Benedict's Opposite By Bret Stephens

The Wall Street Journal


Benedict's Opposite
September 26, 2006; Page A15

"Constantinople was conquered, and the second part of the [prophet Muhammad's] prophecy remains, that is, the conquest of Romiyya [Rome]. . . . Islam entered Europe twice and left it. . . . Perhaps the next conquest, Allah willing, will be by means of preaching and ideology."

-- Yusuf al-Qaradawi on al-Jazeera
Jan. 24, 1999

Who knows whether the Vatican ever sought an apology from Mr. Qaradawi for suggesting that Catholicism will one day be extinguished in its heartland and uprooted from its capital. But it's never too late to demand one, especially now that the good sheikh is in a lather over Pope Benedict's recent remarks about Islam.

In an era without a caliph, the Egyptian-born, 80-year-old Mr. Qaradawi is the nearest thing Sunni Islam has to a pope. His weekly al-Jazeera talk show, "Shariah and Life," reaches tens of millions of Arabic-speakers in the Middle East and Europe. His fatwas, or religious edicts on matters personal or political, are widely considered definitive among Sunnis. As the de facto spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Qaradawi is a theological traditionalist, although he is also associated with the "new wave" Islamism that seeks to attract a younger, more modern audience. Mr. Qaradawi is also occasionally at odds with the violent asceticism of Salafist clerics, which gives him, among Muslims and to some extent in the West, a reputation as a moderate.

On Friday Mr. Qaradawi was at his sanctimonious best, saying, "the pope has closed the doors of religious dialogue between the Muslims and the Vatican by such offending remarks," according to the Gulf Times. "Muslims are not opting for a 'battle,'" he added, "but it was imposed on us by the pope who refused to recant." Mr. Qaradawi now calls for a boycott of the Vatican, though he condemns violence against Christians.

That's something of an improvement over his role early this year in the Danish cartoon controversy. "The nation must rage in anger," he said on al-Jazeera Feb. 3. "We are not a nation of jackasses. . . . We are lions that zealously protect their dens, and avenge affronts to their sanctities." On Feb. 4, mobs attacked the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus; the day after that, they burned the Danish consulate in Beirut to the ground. The same day, a Catholic priest was shot in Turkey by a teenage boy. In all, some 30 people were killed answering Mr. Qaradawi's call to rage.

It was typical of the sheikh that he followed his initial exhortation by denouncing the subsequent violence: "We never call on people to set fire to cars, but to express their anger in a prudent manner." Of course. But Mr. Qaradawi has an interesting way of speaking out of both sides of his mouth, or tailoring his message to fit his audience.

Consider his views on terrorism. "Islam, the religion of tolerance . . . considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin," he said almost immediately after Sept. 11. But here is something else he said in those days: "Can anyone prove that [Osama bin Laden] sent [the perpetrators]? . . . There is no doubt that the one who benefits from this crime is the Zionist entity." And as the U.S. was gearing up to oust the Taliban, Mr. Qaradawi added that "Islamic law says that if a Muslim country is attacked, the other Muslim countries must help it, with their souls and their money, until it is liberated."

Now take Mr. Qaradawi's statements about the U.S. in Iraq. "I have forbidden the murder of Americans," he told al-Jazeera in late 2004. But he qualified that to say it was only forbidden to kill "civilians." Which civilians? Only those not aiding the occupation, meaning journalists and humanitarian-aid workers. He said the "jihad-waging Iraqi people's resistance to the foreign occupation . . . is a Sharia duty." And he added that "it is forbidden for any Muslim to offer support to the occupiers . . . because such support would be support of their crimes and aggression."

Thus, from a starting position that forbids the killing of Americans in Iraq, Mr. Qaradawi carves out one exception after another until he effectively calls for the killing of all but a handful of Americans, and perhaps their allies among Iraqis as well.

Mr. Qaradawi is equally slippery when it comes to discussing Jews. Islam, he said in 2005, "welcomes those who believe in the [Jewish] religion." He has also said that he "welcomes Jews who dissociate themselves from what Israel is doing," a point that supposedly speaks to his moderation in distinguishing Judaism (for which he has respect) from Zionism (for which he only has loathing).

But one doesn't have to scratch hard on the surface of Mr. Qaradawi's thoughts to discover the anti-Semite within. "The iniquity of the Jews, as a community, is obvious and apparent," he said in June 2004. "Everything will be on our side against Jews on [Judgment Day]," he added in February 2006. "At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say, 'Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there's a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"

For all this, Sheikh Qaradawi evinces no regret, although he frequently claims to be misrepresented (never more so than by the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute, responsible for most of the translations used here). But it wasn't a Zionist agent, yet rather the Qatari religious scholar Abd al-Hamid Al Ansari, who said this of Mr. Qaradawi:

"The Sharia rulings that forbid harming civilians remained valid [for centuries] until Sheikh al-Qaradawi . . . created a dangerous breach with regard to Jihad. This was when, out of support for Hamas, he ruled that suicide operations among civilians were legitimate. . . . This fatal breach has created an ideological and moral crisis in Islam. . . . The moral deterioration has reached the point that they blow up children in Baghdad and peaceful civilians on buses in London. These fatwas are a moral and ideological mark of shame, which we must purge from our Islam."

Maybe Muslims really are entitled to an apology. If so, it isn't Benedict who needs to make it.

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