In an interview with Jahady.ir, Dr. Kevin Barrett, one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror, said “terrorism—the intentional targeting of innocent civilians—is incompatible with jihad.”
“The false equation of jihad with terrorism is a propaganda ploy by the enemies of Islam,” he added.
Below, the full transcript of the interview has been presented.
Q: How do you define jihad as a scholar of Islamic studies? What’s the difference between the true meaning of jihad and the definition broadcasted by mainstream media?
Kevin Barrett: In the broadest sense, jihad (struggle in the path of God) is the complementary opposite of islam (surrender to God). When we surrender completely to God, we become entirely passive. There is an oceanic ecstasy in absolute surrender, in which the nafs (ego) is annihilated. Sufis call this fana. But life also requires us to stand up and struggle to our utmost limits. This is jihad.
It can happen in warfare, or “lesser jihad,” which often requires people and societies to struggle to their utmost limits. This kind of jihad is described in the Qur’an in terms of fighting oppressors, aggressors, “those who expel you from your homes.” In the original context, this jihad was the defensive struggle of the community of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) against the pagans of Mecca. Since then, this concept of the lesser jihad has been used and abused by various Muslim rulers in relation to various wars and conflicts. There is a vast, complex, not-entirely-coherent doctrine of Islamic law concerning lesser jihad. It is very difficult for an ordinary Muslim to make sense of it and decide which, if any, contemporary or historical conflicts were bona fide jihads. (The one exception, of course, is the struggle of the original Muslim community of Medina, which is universally acknowledged as the prototype of lesser jihads, or legitimate and necessary armed struggles.)
I would argue that the concept of lesser jihad encompasses all forms of expending great effort or taking personal risk in order to defend the community, and that armed struggle is just the most obvious of these. Someone who goes on a secret, extremely risky diplomatic mission to prevent an enemy from attacking ones community is waging lesser jihad even if he or she is not wielding a weapon. The Qur’an makes it clear that making the effort, taking the risk, and defending the community are the key concepts, and that”those who lag behind” out of laziness, fear, or unwillingness to defend the community are morally deficient.
Alongside the lesser jihad, there is also the “greater jihad” that consists of struggling against the evil of our own ego, the nafs al-ammara bis-su’ or “ego that commands evil.” It consists of our struggle against the evils within ourselves, and the temptations in the world around us. In a sense this inner struggle is even more basic than any kind of outer struggle, which may be why it is considered the greater of the two basic forms of jihad.
Q: How do you personally feel about jihad?
Kevin Barrett: As my websiteTruthJihad.com puts it: “Jihad means effort, struggle, or striving to 1) be a better person, or 2) defend the community. ‘The best jihad is a word of truth flung in the face of a tyrant.’”
I love the many ahadith stating that the best possible jihad is speaking the truth to an unjust ruler. This kind of”truth jihad” unites the lesser and greater jihads. It is lesser jihad because one is making effort, taking a risk, and defending the community (from injustice). And it is greater jihad because one has to fight one’s own inner cowardice, laziness, and sycophancy.
Foucault’s discussion ofParrhesia is apropos:”When a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign to a tyrant and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and more than that, also takes a risk ‘since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him.'”
Regarding armed struggle, I am generally opposed to it unless it is defensive, absolutely necessary, and thoroughly justifiable. It seems to me that the Palestinian struggle qualifies. But in today’s world, weapons have grown so powerful and destructive that warfare has become an even worse option than in the past. So we need to update Sun Tzu’s advice that”the best time to win a war is before the fighting has even started” and use persuasion and strategy rather than physical weapons, to the extent that this is possible. Since I am better qualified with words than with weapons, I personally specialize in”verbal jihad.”
Q: Do you see jihad as a phenomenon that leads to terrorist acts across the globe?
Kevin Barrett: Terrorism—the intentional targeting of innocent civilians—is incompatible with jihad. All schools of Islamic thought, except perhaps a few very recent takfiri aberrations, agree on that. So the false equation of jihad with terrorism is a propaganda ploy by the enemies of Islam.
In the recent Israeli assaults on Gaza, the Israelis have killed thousands of people, most of them civilians, including a large proportion of children. The Palestinian resistance has responded by targeting Israeli soldiers. Obviously it is the Israelis who are the terrorists.
Q: What’s your take on the rise of Islamophobia in Western countries? What leads to anti-Muslim sentiments?
Kevin Barrett: Islamophobia has been spread primarily by Zionists who realize that their genocidal invasion and occupation of the Holy Land has put them in long-term conflict with the global Muslim community. Netanyahu convened the Jerusalem Conference on International Terrorism in 1979 to create a new enemy,”terrorism,” to replace communism, which was about to collapse. Clearly Netanyahu and his brain trust, led by Orientalist Bernard Lewis, were scheming to create the notion of”Islamic Terrorism” as a propaganda ploy to draw the West into a long-term war against Israel’s Muslim enemies. This”clash of civilizations” (the term was coined by Lewis) is an artificially-created phenomenon. It was officially launched with the public relations stunt on September 11th, 2001. Since then, the people of the West have been subjected to non-stop anti-Islam propaganda, and widespread Islamophobia is the result.
Unfortunately, Muslims have not responded as effectively as one might wish. The regime in Saudi Arabia has used its vast oil wealth to promote forms of Islam that make Islam look bad in the eyes of the world. Had the same amount of money been spent to promote more accurate, sensible, and attractive approaches to Islam, and to unmask the Zionists behind the phony”clash of civilizations,” I believe a large segment of the population of the West would have already converted to Islam, and the rest would view Islam favorably.
Dr. Kevin Barrett, a Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist, is one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror. He is Host of TRUTH JIHAD RADIO; a hard driving weekly LIVE call in radio show. He also has appeared many times on Fox, CNN, PBS and other broadcast outlets, and has inspired feature stories and op-eds in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other leading publications.