Hot for martyrdom
Friday, November 03, 2006
Dr. Tawfik Hamid doesn't tell people where he lives. Not the street, not the city, not even the country. It's safer that way. It's only the letters of testimony from some of the highest intelligence officers in the Western world that enable him to move freely. This medical doctor, author and activist once was a member of Egypt's Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Arabic for "the Islamic Group"), a banned terrorist organization. He was trained under Ayman al-Zawahiri, the bearded jihadi who appears in Bin Laden's videos, telling the world that Islamic violence will stop only once we all become Muslims.
He's a disarmingly gentle and courteous man. But he's determined to tell a complacent North America what he knows about fundamentalist Muslim imperialism.
"Yes, 'imperialism,' " he tells me. "The deliberate and determined expansion of militant Islam and its attempt to triumph not only in the Islamic world but in Europe and North America. Pure ideology. Muslim terrorists kill and slaughter not because of what they experience but because of what they believe."
Hamid drank in the message of Jihadism while at medical school in Cairo, and devoted himself to the cause. His group began meeting in a small room. Then a larger one. Then a Mosque reserved for followers of al-Zawahiri. By the time Hamid left the movement, its members were intimidating other students who were unsympathetic.
He is now 45 years old, and has had many years to reflect on why he was willing to die and kill for his religion. "The first thing you have to understand is that it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with poverty or lack of education," he says. "I was from a middle-class family and my parents were not religious. Hardly anyone in the movement at university came from a background that was different from mine.
"I've heard this poverty nonsense time and time again from Western apologists for Islam, most of them not Muslim by the way. There are millions of passive supporters of terror who may be poor and needy but most of those who do the killing are wealthy, privileged, educated and free. If it were about poverty, ask yourself why it is middle-class Muslims -- and never poor Christians -- who become suicide bombers in Palestine."
His analysis is fascinating. Muslim fundamentalists believe, he insists, that Saudi Arabia's petroleum-based wealth is a divine gift, and that Saudi influence is sanctioned by Allah. Thus the extreme brand of Sunni Islam that spread from the Kingdom to the rest of the Islamic world is regarded not merely as one interpretation of the religion but the only genuine interpretation. The expansion of violent and regressive Islam, he continues, began in the late 1970s, and can be traced precisely to the growing financial clout of Saudi Arabia.
"We're not talking about a fringe cult here," he tells me. "Salafist [fundamentalist] Islam is the dominant version of the religion and is taught in almost every Islamic university in the world. It is puritanical, extreme and does, yes, mean that women can be beaten, apostates killed and Jews called pigs and monkeys."
He leans back, takes a deep breath and moves to another area, one that he says is far too seldom discussed: "North Americans are too squeamish about discussing the obvious sexual dynamic behind suicide bombings. If they understood contemporary Islamic society, they would understand the sheer sexual tension of Sunni Muslim men. Look at the figures for suicide bombings and see how few are from the Shiite world. Terrorism and violence yes, but not suicide. The overwhelming majority are from Sunnis. Now within the Shiite world there are what is known as temporary marriages, lasting anywhere from an hour to 95 years. It enables men to release their sexual frustrations.
"Islam condemns extra-marital sex as well as masturbation, which is also taught in the Christian tradition. But Islam also tells of unlimited sexual ecstasy in paradise with beautiful virgins for the martyr who gives his life for the faith. Don't for a moment underestimate this blinding passion or its influence on those who accept fundamentalism."
A pause. "I know. I was one who accepted it."
This partial explanation is shocking more for its banality than its horror. Mass murder provoked partly by simple lust. But it cannot be denied that letters written by suicide bombers frequently dwell on waiting virgins and sexual gratification.
"The sexual aspect is, of course, just one part of this. But I can tell you what it is not about. Not about Israel, not about Iraq, not about Afghanistan. They are mere excuses. Algerian Muslim fundamentalists murdered 150,000 other Algerian Muslims, sometimes slitting the throats of children in front of their parents. Are you seriously telling me that this was because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians or American foreign policy?"
He's exasperated now, visibly angry at what he sees as a willful Western foolishness. "Stop asking what you have done wrong. Stop it! They're slaughtering you like sheep and you still look within. You criticize your history, your institutions, your churches. Why can't you realize that it has nothing to do with what you have done but with what they want."
Then he leaves -- for where, he cannot say. A voice that is silenced in its homeland and too often ignored by those who prefer convenient revision to disturbing truth. The tragedy is that Tawfik Hamid is almost used to it.
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