TCS Daily

The Sixth Pillar

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - April 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Ever wonder what hell will be like?

Maybe it will be a big room where those tiresome "Jersey Girls," who made 9/11 whining into a cottage industry, and the White House press corps have to sit asking each other asinine questions for eternity.

That picture came to mind during the harrowingly embarrassing performance of the reporters during President George W. Bush's press conference last Tuesday night. You'll recall how the press got all wobbly and flushed over Richard Clarke's theatrically phony apology before the 9/11 Commission. And so, with a touching earnestness, they naturally thought that perhaps the President might favor the nation with some abject expression of regret for his failure to spot those airliners.

This, God help us, is where we are as a nation locked in a war to decide whether civilization will prevail over inchoate hatred.

Look, we were sucker punched! Get over it!

And get on with the war.

That means, of course, remembering who the enemy is. And although President Bush is certainly no Churchill when it comes to public eloquence, his opening remarks at the press conference were a forceful straightforward exposition of the War on Terror and its historic implications for America and the world.

But at one point he stumbled a bit. That's when he catalogued some of the terrorist acts of the past decade or so and then said, "none of these acts is the work of a religion; all are the work of a fanatical, political ideology."

The fact is all the terrorist acts against us that he mentioned are the "work" of a religion, Islam, which, in whatever distorted form it may have twisted itself, informs, motivates and justifies the terrorists. It is Islam that has spawned loathsome offspring like Osama bin Laden. It is Islam that greeted the most horrific acts of the terrorists with a notable silence broken only by a few ineffectual expressions of mild heartburn from an Imam or two over terrorist technique.

One pauses at the prospect that "ambush good - burning and dismemberment not so good" is the best one of the world's three great monotheistic religions can come up with re the hate-crazed ghouls of Falluja. If Islam's outrage at bin Laden's hijacking of the faith has been expressed, it has been decidedly sotto voce.

Part of Islam's historic appeal has surely been its simplicity. Whatever his spirituality, his virtue, or the quality of his personal revelation, Mohammed, the Bedouin merchant who brought the whole thing into being in 622 A.D., had a canny sense of how to grow a religion. Go light on the unmeasurable and possibly even unfathomable aspects of man's relationship with God. Give him an unchanging yardstick by which to measure his progress toward Heaven. Thus, the Five Pillars of Islam:

First, affirm your faith by sincerely declaring, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet." Second, pray five times a day, turning your face toward Mecca (the birthplace of the faith). Third, observe the holy month of Ramadan by fasting everyday from sunrise to sunset. Fourth, at least once in your life make a pilgrimage (the hajj) to Mecca. Fifth, give alms to the poor.

You really don't have to come to complete intellectual terms with the Koran (the one sacred text) or (for those who desire more nuanced ritual and more guidance in their behavior) the Hadith, which reputedly contains the collected wisdom of Mohammed. Just stick to the five pillars.

But there is, some scholars tell us, a sixth pillar of Islam, a jihad against the infidels. And the fast ticket to Heaven for a Moslem is to die for Allah in such a struggle. Jihad, the Arab word for struggle or striving "in the way of God," has many admirable meanings within the faith, but its association with the idea of a Holy War against non-believers is classically established. And its use by bin Laden has imparted to it a peculiar force ever since his February 23, 1998 "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders."

Plenty of Islamic scholars have scoffed at bin Laden's bold appropriation of the idea of a Holy War, pointing out that only a "properly constituted Islamic government" can make such a declaration. But they talk mainly to each other or to some hidden silent majority of Moslems. Meanwhile, bin Laden's religious poison has been poured into the ears of Arabic street thugs; young, jobless men, some barely literate, lost souls, the wretched refuse of stagnant cultures that have wallowed in enmity to the impure "Crusaders" and bitter nostalgia for the glory of the long ago caliphate.

Bin Laden, in his heart of hearts, may or may not believe the religious dimensions of his own stuff. But there are plenty of dead-end fanatics who do. They have been steeped in hatred by "clerics" like that scheming fat guy with the bad teeth, Muqta al-Sadir. They may actually be thinking about all those doe-eyed virgins awaiting them in the gardens of paradise when they strap on bomb belts or run out after Marines with RPGs on their shoulders.

It is not clear that the White House understands the deep-seated imperative to Holy War that runs through Islam and has been taken to a new level by Islamic radical fanatics. Among the puzzling, sometimes seemingly contradictory passages of the Koran regarding Holy War there is one where Mohammed says, "The best fighting (jihad) in the path of Allah is a word of justice to an oppressive ruler."

The "diplomats" who would follow such advice have been mighty scarce around Falluja or Baghdad. We have seen only armed hatred and heard only the voices of those who abet them. And the rest of Islam has seemed a sea of silence.

The author is a frequent TCS contributor an recently wrote about Hell in a suitcase.


TCS Daily Archives