By: Alaa al-Aswany Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
|اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية|
In 1492, the city of Granada — the last stronghold of Islam in Spain — fell when Abu Abdullah, the last of the Arab kings, was defeated by the army set up by the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Although the king and queen had signed a convention in which they pledged to respect the country’s Muslim and Jewish citizens, it was never followed. They decided to expel the Jews from Spain (something Spanish King Juan Carlos apologized for five centuries later), while Muslims were given the choice of converting to Christianity or death.
Thousands of Muslims who refused to convert were killed; men, women and children alike were beheaded. Many Muslims embraced Christianity, fearing for their lives. These converts were degradingly referred to as “Los Moriscos” [baptized Moors].
However, forcing Muslims to embrace Christianity was only the beginning of their agony, as authorities then took a number of severe measures to oppress and impoverish these citizens. Their efforts to annihilate Islamic culture and traditions led these converts to rebel multiple times. Later, authorities realized that many of these converts were still practicing Islam secretly.
Here the issue became complicated, for these converts — from a legal standpoint — were Catholic Christians like all other residents, yet from a practical standpoint they were secret Muslims. Authorities feared that they would teach their children the principles of Islam, something that would create a new generation of Muslims that officials did not want. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church had serious doubts about the converts’ beliefs. Would Christ accept their faith, or would they remain outside the fold of the church?
Then a strange and mysterious figure emerged who would play a key role in the evolution of events. He was a monk from the Dominican Order named Jaime Bleda, famed for his piety and eagerness to maintain pure Catholic doctrine. After much thought, Bleda became convinced that it was impossible for the church to know for sure if the converts truly believed in Christ or were merely pretending to be Christians for fear of their lives. Thus, the only solution was for these converts to face Christ so that he himself could decide whether they were sincere in their faith or hypocrites. Of course, they could only face Christ in the afterlife, so Bleda proposed killing all of the converts so that their souls would ascend to Christ and he could judge whether or not they had faith.
The strange thing is the church agreed to Bleda’s plan and was enthusiastic about it. Clergymen were ready to kill hundreds of thousands of converts so that they could be closer to God and maintain the purity of Catholic doctrine. The Spanish government, however, objected to killing such a large number of converts, anticipating resistance that could exhaust the authorities. Thus, the government decided to finally expel all of the converts from Spain. Bleda accepted this solution, although he preferred the idea of killing the converts. The French historian Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) describes these events in his book The Civilization of the Arabs:
“In 1610, the Spanish government issued an order to expel the Arabs from Spain. Many of the migrants were killed during the journey. Bleda expressed his satisfaction that three quarters of these migrants were killed in the process. Nearly 100,000 migrants from a single convoy consisting of 140,000 Muslims were killed on their way to Africa.”
Here one must wonder: How could a religious man agree to the killing of such a large number of innocent people merely because they disagreed with his beliefs, without feeling the slightest sense of guilt? How can one reconcile faith in Christ — who taught humanity peace and love — with this bloody temperament shown by Bleda? The answer is that faith in any religion does not necessarily make us more humane. The manner in which we understand religion is what determines our behavior. Our interpretation of religion is what teaches us tolerance, justice and compassion, yet it also can push us to fanaticism, hate and aggression.
If we believe that all religions are merely different ways of getting to know our Lord Almighty, then we must realize that we’re not better than anyone else regardless of whether we’re Muslims, Christians or Jews. The majority of people inherit their religious beliefs from their parents, and we must realize that God will judge people based on their actions, before judging them on their religious convictions.
If this were our understanding of religion, then we would be tolerant of those who have other religious beliefs. We would defend the rights of all humans, regardless of their religious beliefs. However, if we believe that our religion is the sole absolute truth that transcends all other religions, then we would feel that we alone are the pure believers and those with differing religious beliefs are impure infidels living in delusion. If this is the case, then — logically — we would not acknowledge that those who differ from us have the same rights, and our fanaticism could push us to believe that we are authorized by God to elevate his word and implement his will.
This false divine mandate could push us to feel that we are above all others and abuse their rights. It could result in us committing the most heinous of crimes without feeling any guilt, for we believe that we are carrying out God’s will. Bleda had a clear conscience when he agreed to killing innocent people, because he felt that he was carrying out God’s will, which was for Spain to be a Catholic country in which there was no room for Muslim and Jewish infidels.
This belief in a divine mandate repeated itself many times throughout Spanish history, and often led to heinous crimes committed in the name of religion. Here there is no difference between the monk Bleda and the terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Although there are differences in time and circumstances, they have the same train of thought and the same vision for the world. They both believed that they had a mandate from God to implement his will and defend religion, and that those who differed from them in religion were less human. They also both believed in collective responsibility. Bleda believed that all Arabs were responsible for the actions of any Arab, while Bin Laden believed that all Westerners were responsible for the crimes committed by US and Israeli soldiers against Arabs and Muslims.
When it comes to the concept of a divine mandate, there is no room for personal responsibility. It was impossible to persuade Bin Laden that there were millions of people in the West who repudiated the crimes of the American army, just as it would have been impossible to convince Bleda that there were Muslims he had killed who could have been good citizens. The value of others’ lives and their rights are totally absent in the mind of people who believe they have a mandate from God.
Bin Laden wasn’t concerned with the lives of non-Muslims, just as Bleda wasn’t concerned with the lives of Arabs. Both of these men killed thousands of innocent people believing that they were doing something good that would get them into heaven.
When you believe that you have a mandate from God, you will never allow others to criticize your actions or judge you. Regardless of what you say, you would never respect those who differ from you nor acknowledge their rights. You would feel as though you were always correct, for you are carrying out the will of God. You would never be able to see reality correctly; you would live in a closed virtual world that never develops or changes. You will deny the truth, regardless of how obvious it is, and you would treat anyone who questioned your virtual world with hostility. You live inside this world, and if you lost it your life would be destroyed.
This idea may help us to understand the Muslim Brotherhood and many others who are affiliated with political Islam. Months after the Brotherhood came to power, Egyptians are asking: How can the Brotherhood claim that it represents religion, while at the same time continually lying, breaking all agreements it has signed, and colluding with other parties to achieve their own interests, even if the price for this involves the blood of martyrs and the collapse of the state itself?
Why do Brotherhood members not feel any guilt as they attack, degrade and kill those who disagree with them? The answer is that Brotherhood members do not see themselves as politicians who have made mistakes or are hurting others; they believe that God has sent them to save Egypt from infidels and delusion. They believe that they are carrying out the will of God, and thus cannot be held accountable in accordance with the same standards applied to ordinary people, who act solely based on their ideas. The Brotherhood believes that God has given it a mandate to elevate his word and carry out his rule. Accordingly, anyone who criticizes it or argues with its politics, in the Brotherhood’s view, is an enemy of Islam. The Brotherhood is Islam, and no one else can represent the religion.
Acts of Torture Reveal True Nature
Brotherhood members believe that everything happening today is reminiscent of Islamic history — they are the Muslims and their opponents are the enemies of God. A few days ago a Brotherhood member wrote an article in which he compared the clashes in Moqattam to the Battle of Uhud. Naturally, in this comparison they were the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and their adversaries were the infidels. This is how the Brotherhood views this political dispute. Brotherhood members are true believers who want to carry out Islamic law, while their opponents are remnants of the Mubarak regime, Western or Zionist collaborators, or infidels who hate religion.
What is happening in Egypt is quite clear. An elected president has turned into a dictator for his group; he has trampled on the law and imposed the will of the Brotherhood’s supreme guide on all people. He has used an illegitimate attorney general to punish all who oppose him, while his security services have killed hundreds of citizens and tortured thousands.
The Brotherhood, as a result of its belief in a divine mandate, is unable to see the truth. It is always prepared to deny, argue and deceive. There is no use in trying to convince the Brotherhood of the truth. Even if the Brotherhood’s supreme guide killed thousands of Egyptians and the group’s politics brought about major catastrophes, Brotherhood supporters would still defend everything the organization does. Its members believe that they are carrying out the will of God. The Brotherhood’s supreme guide is exactly like Bleda and Bin Laden. He is a man who feels he represents the will of God. He is ready to violate the rights of others without blinking an eye, for he believes that God has enabled his group, and thus the will of the people worries him.
So, what can we do?
History teaches us that there is no hope in coming to an understanding with religious fanatics who see themselves as God’s instruments for achieving his will. There is no point in talks and negotiations. The solution is to apply pressure until this fascist regime is toppled. The revolution should not get lost in corridors of politics or sterile negotiations.
We are demanding early presidential elections, the dismissal of the illegitimate attorney general, the cancellation of the invalid constitution and the prosecution of those responsible for murder and torture — first and foremost President Mohammed Morsi and his interior minister and executioner Mohammed Ibrahim. These are the just demands of the revolution, which should not give up on them or accept compromises of any kind. The revolution will continue to victory until it triumphs over fascism and achieves all of its goals.
Democracy is the solution.