Fregosi's 'Jihad' -- Demonizing all Islam

September 13, 1998|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun staff

"Jihad in the West," by Paul Fregosi. Prometheus Books.

450 pages. $29.95.

What if an author offered these generalizations about Christians or Jews:

They are killers. Because of their religion they are also venal and pitiless and have sought to conquer the world through force since the days of their earliest prophets, and still plot violence as members of a centrally managed faith.

Paul Fregosi, a well-traveled French-born journalist, has somehow led himself so far astray in his chronicle of violent encounters between Islam and a loosely-defined West to suggest all that is true of Muslims. He mistakes armed battles for theology and the belligerent words a few for the beliefs of the many. The result is a wrongheaded portrait of Islam as a monolithic force forever determined to conquer all non-believers through jihd, or holy war.

"Jihad in the West" would have us believe jihad is the essence of Islam and Islam is not much more than violence and intolerance. The Jihad, Fregosi writes, is essentially a permanent state of hostility that Islam maintains against the rest of the world, with or without fighting, for more sovereignty over more territory. It is a well-directed, world-wide movement, with Europe as one of its main targets.

This is religious history as mistaken as one casting the Crusades as the central, defining expression of Christian faith for all time and for every Christian.

Islam neither is nor ever has been a monolithic force. The Prophet Mohammed died in 632 AD without leaving his followers clear instructions for choosing a new leader. The first caliph (successor) died after two years of rule; caliphs number two and three were assassinated, and number four was killed on the battlefield by number five. Within 50 years of the Prophet's death, one Muslim army fought a second by besieging the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Arguments over who best embodies the qualities of Mohammed and best understands the Koran continue to this day: Sunnis (followers of Mohammeds sunna, his beaten path) are on one side with several doctrinal allies; on the other are Shia (the followers of Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law). Muslim Iraqis wage war against Muslim Iranians; Iranians challenge Muslims Afghanis.

"Jihad in the West" demonizes Muslims by describing brutalities practiced by medieval Islamic armies as if the cruelties were theirs alone. The intellectual flowering that accompanies the Islamic conquest of Spain receives barely a mention. The book classifies the Ottoman Empires entry into World War One as jihad; no less remarkable, a Bosnian Muslim division of the Waffen SS is here as jihad.

Fregosi similarly characterizes nearly every violent act involving a Muslim, from Mohammed to Osama bin Laden. The generalizations are breathtaking: We are told that thanks to their oil deposits, Muslims countries are now rich and powerful. Afghanistan? Pakistan? Sudan? Incendiary statements by Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini are here but Iranian's challenges to his theocracy are not.

Worst of all, "Jihad in the West" sends the message that we should divide the world into an Us and an Islamic Them, which is the kind of thinking guaranteed to make the world even less safe.

Robert Ruby for five years was The Sun's Middle East Correspondent. He is the author of "Jericho: Dreams, Ruins, Phantoms," and is presently working on another nonfiction book.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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