Vol. 21, fifth edition, (Beirut: Daro Ahyae-al-Torath-al-Arabi, 1981), p. 3.
5-Saeed Ravandi, "Fiqh-ul-Qur'an", in Ali Asqar Morvarid, Selselat-ul-Yanabi-ul-Fiqhiah, Vol. 9, (Lebanon: Daro Torath-al-Islamiah, 1989), p. 111.
6-Najafi, Op. Cit., pp. 4, 8, 9.
7- Ibid., pp. 227-231.
8- The Qur'an, translated by Fazlollah Nikayin, (United States: The Ultimate Book, 2000), p. 58.
9- Mohammad Hosein Tabatabai, Almizan fi Tafsirel Qur'an, Vol. 1, second edition, (Beirut: Mo'assasat-ul-Alami Lelmatbou'at, 1972), p. 284.
10- Ibid., p. 47.
11-Tabarsey, Majma-ul-Bayan, Vol. 7, (Beirut: Dar El-Marefah, 1986), pp. 106, 107.
12-Mohammad Hosein Tabatabai, Op. Cit., pp. 11-14.
13-Imam Khomeini, Tahrir-ul-Wasilah, Vol. 1, second edition, (Iraq: Matba'at-ul-Adaab, 1969), p. 482.
14-Hamid Hadji Haidar, Use of Force in the International Relations, according to International and Islamic Law, (Tehran: Ettela'at Publications, 1997), pp. 59-65.
15-Najafi, Op. Cit., pp. 293, 294.
16-Aqa Ziae din Alaraqi, Sharhe Tabserat-ul-Mota'alemin, Vol. 4, (Qum: Mo'assasat-ul-Nashr-al-Islami, 1995), p. 383.
17- The Qur'an, pp. 282, 283.
18- Ibid., pp. 155, 156.
Terrorism According to Islamic Law
The Principle of Public Security and Terrorism from the point of view of Islamic Rights
Ayatollah M Araki, Director, Islamic Centre of England, UK
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
In order to become profoundly acquainted with the point of view of Religious Jurisprudence and Islamic Rights with regards to Terrorism, it is necessary to refer to some of the most important elements or principles of Public Security related to Terrorism in Religious Jurisprudence and Islamic Rights:
Some of the main principles of Public Security and Rights relating to it from the Islamic point of view are as follows:
1. Every human being has the right to have its life, belongings, chastity and reputation being safeguarded and violation of anyone's life, belongings, chastity and reputation is not permitted.
"And do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits" 1
2. All human beings are equal in enjoying the right of security, and encroachment or injustice made towards the security of any human being is as though injustice is made towards the security of all human beings.
" Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men" 2
3. A transgressor who violates the right of security of others is excluded from the liability to the law of Public Security to the same extent that it has transgressed and acted oppressively.
" And all sacred things are (under the law of) retaliation; whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you." 3
4. The law of Public Security is not confined to human beings; instead, it includes organisms, plants and also non-living things. All beings are entitled to the right for existence and growth and no creature can be deprived of its right to exist and grow without any reason.
This is the characteristic of the enemy:
" If he gains power, he would struggle so to run along in the land that he may cause mischief in it and destroy the plants and the stock, and Allah does not love the mischief makers." 4
5. War is only permissible under conditions that it is against the oppression of the oppressors and is for the prevention of their oppression or abolition of their powers. Therefore, in wars, it is unlawful to violate, transgress and take away the security of people who do not have any roles in the oppression of the oppressors or those who are the victim of oppression.
It is narrated from Imam Ali (A.S.) that he gave the following advise to his army before the encounter with the enemy at Siffeen:
" Do not kill them unless they initiate the fighting, because, by the grace of Allah, you are in the right and to leave them till they begin fighting will be another point from your side against them. If, by the will of Allah, the enemy is defeated then do not kill the runner away, do not strike helpless person, do not finish off the wounded, and do not inflict pain on women even though they may attack your honor with filthy words and abuse your officers." 5
6. In wars, women, children, old men and residents who are occupied in their present life should not be exposed to aggression and injustice, even if they are related to the enemy's nation and nationality, and even if their children are regarded as the enemy in the war, employed as war defenders.
This principle is considerable to an extent that would not cause the spread or continuation of transgression by a transgressor towards women, children, old men and residents.
7. Waters, gardens, farmlands, stables and any kind of non-military Installations, and any kind of live manifestations and habitable states, should all be safe from any sorts of transgression or encroachment. The repulsion towards the transgression of the transgressor and prevention of the aggression of the aggressor does not give authority for any kind of transgression towards live manifestations and habitable states and the destruction of equipments and necessities of life.
8. It is not permissible in any circumstances to destroy the nature and prevent living beings in need, from benefiting appropriately.
Imam Ali (A.S.) said:
" observe the divine virtue with respect to Allah's creation and His land because you are responsible towards the places and the organisms." 6
9. Where a person or a group of people become exceptional because of acting oppressively and becoming exceptional from the liability to the law of public security (i.e. would not be liable to the law of public security), this exception will not in any way apply to the relatives and dependents of that person or group of people, be it connected through religion, nationality, geography or country.
"No one will be punished for someone else's penalty"
10. Whoever becomes exceptional from the liability to the law of public security for any reason, then this exception is according to which the transgressor is liable. Therefore, violation of the security of the criminal is only lawful within the limits of the law and justice, and it is unlawful to go beyond this limit.
It is narrated from Imam Ali (A.S.) who ordered the following about his own murderer:
"Observe that if I die from this blow, you should only punish him with the same blow and never torture him since I have heard from the prophet who said: never torture anyone even if it is a mad dog." 7
After mentioning the 10 principles of Public Security in the Islamic Rights, it is now time to explain the concept of Terrorism and explain its verdict from the point of view of Jurisprudence and Islamic Rights:
Terrorism can be defined in several ways:
Terrorism means any kind of negation of security from ordinary people.
"Ordinary people" are those people who have not interfered in the safety of others and are not even ready to disturb other people's security. These people are non-military and are not getting prepared for any military actions. This best explains the meaning of ordinary people.
According to the first three principles of the rights of security in Islamic jurisprudence, which have been explained above, terrorism as defined, is a big crime and is in complete contrast with the right of public security from the point of Islamic jurisprudence.
Terrorism means any kind of steps taken towards negation of the right to live, from any human being or other organisms who do not practically violate the security of others. Even if there may be a chance of this measure being taken by them.
From the view of Islamic jurisprudence, just a probability or a possibility of an anti-security measure being taken does not authorise us to take away security from anyone or anything. This is because, you cannot punish someone on an act which it has not carried out.
It is not only permissible rather necessary for measures to be taken to prevent criminal acts against residents. However, this prevention should not violate the security of those who have not committed any crimes.
The definition of terrorism as the negation of the security of others as a whole, even if others are transgressors and continue their acts of transgression, is occasionally promoted by some powerful countries and create an excuse for the criminals so that they could take away the security of others under the cover of combating the phenomenon of terrorism. This is so that they can spread transgression and oppression against human beings and legalise their acts.
As mentioned in the principle of the right of public security in the Islamic right (especially in the third principle), the right of security and the principle from that is only applicable to those who have not violated the security of others. Since, to give security to transgressors who violate the security of others, would obviously take away the public security and would result in oppression to the innocents.
Therefore, criminals and oppressors cannot be liable to the same amount of public security as innocent people. Perhaps, to bring about public security, we must fight against the aggressive oppressors. Campaigning against oppressors and transgressors is a right, which roots from the public security. To the same extent that the right of security of innocent people is their right, combating with the oppressors is also the right of those people whose rights have been violated.
1-The Cow, verse 190
2-The Food, verse 32
3-The Cow, verse 194
4-The Cow, verse 205
5-Nahjul Balagha, sermon 252
6-Nahjul Balagha, sermon 165
7-Nahjul Balagha, sermon 285
Terrorism or Jihad
Imam Mohammad H Asi, Washington DC, USA
I greet you with the salutations of peace customary amongst Muslims, who address themselves with this invitation. Let me begin by saying that terrorism is an elusive word. Its interpretation is subject to the contextual favouritism or bias of the, whoever is interpreting it. Because there is a globalization interest in the world, this word "terrorism" has been hijacked by the powers that be, and it is being used to serve those particular interests.
Let me proceed a step further in trying to define terrorism, though there are many definitions for this word, definitions, which wobble constantly.
Terrorism is impossible to understand without grasping two concepts: justice and oppression. If we do not understand terrorism within the scope and magnitudes of justice and oppression, then terrorism can only have a linguistic meaning. We, however, are not linguists, here to understand the linguistic context of such a word. To try and understand the meaning of terrorism without recourse to an understanding of justice and oppression is an exercise in futility.
If we look at the development of this word and it uses in the past several decades, we see that it is a mere euphemism for the Islamic context. Attempts at removing oppression and establishing justice in the Islamic world are inevitably described as terrorism. There are many concrete examples. Of the many assassinations in recent history, one of the most significant was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Never was this incident referred to in the media as an act of terror. It was merely an act of political assassination, or some other sort of assassination. Similar was the case of the assassinations of the Ghandis in India, which were not built up as a case of terrorism. m. Yet the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt was discussed as an act of terrorism, and "terrorists" were to blame for this act. This is based on an attempt to indirectly imply that terrorism is something unique to the Islamic world. This is, of course, an erroneous idea, and is an assault and insult against Muslims and their attempts at self-determination.
When we speak about terrorism, we are speaking about a form of warfare. Many times those involved in acts of terrorism, especially if they have been denied power and are the weaker side in the conflict, especially if they have no peaceful recourse to removing oppression and injustice, have resorted to the unconventional use of terrorism to pursue their political goals. The media, however, does not focus on the other side of terrorism, the terrorism of the affluent and the powerful.
Terrorism, as it is known, is the poor man's warfare, while the terrorism of the affluent goes unnoticed. Dropping atom bombs on a certain part of the world escapes our definition of terrorism, and our supposedly brave intellects do not understand this act as an act of terrorism. What is referred to in the media as terrorism, day in and day out, generation after generation, is the act of those who have lost all other recourse to making things right and establishing justice in their lives.
We must always look at the context of these conflicts. When we look at the Palestinians, we see a people who want nothing more than the establishment of justice and the removal of injustice. They have been denied every avenue to remedying their situation. They cannot seek office. They cannot influence policy decisions in the territory they are located in. They cannot make recourse to the forums of the international community and the regional groupings of states in the Arab world. Nothing, however, seems to work.
In this situation they become written off and dehumanized by the powers that be. When they are left, at the end of the day, with all sorts of injustice, with a genocidal war, what does that leave them? What is one to do when a population, a multi-faith population of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, wants to bring some modicum of justice into their lives, while having every avenue of political change denied to them?
In the apostolic history, we see that the Prophets were placed in a very similar position. Often they used swords, but were never called terrorists. We are too immature to outgrow the information system around us, and to look at the human beings actually living in these circumstances. To identify with what is right, and to stand up to the powers that be and expose the situation of the oppressed who have no other recourse to solving their political crisis.
The Nature of Political Violence in Contemporary History
Iqbal Siddiqui, Editor, Crescent International, UK
I don't believe that the discussion on terrorism in its present context is particularly relevant to religious leaders. What we must understand is this: In spite of all the talk of Islamic terrorism or fundamentalism, and the problem of Islam, and the clash of civilizations, the events which have brought us altogether here today cannot be understood in terms of religion. This is not to say that they are not associated with religion, but rather that they cannot be understood if we place them in a religious context. This is just as difficult as trying to consider problems of inner-city crime or the drug trade in religious terms.
Contemporary terrorism, and I'm not going to try and define terrorism, as I believe that this has been discussed, must be looked at in the context of political violence and history. Those two are, of course, very closely linked. All political activity is defined in terms of the values that they hold, and the values they seek to promote. For people who are predominantly religious in their sense of identity, define their political activity in religious terms. A great deal of political activity consists of violence, inevitably and unchangeably. The world we live in today has been shaped by force. The world order, as we know it, has been established by force, and it is inevitable that those who seek to change will seek to change it through force.
What we need to understand is that we live and continue to live in an extremely violent world. What happened on Sept. 11th was not unprecedented, nor was it something that came out of the blue. It was only unprecedented in America, and it came as a shock to Americans, because Americans are not used to political violence, and are only used to dishing it out. Political violence in the world is of many kinds, and not just physical or military violence. It is a matter of economic, political, and social violence. For most people in the world, unlike Americans, their world is defined by forces outside of their control. These forces interact with them in an often extremely brutal and violent way.
This is the context and the nature of the world that must be understood to understand Sept. 11th. I don't know who committed that act, that offence, that atrocity. It goes without saying that we cannot accept any politician's word as to who committed this act, as they lie in almost instinctive fashion. What we can say, though, is that the explanations that are coming forward in the West (especially in America) as to why that atrocity was committed, are unrealistic and untenable.
I happen to see recently, an American news program, in which the presenter and the guest were discussing whether or not the world was more offended by whether or not America was free, or whether or not it wants other people to be free. The discussion then moved on to discuss whether or not terrorists are psychopaths, who kill people for the sake of killing, or are motivated by rational motives, such as the hope for Divine Favour. What no one seemed to understand was that a lot of people are angry with America because America is identified with what is wrong with the world.
The West talks about a new world order, while the rest of the world sees only continuing global disorder, based on the trampling exercise of power by a global bully. The West understands history as a continual human striving for human freedom and away from injustice. The wars and use of force against Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia, and earlier struggles against oppressive monarchies, are understood in these terms.
What people do not seem to realize, especially in the West, is that many view the West in just this same light. They view the West to be a continuation of selfish exploitative regimes that we recognized very easily in places like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. This is understandable if we look at America's record in the world. I only have fifteen minutes to speak, but if I were to list America's record of crimes in the world, and reasons why people might not share America's high example of itself, then that fifteen minutes would be gone very quickly.
Two examples are often brought up by Muslims in this light: Palestine and Iraq. Palestine has already been discussed, and we are all aware of the figures regarding Iraq. More people die in Iraq in a month than were killed in New York and Washington on Sept. 11th. Other examples are Nicaragua in the 1980s, and subsequently. The School of the Americas, well-named, was a terrorist training camp in Georgia, which sent out Latin American guerrillas to wage what can only be regarded as terrorism against popular governments in Nicaragua and other Latin American states.
In Sudan, 50% of Sudan's pharmaceutical capacity and more than 50% of its stock of pharmaceuticals was destroyed in a single bombing raid in 1998. Is killing people indirectly somehow less painful than killing them directly? Are the people that give those orders somehow less culpable than those people who ordered hijackings and attacks against New York and Washington?
These are some of the reasons that the world cannot take America's rhetoric seriously. The gap between what America and the West say, and what they do, is simply too great. People are realistic. They understand that nobody can ever live up to the standards they set for themselves. But what they see in the case of America and the West is not a failure to live up to lofty standards, but the fact that the words and actions are diametrically opposed.
I am reminded of the American Indian saying that the white man speaks with a forked tongue. That is the nature of the world that we live in. We understand it, we think it, we feel it, when we think historically about the recent past. Francis Fukuyama spoke of the End of History, on the basis that the struggle for rights had ended and universal values had prevailed after the Cold War. For the rest of the world, though, history goes on. All that the end of the Cold War did was leave the world with one oppressive superpower, instead of two which at least balanced each other.
Sydney Shipton was correct when he said none of this justifies terrorism. I would disagree with him, however, in his assessment that we cannot seek to understand terrorism. If we do not understand it, than we cannot counter it. Seeking to understand something is not to sympathise with it, or to promote it, or to make excuses for the perpetrators. It is rather to enable ourselves to find what needs to be done to prevent these things from happening. The present world order is based on the law of the jungle, and the idea that might makes right. But with power comes responsibility, and that power can only be trusted to those who have the morality to exercise that power wisely and for the common good. We, unfortunately, do not see that in the world today.
History also teaches us that the only way to resist injustice and oppression is through force. Unfortunate, but true. Pacifism is often a weapon of the status quo. Those who use violence freely in order to establish themselves in the world, will at the same time speak of peace. This is not because they believe in it, as their actions show that they don't believe in it, but rather in order to use the language of peace in order to disarm and discredit their enemies, and ensure that opposition to them in effective.
But when independence movements in the world use force, that force must be used morally. When an extreme fringe of those movements are pushed to use force indiscriminately and immorally against illegitimate targets and with illegitimate weapons such as hijacked jumbo jets, those are crimes which the people who share their cause and their view of the world must criticize them and isolate them. Are standards must be higher than the people we are fighting. If we descend to those standards, then there is no difference between us. It is likely that such people, when they take power from their oppressors, will then commit the same atrocities.
So we must, then, condemn terrorism, even if we understand it, and even if we sympathise with some of those who are pushed to use such methods, in the same that we sympathise with abused and beaten women who turn on their husbands. Those are crimes for which their are extenuating circumstances, even though they are still crimes. This same standard must be applied to terrorists.
But we must understand terrorism within the context of world history and the violence that has shaped that world. We must find social and political solutions to those problems. If we do not, then all the morality, piety, and religious feeling in the world, and all the pain of the good people in the world, will not be able to prevent these things from happening again in the future. That is the reality of the world we live in.
Covering Islam: Media and its Impact on Muslim Identity
By Hamid Mowlana
Hamid Mowlana is professor of international relations and director of the Division of International Communication, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC. He is the past president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
The crisis of Muslim identity has been influenced by the two forces of modern media and information technologies. On the national level the media as a pillar of secular force has often reinforced a notion of the modern nation state system with all its political, economic, and cultural ramifications contributing to the rise of a national identity. On the international level, in particular since World War II, the mainstream media of the world has portrayed Islam and the Muslim world often in negative and misleading terms thus contributing to the erosion of an Islamic identity.
Therefore, contradictory images of national, ethnic, racial, and sectarian identities portrayed in the media not only have been the major obstacles to the formation of a cohesive Islamic identity both on national and regional levels but also have had a deteriorating impact in the mobilization and assimilation of the population in the developmental process.
The discourse on the nation-state in the Western industrialized world deals almost exclusively with the evolution of a particular kind of state that had its origin and development in Western Europe over the past 200 years in predominantly Christian and capitalist countries. In the Islamic countries the conception of the state, however, historically offered a radically different version of the relationship of governing bodies to society.
Over the last fourteen centuries the notion of the state in an Islamic context has undergone the process of articulating its unique identity in the contemporary world. The division of different geographical, linguistic, and national groupings in this part of the world into the modern nation-state system since the turn of the twentieth century has created an ongoing crisis of identity, which requires close scrutiny.
As I will attempt to demonstrate here, unlike the West, it is not the changing or shifting role of the nation-state but the very existence of it, perpetuated by the media, that is responsible for fragmentation, disunity, and the ongoing crisis of identity in the Islamic world. It is precisely for this reason that the crises of the modern nation-state system in the Islamic world must be analyzed in its cultural context, since the process of 'nation-building' has been incompatible with the cultural settings of these societies.
The crisis of identity in the Muslim world was and continues to be ignored by many writers and analysts because of the emphasis they put on the analysis of formal political institutions such as the state, political parties, bureaucratic institutions, and modern parliamentary and governmental infrastructures. Yet the traditional Islamic political and social institutions, the informal political channels through which interest articulation and political demands are expressed, the deep Muslim feelings and reservations about the nation-state system that persist beneath a modernizing culture in the last two decades, and the crucial role of the media in propagating the existence of a nation state all have altered the balance of political forces nationally and regionally.
Today the Islamic nations face one of the most severe dilemmas of their contemporary existence, yet how they will deal with this crisis of identity remains largely problematic because the very political structure of the nation-state (upon which they have been erected) is in part the cause of their underlying instability. How is it that this inherently unsound situation arose? The blame lies in part with the West and in part with those national elites who wield power in their countries. While the West developed those concepts which today so torment the Islamic world and imparted them to the Muslim region during the colonial era, the import of Western ideology is something which has not ceased with the end of colonial occupation.
It is within this context that the role of the media needs to be looked at in the Islamic world. Prior to the modern era the centers of communication in the Islamic world were primarily the mosques, especially during the daily and Friday congregations, and the meetings in the marketplaces, public squares, as well as the religious schools and colleges.
The mosque not only served for daily prayers but also for the spreading of news and opinion and as a forum for political decision-making. This form of communication, called khutbeh, was largely based on the Islamic tradition of combining political and religious discourse. For example, during the Ramadan, a religious month for fasting, theological students and members of the religious profession customarily held meetings to present current topics and issues.
However, between the 13th century and the modern era, the Islamic world fell short in adopting new communication technologies due to internal and external political, economic, and social factors. The European invention of the Gutenberg press in the middle of the 15th century heralded the birth of the print culture and a tremendous quantitative jump in the output of human information.
However, in the Islamic societies one mode of communication did not supersede another but rather the development of oral and written communication occurred simultaneously and came to complement technological forms of communications in the modern era. Hence, the growth of communications in the Islamic world was characterized by qualitative rather than quantitative jumps. During the 16th to the early 19th century when a more or less formalized council of ministers came into being in a number of Islamic countries such as Iran and Turkey the official government news writer occupied an important place.
Occasionally the government news-or akhbar as it came to be called- was also read to the public from the stairs of mosques. The official governmental report continued to function as a successful medium for dissemination of news until the introduction of modern journalism. Printing presses were introduced into the Islamic countries such as Egypt, India, Iran, and Turkey as early as the 17th century.
During the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century the printing press facilitated the establishment of various newspapers throughout the Islamic world. This early period of the press was not only responsible for the importation of modern nationalism and secularism from Europe, but also played an important role in the spread of the 19th century Islamic movement as well as in the campaign against European colonialism.
The early growth of the modern mass media in the Islamic world was associated first with the intervention of the state in the production and distribution of the press and secondly with the influence of both secular and religious leaders, who were seeking the use of the press for socio-political reforms. Thus, during the last two decades of the 19th century two types of publications were emerging in the Islamic world: the press led mainly by the Western-trained and educated elites who were promoting European ideas of secularism, liberalism, and modern nationalism; and the press pioneered by religious leaders and Islamic reformists such as Sayyid Jamal al-Din (known as al-Afghani) who was campaigning for a unified Islamic community throughout the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa.
Sayyid Jamal al-Din's influence was strong in most Islamic countries especially Iran and Egypt. He and his followers published a number of newspapers including the famous Al-Urvatul Vosgha which was circulated in many Islamic countries. By the turn of the century the new tool of journalism was in widespread use in the Islamic world from Indonesia to North Africa.
The early years of the twentieth century witnessed the great struggle between nationalism, Islamic movements, and imperialism which was reflected almost continuously in the media of the Islamic world-- from Indonesia and Malaysia to Turkey and Morocco. The press in Egypt, Iran, and Lebanon achieved wide circulation. In other Islamic countries the first decades of the 20th century were pinpointed as the period when journalism and modern communication media began to develop and expand in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
With the revolt of the Young Turks against the Sultan in 1908 there developed a sudden upsurge in the number of papers being published in the Arab-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Of the three great media of propaganda in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-06-- the omnipresent political pamphlets, the secret and revolutionary societies, and the press-- it was the last that made the greatest impact. Anti-colonial movements and the struggle for independence in India, Indonesia, Morocco, and Algeria led to the growth of the press, political parties, and a number of ideological movements ranging from Islamic radicalism to communist socialism.
Thus, the 20th century marked the rise of modern mass communication in the Islamic world. The process of decolonization of a number of Islamic countries in Asia and Africa, coupled with delineation of economic classes, and the recognition of the nation state system elevated the communication media to a new frontier in which the state played a major role. In the Central Asian republics where the former Soviet Union's models of media became dominant, Islamic institutions of communication such as mosques and madrrsha remained under the control and supervision of the state. In North and West Africa communication media of the newly established independent states were developed along the lines of the Francophone and Anglophone models.
Today many Muslim nation-states proudly include the words 'democratic' or 'socialist' (or any number of other descriptive political adjectives) in their official names, which have little or no relevance to their society. In fact, regardless of what type of government they claim to be represented by, almost the overwhelming majority of those states are dominated by a small number of political elites who are highly uncharacteristic of the general population and are indifferent to Islamic political and cultural values. These elites are generally supported by monarchical, tribal, ethnic, or military regimes and rely almost entirely upon Western ideologies (i.e. beliefs, ideas, values, and emotions) and the media to legitimize their existence.
The State and Community
Politics is a cultural activity. The major crises facing the Islamic countries is that, with a very few exceptions, their political systems and their governments are inconsistent and incompatible with the core of their cultural systems and values, that of Islam. The political tone of the Islamic countries since the beginning of the twentieth century was distinctly dominated by two streams of political forces: the politics of modern ideology and material interest.
The prominence of modern ideological politics can be last seen in the constitutional movements and the ideas of European liberalism in Iran, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the century; in the rise of Arab nationalism during World War Two; and in the movements of national socialism and the development of military governments in a number of Islamic countries after World War Two.
This ideological flood which had its course in modern political parties, secular intellectuals, and the officers corps was paralleled by the system of material politics, which was rooted in traditional monarchy, inter-tribal coalitions and competition, and most recently in the growing sector of industrial and transnational infrastructure. This resulted in an attempt to alter the political and economic segments of society in order to meet the requirement of a global market system.
The elites and the so-called modern institutions and groups using the diffusionist power of the media pursued their material interests with disregard to society as a whole and often without any accountability, thereby increasing the crisis of identity. However, both the politics of modern ideology and the politics of material interests were counter-productive in Islamic societies because they were inconsistent with the principles and precepts of the politics of ummah (Islamic community) which were perceived as the core of Islamic identity and as the doctrine of both spiritual and temporal powers and authorities.
For example, the one issue which today is causing the greatest instability in the Middle East is the fact that the very basis upon which the modern political structure of the region is built (i.e. the nation-state) is a concept which is alien to and in many ways diametrically opposed to the fundamental principles of Islam. Historically, the great Islamic empires which began their expansion in the seventh century were in no way related to those concepts which are integral parts of the modern nation state. Rather, they were based primarily on the precepts of the Islamic faith which helps to explain the great diversity and viability characterizing Islamic societies in the past.
However, as almost inevitably occurs throughout history the Islamic empires eventually eroded and were encroached upon by newly expanding powers. Thus, beginning with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt near the turn of the eighteenth century a political system was imposed upon the Middle East which was not the result of an indigenous evolution but rather was a system which had grown to meet the needs of feudal Europe. The imposition of this concept of government (and with it an entirely new way of thinking) has been one of the primary causes of instability in the Middle East for the past two hundred years.
In many current analyses great confusion arises from the failure to make a distinction between a nation-state and an Islamic state. It should be emphasized that while the nation-state is a political state, the Islamic state is a muttagi or religio-political "God fearing" state. The foundation of the Islamic state is based on the Quran, the sunnah (tradition), and the Shari'ah (Islamic canonical law).
Whereas in a secular nation-state system sovereignty rests in the people, in an Islamic order the sovereignty of the state rests in God and not in thrones, individuals, or other groups of people. Where the state does not acknowledge the sovereignty of God religion becomes a private affair for the citizens. In Islam religion is not a private affair; it is a public affair. The spiritual and temporal powers are not separated but are united. When Islam appeared as a world power in the seventh century A.D. the concepts of the nation and the state as we know them today did not exist. Instead, Islam developed the concept of the ummah the community of the faithful who professed to believe in both the spiritual and temporal dimensions of Islam.
To see the effects of grafting the Western political mind set onto a region for which it is not suited one need look no further than the chaotic turmoil of the modern Middle East. The region is littered with the remnants of regimes which relied directly upon imported Western values and ideals and the media as the primary justification of their existence. Both the Shah of Iran and the former monarchs of Egypt had very little if anything to do with the historical processes of Middle Eastern political development and everything to do with seeing modernization along Western lines as the only viable option in a secular world. Even today the majority of the governments in the region follow the same pattern.
The Syndrome of Nationalism
As part of the nation-state system, one of the most destabilizing of the imported ideologies in the Islamic world has been that of nationalism. In Muslim countries attempts to create a sense of loyalty to an entity which is for all practical purposes foreign has led to seriously destructive consequences. Due largely to the instigation from those in authority, the peoples of the Islamic world are divided more than ever before along the lines of ethnicity, language, and the possession of geographic territory.
Islam has thus not been used in its assimilative capability to form a cohesive Islamic identity, which had made it the unifying force behind one of the greatest political powers the world has ever known. Islam has been subordinated to the powerful ideology of nationalism and has created a dependency upon the West for the understanding of the basic rules of both domestic and international policy-making.
The so-called 'decolonialization' under the nation-state system drew political frontiers in the Islamic world where none existed before. It created competing national leaderships among a people with a long common history and, like Arabs, even a common language and culture. Decolonialization from imperialism and imperial powers became the beginning of the recolonialization process under the banner of nationalism.
In the discussion of polity and society as one Western scholar observed,
if the subject of government in Muslim society has been left almost until the end, that is because it was never, or almost never, anything other than superimposed; never, or almost never, the emanation or repression of that society. It is in its solidarities at the individual level that the true social coherences and structures of Islam are to be found, not in the princes, their soldiers, and their tax collectors.
Historically, the political and administrative institutions of the Muslim world were among the most highly developed in the world but beginning with the dynastic systems citizens were obliged to submit to the governors rather than to maintain the idealistic models of government which characterized the polity of Islam during the early period after the death of the Prophet.
The crisis of identity in the Islamic world was further reinforced by a series of humiliating events during the last four decades immediately after World War Two. They included the failure of secular democracy in Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia; the defeat of the Arabs in the Six Day War with Israel in 1967 and later in 1973; the Pakistani war with India in 1971; the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s; the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; and most recently the devastating Persian Gulf War and the massacre and genocide of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Islamic revolution in Iran for many Muslims was a landmark and a watershed in their campaign against illegitimate governments in their own countries.
Arab nationalist discourse has tried to replace the term 'Islamic' with 'Arab' in an attempt to influence the population and eventually to change the backdrop of the analysis of political and social facts. However, the fact that Islam is not recognized as an important element of Arab nationalism characterizes two contradictions in its ideology. In the first place, the Arab nationalist movement emphasizes the unity of all Arabs based on history, language, interests, and blood ties.
However, the Arab nationalist movement is contradicted in geographic terms when it appeals to Arabs of the 'homeland' from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. Not only does this disregard other Arabic lands, it overlooks the fact that the notion of the homeland comes from Islam. In the second place Arab nationalists are contradicted again in their view of Islam as a social growth, since it was also the motivating factor for the spread of the Arab homeland. Nationalist thinking recognizes certain uniting factors such as language, common history, and heritage but ignores Islam because of nationalism's secular foundation.
Ironically, it was Islam which united the warring tribes of Arab pre-history and created a true Arab identity. Arabic language and culture are a result of Islam, not vice versa. In reality, Arab nationalism reflects ideas of Western origin even though the movement's name implies that it is anchored by Arab culture and thought. Secularism, the defining idea of the nationalist movement, is Western.
The Paradigm of Domination
The penetration and the intrusion of the major European powers in the affairs of the Islamic lands had profound impact on the relationship between the state and communication institutions. It must be recalled that this direct incursion of the European powers in the affairs of the Muslim world signaled the beginning of both colonialism and the spread of modern communication technologies including navigation, telephonic and telegraphic systems, transportation, and railroads.
The introduction of the European powers in the Middle East beginning with the Portuguese attempt of hegemony over the Persian Gulf in the sixteenth century and continuing later with the Dutch, the British, and the French penetration into Islamic lands from Egypt to India had two important consequences. In the first place it reduced the authority of the state in the Islamic Middle East, subjecting it to the political and economic will of colonial interests. Second, this colonial influence established communication dominance over the affairs of governments in the region and controlled channels of modern communication whenever possible.
Introduction and adoption of the nation-state system in Islamic countries created an atmosphere of crisis in which foreign intervention was succeeded by concealed control. Internally, political power was shifted from community and religio-political leaders to army and bureaucratic elites.
In short, the nation-state system introduced other aspects of modern Western ideologies and institutions. In general, the public considered modern leaders and elites either agents of foreign powers or elements through which new systems of colonialism and ideological politics were imposed on society. Thus, each victory of the modern nation-state system in such countries as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia, toward modernization, was overtaken by a new crisis of economic and social fragmentation. In short, a crisis of identity grew beneath a modernizing culture.
Internally, a divisive force in Islam sprung out of the ascendancy of Muslim rulers who valued the political authority of the state more than their religious duties. From the seventh century of the Christian era, beginning with the Umayyad and the Abbasid dynasties until the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One, the Islamic state gradually became separate from its original concept. Power became divided between the rulers who issued laws under their jurisdictions and the ulama, or religious scholars and leaders, who announced verdicts under the Shari'ah.
Thus, two lines of communication were established in the Islamic countries often in an adversarial position and which gradually evolved into conflict. The situation is well captured by an Islamic observer of the eleventh century, Abul Malli, who said that "we obey the King in matters of State, but in matters of religion the King must consult us," and in time, contradictions between the state and religion ensued. The system of caliphate as a governing body gradually lost its authority yet attempted to retain its communication dominance resulting in repressive measures.
The changing nature of the Islamic state during this period resulted in the alienation and separation of the community from the state. In many cases there existed only the community and its leaders, but the state as such had no place in their scheme of things. The rulers were more preoccupied with repressing disorders and reestablishing themselves against rebellion. In short, the state authority was not evenly effective throughout the territory or the communities claimed by it but tended to assert itself forcefully only in the immediate surroundings of the ruler. The separation of the ummah and the state characterizes the current crisis of identity in almost all the Islamic countries.
For example, while the state attempted to centralize the institutions of communication by controlling the traditional channels such as the mosques and traditional schools of education, the community under the leadership of the religious scholars, the ulama, maintained competing channels of communication which challenged the conduct of the state. The seventeenth and eighteenth century political systems in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and Egypt, were characterized by the proverb: "If you see the ulama at the gates of kings, say there are bad ulama and bad kings. If you see the kings at the gates of the ulama, say there are good ulama and good kings."
Thus, the contradiction between Islamic domination and secular power spurred further antagonisms within the Islamic world throughout this period. With the public denouncement of the state the ulama were pressured to act independently of the state. This type of conflict is best illustrated by the Constitutional Revolution (1906) and the Islamic Revolution (1979) in Iran. The resistance of the ulama to becoming mere instruments of the state and the correlating division between Islamic and secular leadership triggered these eventual revolutions.
The power of the state and the ulama was further distinguished by their relationship to foreign actors. The government tended to yield to the influence of outside courtiers and ministers, whereas the ulama held a clear concept and practice of authority and despite restrictions they resisted outside pressures. The steadfast quality of the ulama nurtured a close relationship with the community through the mobilization of traditional communication channels while the state typically ignored its subjects and used modern communication channels and the emerging mass media systems to maintain its legitimacy, collect taxes, or recruit soldiers.
Hence, the ulama became an intermediary channel of communication between the people and the state acting on behalf of the ummah as well as the nation, however, it must be noted that the foremost loyalty of the community remains towards Islam rather than the state. Muslim disfavor of both the state and imperialism was proclaimed in an Islamic rather than a nationalistic framework.
The contacts between the Islamic world and the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries increased the absorption of many Islamic countries into quasi-secular political entities ranging from hereditary monarchies to modern Western and/or military style republics. This also resulted in pronounced conflicts between modern secularism and the Islamic tradition of Shari'ah which, until the nineteenth century, provided the main if not the complete legal underpinnings of social and economic conduct in Muslim societies.
The intimate contact between Islam and modern Western industrial countries, coupled with the process of colonization of substantial parts of Asia and Africa introduced a number of Western standards and values to these societies. Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth century and with the introduction of modern means of communication, transportation, and technologies the fields of civil and commercial transactions proved particularly prominent for change and new methods of conduct.
The Media and Modernity
The crisis of identity was further enhanced by a number of conceptual as well as policy developments during the post-world war period. It should be recalled that with the triumph of romanticism and secularism following the French Revolution, naturalism came to occupy and dominate the world views of the West. In the Islamic view of the natural and transcendent orders it is the latter that governs the flow of the former.
A large part of the law of Islam deals with the social order and, today, it is not the state of 'modernization' but the state of transformation that Muslims are concerned with. The most important difference between transformation and modernization is that the former is out of time (since time is a category of understanding) and the latter is in time. Under the slogans of modernization, economic development, and technological progress the Islamic countries were deprived of the right to recognize their own unique and distinct civilization and culture.
For the sake of convenience in terminology and world political hierarchy they were merely lumped together with less industrialized countries under the vague category of the 'Third World'. As has been demonstrated by numerous studies during the last several decades the process of modernization became a one-way traffic from the West. Soon, even the dichotomy of 'Occident' versus the 'orient' was pushed aside, since the world wide diffusion of modernization which was now creating the new world of the so-called 'globalization' had rendered 'East' and 'West' irrelevant.
'Political stability' as a prerequisite for 'economic development' not only was a justification for keeping repressive regimes in power, but also the dominant world economic and political systems by now had claimed the right of access to valuable natural resources in Islamic lands. It was the economic and not the political infrastructure of such countries as Iran, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia that had become vital for the well-being of the industrialized countries.
Identity, as a social-psychological concept, refers to how people perceive themselves in the environment and in relation to others. It is based on shared cultural assumptions that are historically rooted in a given community. In the contemporary Western writings and literature on social and political thought, the concepts of identity and anxiety have often been viewed as two sides of a coin. The advent of the alienated person is the theme which lies behind 'modernity' and has been the subject of intellectual discourse and among the ears of social malaise.
In short industrialization, rapid social change, secularization of thought and life, and above all the media have produced not only a breakdown in morality and traditional beliefs, but have also devitalized the foundation of political community such as the modern nation state and have crippled normal mechanisms of cohesion and power in community.
The contemporary return to religion in many Western communities is by and large a pragmatic attempt to establish a sense of comfort, mental health, and morality or in the language of Freud an attempt of the ego to make up for the lack of superego. The question of identity can also be observed in the politicization of gender and other social and biological groups.
While the print and electronic media in the Islamic world have helped to concentrate power in the hands of political and economic elites and have contributed to the centralization of modern state apparatus, the oral modes of communication largely have remained in the hands of traditional and religious groups who often have attempted to decentralize and diffuse the power of the state and establish a counter balance to authority.
Led by traditional authorities, such as the ulama, the resurgence of Islam and revolutionary movements in the 20th century within the Islamic countries are examples of the potential use of oral media such as the mosque.
Nonetheless, one of the most interesting and contemporary phenomena in the Islamic world has been the integration of modern communication technologies with the traditional media of communication, which have contributed to the legitimization of the centers of power and acceleration of the process of political and social change.
In the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers used the modern means of communication such as telephones and cassette tapes along with traditional channels to disseminate their messages throughout the country. In such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Egypt the use of personal computers and facsimiles for the diffusion of Islamic ideas have become widespread. Information about Islam has become more accessible to the layperson through databases on the Quran and hadith.
In the closing decades of the 20th century, three important developments have had the most profound impact on the nature and contents of information in the Islamic world
(1) the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the subsequent political movements in other Islamic countries, setting the tone for the Islamization of the media and creating a new ecology of communication in a number of regions;
(2) the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent states in Islamic regions such as Central Asia and elsewhere contributing to the potential expansion of a greater Islamic communications network; and
(3) the growth of national and international telecommunications through satellites and its possible effects on the integration of the Islamic regions and its impact on political and economic development. Hence, the Islamic world has developed its communication media with a new awareness of global change and at the same time a large sense of history and an Islamic identity. An illustration of the new media and its impact on Muslim identity can be shown by the following example.
Islamization of Television in Iran
Islamization of the mass media in Iran, in both content and operation, has been undertaken since the Islamic Revolution in 1978-1979 and its full impact on society and polity is only recently starting to be recognized. Nowhere is this more visible than in the institutionalization of the broadcast system, particularly television, within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Television has penetrated into Iranian society as a pervasive medium of communication technology not only because of its vastly growing audiences and organizational network, but more importantly due to cultural factors that give it legitimacy. Iranian television derives its legitimacy by being a "Voice and Profile of the Islamic Republic of Iran," relying considerably on the traditional sources of religio-political authority in society and asserting itself as a medium of public service.
In an Islamic society, and yet geographically diverse country like Iran, where political and social legitimacy have historically been contested and influenced by religion as well as various ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups, television attempts to combine the rich indigenous written and oral forms of communication into a unified framework.
Hence, the popularity of television depends on its subordination to Iranian culture and tradition. Indeed, one of the major problems facing Iranian television prior to the Islamic Revolution was precisely its isolation from the mainstream Iranian culture and tradition and its excessive reliance on royal patronage, secularism, and its dependence on foreign and imported programs. In short, the trends and characteristics of Iranian television can be summarized in its attempt
(1) to Islamasize the medium, (2) to integrate television within the existing traditional channels of communication, (3) to create a state-community system of public broadcasting, (4) to incorporate this institution with the principles of Islamic ethics, and (5) to be self reliant in the wake of globalization.
The importance attached to television as a means of Islamic propagation and cultural transmission is well recognized and documented in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. By proclaiming that "Freedom of publicity and propaganda in the mass media, radio, and television shall be insured on the basis of Islamic principles," the 1979 constitution gave television an independent organization outside any single ministry placing it under the joint supervision of the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches.
Under the revised and supplementary constitution adopted a decade ago the radio and television organization remained under the supervision of a council composed of two members from each of these branches, and the power of the Leader of the Revolution to appoint the director of the organization for radio and television was confirmed. According to the constitution the Leadership or Vilayate Faqih (guardianship of the jurist) is the highest spiritual and political position of the country and revolution.
The special provision of the constitution not only emphasizes the vital role television can play in Iranian society, but it gives particular attention to this form of public broadcasting through its organization and regulatory apparatuses. All other means of mass communication--including newspapers, magazines, radio, and cinema--are regulated and in some cases licenced through the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance.
The concept of public broadcasting in Iran is distinct in that there is no separation between religion, the state, and the notion of civil society under Islamic tenets and jurisprudence does not make the same distinctions between the state on the one hand and the public on the other, as would be the case in Western secular settings.
News, information, and documentaries are prepared within the Islamic community framework. Commercial advertising is common but subject to specific rules and regulations including the time framework to prevent the fragmentation of programs. The emphasis on entertainment and information is on their social functions and not determined by their commercial aspects.
Serious educational and current affairs programs get a large segment of television time. Locally created historical series also command large audiences. The amount of foreign produced materials broadcast on television is the lowest in the Middle East, which requires not only a very careful selection of internationally produced materials but also a fairly heavy burden on the production of local programming. There has been a vast increase in domestic programming and, hence, a considerable reduction in dependency on foreign materials.
In 1991 eighty-five percent of all television programs were produced domestically. Before the revolution for every program produced domestically three imported programs were broadcast on television. Programs for children and adolescents currently constitute 16.4 percent of the domestic TV program production, while social and cultural programs occupy 14.9 percent with current news programs being 14.4 percent.
Television programming and production are required to abide by the framework of Islamic ethics.
For example, romantic dramas are featured but there are no explicit physical and sexual scenarios. Violent and aggressive programs usually associated with Western movies, dramas, and soap operas are also excluded. All imported programs are closely monitored and reviewed for their compatibility with Islamic social etiquette.
Unlike the United States and many industrialized countries, where television viewing mainly has become a single person entertainment and social activity, group listening and viewing of broadcasting is a common occurrence in Iran. This practice has more of a cultural and social underpinning than one based on economics and the lack of access to radio and television sets. Extended families beyond immediate relatives and their interactions in forms of home visits all play a crucial role in social communication, making television viewing in Iran a group activity.
Iran since the Islamic Revolution has fought the encroachment of Western dominated programming and has sought to maintain its autonomy through a comprehensive communication policy of investment in expansion of locally produced programs. The result has been a fair degree of success in that the Iranian television industry has become a prolific producer of programs and has strengthened its local infrastructure.
Television in Iran illustrates a fascinating communication problem in many Islamic countries: how traditional culture can be synthesized with contemporary electronic media and how television can be employed in ways that better suit the mood and styles of the country's history.
The explicit and implicit policies carried out in Iran in regard to television underline the importance given to this medium by the leaders of the country and their perception of its power in national and international affairs. These policies are based on a further assumption that the process of individual selectivity and audience power is very much dependent on the quality of the public's education regarding the media.
Indeed, the role of television in Iranian society has been a source of major debate among the people since the revolution. The assumption is that the direct involvement of the public in the discourse taking place in the media on this issue is prerequisite to the kind of society they want to have.
The recognition and visibility of social communication within an Islamic setting and the reconstruction and changing of political and cultural public space in Iran, in particular relating to television, is based on two principles or concepts. In the first place, a principle guiding the ethical boundaries of social and public communication in Islam is the doctrine of "amir bi al-ma'ruf wa nahy'an al munkar" or "commanding to the right and prohibiting from the wrong." Implicit and explicit in this principle is the notion of individual and group responsibility for preparing the succeeding generations to accept Islamic precepts and to make use of them.
Muslims have the responsibility of guiding one another and each generation has the responsibility of guiding the next. The Quran points out the responsibilities of Muslims in guiding each other, especially those individuals and institutions who are charged with the responsibilities of leadership and propagation of Islamic ideals.
This includes all the institutions of social communication such as the press, radio, and television as well as the individual citizens of each community. Thus, a special concept of social responsibility theory is designed around the ethical doctrine of "commanding to the right and prohibiting from the wrong."
The second fundamental concept which has a direct bearing on the notion of public space, particularly as it might relate to the political life of the individual and Islamic society, is ummah or community. The concept of ummah transcends national borders and political boundaries. Islamic community transcends the notion of the modern nation-state system and is a religio-economic concept that is only present when it is nourished and governed by Islam.
The notion of community in Islam makes no sharp distinction between public and private, what is required of the community at large is likewise required of every individual member. Intercultural and international communication (the emphasis here is on nationality and not the nation state) are the necessary ingredients of Islamic ummah. Every citizen in the Islamic 'state' is required to offer his best advice on common matters and must be entitled to do so.
These two concepts, therefore, over the years have gradually become the guiding doctrines of television content and are highly emphasized and publicized by the state and community leaders. Today in the Islamic society of Iran, to a large extent, the modern systems of mass media have been well integrated within the classical and traditional systems of social communication. The result has been a high level of social mobilization and organization, making the process of political, cultural, economic, and military participation extremely effective.
The amplification of the human voice in Quranic recitals by microphones, radio, and television as well as the production of such recitals on cassettes distributed along with other public affairs materials have brought new dimensions of communication to Iran. In addition, through a combination of traditional channels and television, community leaders and various groups have maintained their ability to voice their opinions to the public. In short, Iranian television in general serves to diffuse Islamic culture in pursuit of state legitimacy but refrains from the diffusion of propagation of anti-Islamic practices.
Traditionally in Iran print and electronic media helped to concentrate power in the hands of political and economic elites and contributed to the centralization of modern state apparatuses. By contrast, oral modes of communication remained largely in the hands of traditional and religious groups that had often attempted to decentralize and diffuse power of the state and establish a counterbalance to authority. One of the most interesting contemporary phenomena in post-revolutionary Iran has been precisely the integration of modern communication technologies with traditional media, a process that has contributed to the legitimization of central power and the acceleration of political and social change.
Prior to the revolution, the commercial intrusion into the public arena of the state represented only one side of the coin. The other side of this process was the absorption by the state of a large portion of popular culture and its diversion into a sphere that was regulated by the state itself. A television model under consideration in Iran over the last two decades attempts to overcome this dilemma by creating what may be termed a state community perspective of television where the state is considered both in terms of its overreaching interests of those who compose it and the community of ummah, which stands for larger social groups and a variety of audiences.
In summary, the development of television in Iran has been propelled by several factors including the rise of the Islamic Revolution, the religio-political and cultural identity, and the expansion of communication technologies as instruments of social and political mobilization. The expansion of television has added a new dimension to a traditional means of communication in Iran.
As stated, one important feature of television in Iran is that it is being integrated into the vast and complex system of traditional and oral channels of communication. Television in Iran achieves the power and penetration of traditional channels of communication when it serves as a social, political, and economic tool. Political development, including the resurgence of Islamic identity, has had considerable influence on the regional and even international dimensions of Iranian television broadcasting.
The development of Iranian television has been unique in that it has not only tried to meet technological, organizational, and production challenges but it has also taken the responsibility of creating and framing its operation based on an Islamic ethic. By rejecting both the commercial model of television broadcasting and the strict government controlled system, it is striving toward a new model of state-community perspective. Its concept of public broadcasting rests on the Islamic principle of public service with a strong emphasis on public mobilization, social integration, and an Islamic identity.
Islamic Identity and the International Media
As regards to the question of Muslim identity and the world media it has been demonstrated by numerous studies that until the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79 the international media paid little or no attention to the Muslim world or to any subjects associated with the Muslim world.
On the contrary the coverage of Islamic countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, including Asia, was concentrated on national political institutions and the current secular leaders of the time. For example, the Arab-Israeli question always dominated the news as did Arab nationalism and its confrontation with the West. And American observers borrowed the label of "fundamentalism" from the history of Christianity in reporting on the revival of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and elsewhere.
Another classic example, conveying this idea, is the coverage of Iran in the decade before the Shah's fall. Almost all the elite media of the West mislead their readers and viewers. They represented the Shah as a modernizing monarch, a benevolent dictator whose power at home and friendship with the West was quite secure. Only during the Islamic revolution did any analysis of the bankruptcy of the shah's regime and recognition of the far reaching influence of Islam and the Ayatollah Khomeini begin to appear in the media. In fact, there was little analysis of the nature of the Shiite branch of Islam until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the resistance movements of the Lebanese Shiites. Even then the event seemed to draw coverage mostly because it was associated with terrorism and fanaticism.
Over the last two decades beginning with the Islamic resurgence in the world, the Muslim identity has been mainly covered under two major themes. One is Islamic fundamentalism and violence and the other is the portrayal of Muslims as an ethnic group. The crisis in Bosnia provides us with an insight into the latter theme. In an endless system that makes the nation state the departing point for any discourse the Serbian leaders strategy, in the media has since the outbreak of the Bosnian tragedy, has benefitted from the vocabulary used by the dominant global media and political elites.
A major socio-linguistic bias which has, unfortunately, been copied and repeated throughout the crisis refers to the Balkan conflict as a war between the "Bosnian Serbs" and the "Bosnian Muslims." Notice that in this description of confrontation, the natives or the Bosnian Muslims are introduced by their religious affiliation whereas the non-Muslim residents of Bosnia are described by their nationality, as "Bosnian Serbs" and not by their religion such as the Christian or Orthodox church. In short, instead of branding the Bosnian Serbs as Orthodox Christian Bosnians versus the Muslim Bosnians, the international media simply call them Serbians.
For the Muslims the international media makes Islam a basis of ethnic identity something quite contrary to the basis of Islamic tenants, for the Christian Serbs, it is nationality and geographical location that receives the media attention. And what about identifying Bosnian Muslims as Europeans? Are Bosnian Muslims also Europeans or just the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in Europe who have now suddenly decided to ask for an independent country and government?
Using this type of labeling, some 200,000 Spanish Muslims were persecuted and killed during the Inquisition against the Islamic influence in Western Europe. In the current crisis in Kosovo, for a variety of reasons that are not yet clear, the international media has retreated to the old concept of ethnic identity. This time the majority of the people of Kosovo, who are Muslims, are identified simply as ethnic Albanians thus ignoring their Islamic identity.
From the Islamic revolution to the Persian Gulf War and from the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets to the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, numerous research and analysis has shown us that the mainstream international media have contributed more than their share to the already confused state of public opinion about Muslim identity in the West with their adverse publicity and propaganda waged against Islamic movements.
In the Islamic world the collapse of communism, combined with the social malaise, and the economic and political stagnation in the West has reaffirmed the long and historical perception of the Muslim peoples that Islam is now the only alternative to their present political structures.
In the West the resurgence of Muslim identity has been ignored by many writers and media analysts because of the emphasis they put on the analysis of formal political institutions such as the state, political parties, bureaucratic institutions, and modern governmental infrastructures, simply because Islamic movements have become the major obstacle and resistant force to the existing international political system.
Islam and the Internet
Internet sites provided by computer technologies offer new channels for the dissemination of information about Islam. A user trying to find information on various concepts and issues relating to Islam is confronted with varied and often biased information. Faced with such myriad viewpoints, Internet users need to be conscious and critical of the information they are receiving. For example, a site maintained by the Christian World Evangelization Research Center concerning Islam and China displayed the following:
"Pray against the spirit of Islam that has kept the Hui bound for many generation...Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of these Muslims so that they will be receptive to the Gospel."
This suggests that the Chinese government actually favors Islam, a point many Hui and others would disagree with. Alternatively, sites such as the Cyber Muslim Information Collective's Dunya features various Quranic translations, an Islamic bookshop, and a "Virtual Sufi Lodge."
It also needs to be mentioned that many Internet sites provide such voluminous information tied with a high quantity of commercial data that makes the collection of information, on a specific topics very time consuming.
One of the benefits of the Internet is that is an excellent source of immediate access to the media and issues in Islamic countries. For example various country specific on line newspapers such as The Turkish Daily News, Malaysia's Daily Star, The Singapore Straits Time, and the Pakistani Newspaper Dawn can be used to provide perspectives on events and issues within Muslim contexts alongside other on-line news resources such as CNN, TIME, and Reuters.
Various governmental agencies, interest groups, academics and scholars are using the Internet to promote their specific understandings and approaches towards Islam both in Muslim majority and minority countries. For example, an Islamic server has been developed by a Singaporean government agency which maintains a site called the Islamic Gateway to Singapore operated under the auspices of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
It is now clear with the proliferation of the media and information technologies around the world, from conventional media to the Internet, that the information and news about the Islamic world will multiply and expand. However, the impact of such coverage will be determined on the reliability and accuracy of the information provided by the institutions and the individuals.
Eventually the process of political image making that distorts the political, cultural, and social realities of the Islamic world will continue to color the perceptions of individuals and institutions both nationally and internationally unless two fundamental changes occur. The first would be the ability of Western individuals, the media, and policy makers to see the developments in the Islamic world not from their own historical perspective but from the perspective of Muslim identity.
And the second change would be an internal political restructuring of the polity of Islamic countries that would be compatible to Islamic social and religious beliefs. Without these two conditions the image of Muslim identity will continue to be distorted.