FROM  THE  BOOK    NOMAD  by  Allan  Hirsi  Ali

All  black  lettering  is  mine - Keith Hunt

Violence and the Closing of the Muslim Mind

I don't remember my first day in Quran school in Mogadishu. I was probably three or four. The room had a thatched roof and a sand floor covered with papyrus mats. It was surrounded by a wall made of twigs and woven dried grass. Most of the children were my age; some were a little older. There were both boys and girls. A teacher with a long thin stick in his hand herded us into the room. He shouted, "In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Merciful," and we shouted after him. He shouted verses from the opening chapter of the Quran and urged us to repeat them in chorus. We recited the text in Arabic, a language that we did not speak. The imam probably also did not speak much Arabic. He was teaching us to recite a text whose meaning was unknown to us all. And no one explained why.

We were to learn to recite four or five verses by heart and then write them down on a wooden board. It was in that madrassa that I learned how to make ink from charcoal, water, and milk. We were given little sticks, just like the ones we used to clean our teeth. We chewed on the stick until the tip was soft like a brush. If the brush became too long as we chewed on it, then cut the extra bit with our teeth and spit it out on the floor. Then we dipped the stick into a large inkpot. I learned to write alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.

Everything we wrote down on our wooden boards, we were told, was holy. We washed the boards with special water that had been blessed; it was a sin to put the boards on the floor.

In the middle of the madrassa was a large book on a wooden lectern: the Holy Quran. It was open, but it was so sacred that we were not allowed to touch it; only the older children, advanced in learning, were allowed even to approach the book. Not only the content of the Quran but the physical book itself was holy. The older children knew what it meant to purify themselves and make their ablutions. They knew how to recite many verses by heart. We younger ones were ignorant of purity, so we were not allowed anywhere near the book. Learning the Quran at that time meant growing up to be old enough to perform your ablutions, learn many suras (chapters) by heart, learn the Arabic alphabet, and write down the Quran.

After many hours of such learning we were released to go home. We had lunch, we were put to bed for a nap, and when we woke up we sat under the talal tree in front of our house and prayed for my father to be released from prison. If during those supplications I managed to recite some of the quranic verses that I had learned, I was praised.

The Quran was used for other purposes. 

My auntie Hawo was sick with breast cancer. Once in a while my mother hired a number of Quran scholars. They would sit around my auntie in a circle and recite the Holy Quran and after a few verses would lightly spit on her. The Quran was medicine: it could cure.

The Quran was also used as punishment. 

At the entrance of the madrassa hung a hammock, tight between two poles. I was told, "If you are naughty, if you misbehave, if you are disobedient, you will get the Itha Shamsu treatment." I had no idea what that was until one day I saw our teacher lift one of the little boys into the hammock. It was strung so high that if he fell out he would certainly hurt himself on the hard ground. The teacher then instructed the older boys and girls to each pick up a long, thin stick from a stack in the corner and to stand around the hammock and, to the cadence of a chapter in the Quran that we call Itha Shamsu Kuwirat, to flog the child. I have never been so terrified.

Itha Shamsu Kuwirat means "The sun is folding up," although I did not know that then. The chapter is a description of the punishments of the Last Judgment, but this meaning was not revealed to us. In the madrassa, questions were not welcome; they were considered impertinent.


Violence, as you will have guessed by now, was an integral part of my upbringing. But this was not because I was the victim of a uniquely abusive family or series of schools. My experience was typical of the way most people from all over the non-Western world grow up with violence as a social norm. 

In one of my experiences as an interpreter in Holland, I was called to an elementary school in The Hague to translate for a couple whose seven-year-old firstborn son, Mohammed, had beaten Mark, another child about his age. Both sets of parents were upset and felt misunderstood; they had been yelling at each other for days, and now the school was trying to resolve the conflict by bringing in a translator: me.

The teacher, fixing a firm and disapproving gaze on Mohammed's parents, began by saying, "Mohammed is very aggressive. He hit Mark. He kicked him, punched him in the face, and threatened to kill him."

Mohammed's mother responded, raising her voice and waving her hand at the teacher, "It is Mark's fault. He provoked Mohammed by a calling him names, by making humiliating gestures at him and by laughing at him."

"That is right," the teacher interrupted. "But it was Mohammed who hit Mark first!"

Then Mohammed's mother and father raised their hands over their heads and cried in unison, "Of course, you don't wait to be hit first. We taught him to punch any child in the face who so much as gives him a wrong look."

The Dutch teacher, stunned and almost speechless, looked at the parents, then at me, and asked in disbelief, "Are you rearing him to believe that violence is the way to solve conflict?"

Given the mutual bewilderment of both my clients as they looked at each other, I asked if I could step out of my neutral role as an interpreter of text alone and venture into cultural interpretation.

I explained to the parents that, unlike in Somalia, the way to resolve conflict in Holland was by learning to talk, to talk until you drop, in search of a compromise solution—or, if that fails, to go to court, where a lot of talking is done by people called lawyers who represent you. All the talking ends in a settlement pronounced by a judge. No special skills in punching, kicking, biting, stabbing, or shooting are needed. Besides the normal curriculum of math, language, and geography, kids are taught the skills of talking one's way out of problems and into college, into jobs, into love, out of love, and so on.

To the Dutch teacher I explained that, in Somalia, strong clans teach their children, both boys and girls, the merits of physical aggression: how to be the first to deal a blow; how to respond if you are surprised with a blow; the art of deception in aggression; how to pretend you are down and then strike; how to pretend to apologize and then regroup, change your tactics, and hit back. 

My older cousin used to take me to "fighting practice" after school when I was about five or six. I was encouraged to pick a fight with a classmate, who was encouraged to pick a fight with me. We poked out our tongues at each other, made faces at each other, and called each other names. We said things like “You are low, accursed, shameful, dishonorable, kinteerley." Then, surrounded by cheering older relatives, we went at each other. We kicked, scratched, bit one another, wrestled until we were covered in bruises, our little dresses torn, our knees scraped from all the falling. You were defeated if you gave up first or if you cried or ran away. In all three cases you would undergo a severe verbal and physical beating from your fighting coach. In my case my coach was my older cousin, the only daughter of my mother's twin sister.

Throughout the first two decades of my life I got used to the practice of violence as a perfectly natural part of existence. At home Ma hit me and my siblings. My father, whenever he was with us, beat my brother with slaps and shoves and then in long thought-through whipping sessions with his belt. In turn, Mahad beat Haweya and me, sometimes to aided Ma in her crusade to teach us manners and break our spirit for being so disobedient, sometimes as a way of showing us that he was the boss, the vice head of the house, replacing my father's authority with his. For Haweya and me to take him seriously and acknowledge this authority, he had to use physical violence. This we regarded as quite normal. All of my girlfriends at school feared their brothers and fathers. We whispered about the different punishments we were subjected to. All of them involved corporal punishment of some sort.

In school the teachers also had the right to cane us. In my class Mrs. Nziani used what was known as a black mamba, a hard black pipe. The impact from that hurt depending on where she hit you and how much force she used. As a math teacher her favorite way of stimulating us to get our sums right was by hitting us on the head for every sum we got wrong. Sometimes I would get only five sums right out of thirty. That meant I got twenty-five strokes of the pipe.

Some teachers used the pencil-and-ruler method. A pencil would be wedged between the index finger and the ring finger, holding down the middle finger. Then the teacher would take a ruler and hit you as hard as she could on the knuckles of the fingers holding the pencil.

Bullying was another nightmare in school. Some of the older children would gang up on the younger ones or weaker age-mates, forming a circle around the poor child and then beating the hell out of him or her. There were times I used to think that children were more cruel than adults. Every week teachers would preach about why bullying was bad and how the bullies would be punished—violently, of course—if caught.

Violence seemed to follow me around. 

One day in the beginning of 1989 the Kenyan government decided to carry out a large-scale rounding up and deporting of illegal Somali immigrants into Kenya. In practice this meant that police were to stop anyone who looked like a Somali and demand their ID. If you did not have one, you went to a police cell. My mother and I went to buy an ID for me in a neighbor-hood called Pangani, about a twenty-minute walk from our neighborhood on Park Road. We left the house without IDs and, predictably, were stopped by two policemen. We might have been released had we given them the money that we had for our groceries. Instead Ma decided to get all principled and refused to bribe them. We were escorted to the Pangani Police Station, where we spent two nights. Even though the conditions were abysmal—hard cement floor, urine and excreta on the ground, and about forty people in a 13-by-16-foot cell—we were not physically harmed.

However, in that jail I saw the utmost cruelty. Kenyans charged with mostly petty crimes such as stealing spare tires were brought in. Five uniformed and armed policemen pummeled an alleged criminal. With their heavy boots they kicked him in the head and in the belly and they kicked all his limbs. It was a ghastly sight. I will never forget the crack of bone as his kneecap was shattered.

In Kenya that was the most common form of state violence. In all the countries where I lived before coming to the West, the use of torture and corporal punishment was so normal that people were surprised if you questioned it. This habituation to violence poses real problems when people from such societies move to the West, as I soon discovered.

My work as a translator frequently took me to the courts and prisons of Holland. Almost all these cases involved assault and murder. All the perpetrators were male. There was one case - a Somali man who neglected to pay his rent for months. One day the landlord came to demand payment and threatened the tenant with eviction. In response the Somali walked into his apartment, grabbed a thick wooden stick, and hit the landlord on the head as hard as he could. The victim survived, but the impact was so hard that the Somali was charged with attempted murder. In court, defended by a pro bono lawyer, the Somali first denied hitting the landlord, then blamed him for making him lose his temper. The lawyer put forth a strong case in his defense, citing the civil war and the psychological toll it had taken on her client. She had lined up all sorts of experts, psychiatrists and sociologists who testified to all the possible causal links between that war and the reason the Somali man attacked his landlord.

The Somali's extended family, neighbors, and friends all testified that the defendant was a good, polite, charitable man who under normal circumstances would not harm a fly. They agreed that, if the landlord had not provoked him, the whole episode would not have happened. The defendant himself showed no remorse of any kind and was sentenced to a year in prison.

In my time as a Dutch MP I heard numerous possible explanations for the disturbing level of violence among immigrant families. These families came from Turkey, Morocco, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria; people from the Antilles and Surinam were also overrepresented in violent-crime cases. There were first-generation and even third-generation citizens among them. All who were suspected or convicted of actual or attempted terrorist violence were Muslims. Aside from terrorism the list of indictments was topped by assault, sometimes with firearms, sometimes with knives and other sharp objects, often with bare hands.

I tried to explain to my colleagues why this was. In some Muslim families—though not all—the barrier between violent and nonviolent behaviors is very thin and fragile. In some families it simply does not exist. Children are groomed into unquestioning conformity. Disobedience—especially by boys—is punished with a series of severe reprimands. If these fail, physical punishment soon follows. Husbands who fear disobedience from their wives are permitted to beat them. In school, particularly in the madrassas, mistakes are punished by beatings. Boys may receive lashes and hard slaps across the face; girls may be lashed but more often are slapped or pinched, or their hair is pulled.

The Westerner is surprised to hear a suicide bomber described by all his neighbors and relatives as quiet, charitable, polite, friendly, and smiling. How can a man go from helping an old woman cross the street to plotting or even committing a mass murder? The answer is that, in the Muslim family, politeness, friendliness, and charity are regarded highly, and all families aspire to instill in their children these ideals of universal good behavior, but conformity to Allah's will is held in even higher regard. And violence is regarded as a legitimate means of enforcing that conformity.

In saying this, I don't want to create the impression that all people from Muslim countries or tribal societies are aggressive. They are not. But whereas physical violence is now regarded in the West as barbaric, most commonly associated with drunken football hooligans or gangs of drug dealers, in Islamic culture it remains an integral part of the system of social discipline.

If there is an infallible mark of an advanced civilization it is surely the marginalization and criminalization of violence. 

In order to understand why Islam promotes violence, and indeed terror, as a political tool, we can look a little more closely at my own religious education.

After we left Somalia, my next Quran school was in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Held in a large room with a blackboard, it was for girls only. We sat on cushions on the floor, a cement floor this time, not sand. There was no spitting; we did not write on wooden boards; we didn't chew sticks into writing implements; and we didn't have to make our own ink. But here we were required to cover ourselves from head to toe, and we were not asked about ablutions: it was assumed that our parents had prepared us. Purity was a concept and a practice that was ingrained in even the smallest child. But the biggest difference was that we each had a copy of the Quran.

It was not the whole Quran, just the thirty shortest chapters, which are known as suras. These booklets we called Juz Amrna, after the longest chapter that they contained, and they came from a high shelf. We were not allowed to put them down on the counter that sat in front of us; they too were holy. We all opened to the same page, and collectively we chanted, slowly, following the teacher's lead. We spoke each word with reverence, but, as in Somalia, no one bothered to explain the meaning of what we were saying. And again, any impertinence or questioning was punished severely. Before we replaced them on their special shelf we kissed the books and touched them to our foreheads.   


My family lived in Saudi Arabia for one year. In the regular school,  which was also for girls only, we also learned to read the Quran, and  there we attended a class where we learned something about the  meaning of what we were reading. Most of what we learned had to do with the hereafter and with rewards and punishments. 

Another class in regular school taught us about the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. As Muslims we were required to follow his example, but as girls we were required above all to follow the example of his many wives.

After Saudi Arabia we lived in Ethiopia, which is a Christian country. There my mother was convinced that we would not get enough religious schooling. My father reassured her that we would, and he was right. We had an extra class in school that was like madrassa, although we sat on chairs and at desks. Using small Qurans, we learned verses by heart, chanting them slowly. In this school too there was no discussion of their meaning.

I attended another Quran school, where we placed the Quran on our laps and continued to learn it by heart. But this Quran school was for boys and girls together, which troubled my mother. 

After I began menstruating she decided to hire a private Quran teacher, who was Somali. He took us back to the old method of making our own ink and writing on wooden boards. Although I rebelled against these tedious old-time practices, I didn't rebel against the Quran. Our teacher severely beat me for my rebellion; once he fractured my skull against the wall of our living room.

Then the school that I attended hired a new Islamic studies teacher, Sister Aziza. Her method of teaching was much kinder. She didn't hit us and she didn't yell at us. She discussed the content of the Quran and urged us to understand its meaning. Sister Aziza was what Europeans and Americans would now call a fundamentalist or an Islamist. At the time I didn't realize it, but I was undergoing what specialists would now term a radicalization process.

Sister Aziza did not force us to pray or to fast or to cover ourselves in robes that would hide our (more or less theoretical) womanly attributes. Instead she inspired and stimulated us to what she called "the inner jihad," a constant struggle to fight temptation and distraction by worldly things, such as listening to music and hanging out with friends. Our struggle was to observe all five daily prayers and to fast for all of the thirty days of the holy Ramadan, compensating for the five days when we were not allowed to fast because of menstruation.

Sister Aziza allowed us to ask questions. I wanted to know why I couldn't be friends with non-Muslims. It was an inconvenient rule because it meant cutting ties with some of my best friends. I also wanted to know why men were allowed so much freedom, whereas we girls and women were so constrained. Sister Aziza simply told us, "That is Allah's wisdom. Allah is all-knowing." So although we were allowed to ask questions, we did not in fact receive answers.

Persistent questioning was itself considered to be sinful, a sign that you were under the influence of Satan. You could of course ask for clarification about the exact distinctions of what was acceptable or forbidden, the so-called gray areas between halal and haram. You could ask, "Is it permissible to marry a cousin if your mother suckled him when he was an infant?" You could say, "Today I fasted, but just before nightfall my period came. Is that day of fasting valid, or do I have to repeat it?" The Ramadan fast generated what seems to me now a neurotic amount of such specific queries, such as "As I was brushing my teeth the tiniest amount of water slipped down my throat. Did I violate my fast?" The fear of accidentally swallowing water compelled many of us to avoid brushing our teeth in the morning for the whole month and led others to spit on the ground all day, lest they swallow their saliva.

Thus my personal experience of what I call the closing of the Muslim mind involved not only fundamentalist individuals such as Sister Aziza and Boqol Sawm (another of my quranic tutors in Kenya), who themselves had been radicalized in Saudi schools, but also non-radical, "regular," or what some would call "moderate" teachers. 


Both these groups discouraged meaningful discussion of the Quran; they would just say "Do this" and "Refrain from doing this. It's in the Quran." There was absolutely no criticism of the text, no reflection on why we should obey the rules, and certainly no exploration whatsoever of the idea of not obeying one or another of the rules that were dictated in the Quran by the Prophet fourteen centuries ago. 

Moreover, most people I knew when I was growing up either did not read the Quran or knew it only in Arabic, which very few of them could understand. It is a holy artifact, holy in its totality, even in its language. You approach it not with a spirit of inquiry but with reverence and dread.

This is the biggest misunderstanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. 

Anyone who identifies himself as a Muslim believes that the Quran is the true, immutable word of God. It should be followed to the letter. 

Many Muslims do not actually obey every one of the Quran's many strictures, but they believe that they should. When non-Muslims see Muslims dressed in Western clothes, listening to Western music, perhaps drinking alcohol—people who, in their social lives, are not very different from Westerners—they assume them to be moderate. But this is an incorrect assumption, because it posits a distinction like that between fundamentalist Christians and moderate Christians.

MODERATE CHRISTIANS are those who do not take every word in the Bible to be the word of God. They don't seek to live exactly as Jesus Christ and his disciples did. They are actually critical of the Bible, which they read in their own language and have revised several times. There are parts they find inspirational and parts they deem no longer relevant.

That is not what a moderate Muslim is. A moderate Muslim does not question Muhammad's actions or reject or revise parts of the Quran. A moderate Muslim may not practice Islam in the way that a fundamentalist Muslim does—veiling, for example, or refusing to shake a woman's hand—but both the fundamentalists and the so-called moderates agree on the authenticity and the truthfulness and the value of Muslim scripture. This is why fundamentalists manage, without great difficulty, to persuade Muslims who don't practice much of Islam to begin engaging in the inner struggle, the inner jihad.

I have heard from so many people, both in Holland and in America, "So-and-so was a good friend of mine. We used to go out together. She had a great job. Sometimes she would drink alcohol. She was just like us, but now she wears the headscarf. She stopped eating pork and drinking wine. She doesn't want to be friends with us anymore." Or "We always knew he was a Muslim, but now he has become more pious. He has grown a beard, he dresses differently, and now he distances himself from us." 

In the past decade, as fundamentalist Islam has grown exponentially, many Muslims who weren't strictly observant have suddenly changed. Fundamentalist preaching has turned them around very easily, because those nonobservant Muslims do not have the intellectual tools to refute what the fundamentalists say, which is, basically, If you are a true Muslim and you believe what is in the Quran, then start practicing it.

Some Muslims do not belong to either one of these categories; they are slightly observant but not extreme in their beliefs. And some of them have made attempts to modernize Muslim scripture through a process of interpretation and reinterpretation. This is an exercise that is encouraged by Western non-Muslims, mostly people in academia.

I have read books written by Muslim "feminists" who seek to reinterpret the Quran. I have read all sorts of papers and listened to discussions of Muslims trying to reinterpret the fundamentals of Islam, such as jihad, the treatment of women, the rejection of science. The fundamentalists refer to these modernizers as heretics and infidels, confused and corrupted by the West. 

A famous example of this group is Nasr Abu Zayd, an Egyptian scholar. He has suggested that parts of the Quran could be interpreted in such a way that it would be compatible with modernity. But he was attacked by fundamentalists, labeled an infidel, and forcibly divorced from his wife, a professor of literature, on the basis that he was an apostate (although he insisted that he remained a Muslim), and a Muslim (such as his wife) cannot be married to a non-Muslim. Ultimately Abu Zayd was forced to flee to the Netherlands.

An Iranian American Muslim woman, Laleh Baktiar, wrote a new translation of the Quran. This was not a work of critical reexamination of the Quran but a polishing up of some of its more cruel and inhuman passages by deliberately losing their meaning in translation. She too was ridiculed by fundamentalists and threatened with death.

Yet the works of these so-called moderate interpreters of the Muslim faith are not helpful in their attempt to present a moderate Islam. Reading them is like putting on a blindfold and trying to find your way around your apartment after someone has rearranged the furniture: everywhere you go, you hit an obstacle. The language is very difficult to understand, the reasoning unintelligible. Clear-cut quranic commands such as "Beat the disobedient wife" and "Kill the infidel" are made obscure, and a lot of fences are built around them. Their reinterpretation is something like "Don't beat her on the face. Don't beat her to break her bones. Use only a small stick"—none of which is present in the original Arabic. In one text the word tharaba is interpreted to mean "leave her," not "beat her," if you fear she will be disobedient. This "improvement" from beating to leaving is presented solemnly, without a hint of irony. (The translator, so focused on unsaying the word beat, is oblivious to the consequence of the newfound translation leave and its ties to the Muslim man's breezy right to divorce his wife at any time simply by crying out three times in the name of Allah and in the presence of two male witnesses "I divorce thee.")

What is striking about this tortuous struggle to reinterpret Muslim scripture is that none of these intelligent and well-meaning men and women reformers can live with the idea of rejecting altogether the troublesome parts of scripture. 

Thus, in their hands, Allah becomes a God of ambiguity rather than of clarity. From an articulate transmitter of Allah's Word, Muhammad is turned into someone who left behind an incoherent muddle of rules. Ironically, this was the position of the Christian and Jewish critics who first heard Muhammad. 

They found that he stole whole passages from the Old and New Testaments and Jewish scriptures and reshaped them into a contradictory muddle that he claimed to be original. 

This vision of Muhammad is not at all what the reformers seek. According to them, Muhammad was good; he sought to liberate women, for example, but his words were turned and twisted and now must further be twisted and turned in order to create a semblance of tolerance and equity.

Fundamentalists do not take kindly to these attempts to reshape the Holy Quran into a modern document; to them, this is a clear degradation of God and Muhammad. 

And here, I believe, the fundamentalists win, because they are not suffering from what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. 

The fundamentalists' God is all-powerful; he dictated the Quran, and we must live as the Prophet did. This is a stance that is clear. It's the Westernized theologians who are trapped in confusion, because they want to maintain that the Prophet Muhammad was a perfect human being whose example should be followed, that the Quran is perfect scripture, and that all of its key injunctions—kill the infidels, ambush them, take their property, convert them by force; kill homosexuals and adulterers; condemn Jews; treat women as chattel—are mysterious errors of translation.

It is not only the prohibition against criticizing the Quran and the Prophet that closes the Muslim mind, and not only the life-long socialization of learning by rote. It is also the continuous construction of conspiracy theories about enemies of Islam who are determined to destroy the one, true religion.

The chief enemy is the Jew.

When I was a pious Muslim in my teens, I made my regular ablutions. In those days, with every splash of water I cursed the Jews. I covered my body, spread a prayer mat, faced Mecca, and asked Allah to protect me from the evil that is spread by the Jews. I hurried to our local mosque and joined the crowds in prayer. We lined up—in the women-only section—and followed the instructions of the male imam, who was invisible to us. We cried in unison “Amin" to all his supplications to Allah, and when he called Allah to destroy the Jews, I also fervently said "Amin."

When I was in secondary school I pored over magazines published in Iran and Saudi Arabia that contained graphic photographs of men and women covered in blood. The captions always identified the dead as victims of the Jews. Even though I was a curious child, and as a teenager was an even more curious student, I never questioned the veracity of the pictures, the captions under them, or the stories of how the Jews killed and maimed Muslims like me.

In Nairobi after school I attended classes in Islamic centers generously provided to the public by wealthy men from Mecca and Medina. I believed that these wealthy men had built these centers out of kindness and goodness; they were practicing Zakat, or charity, the third pillar of Islam. I listened to one teacher after another talk about how the Jews had declared war on Islam. I learned that the Prophet Muhammad, the holiest of all holy men, in whose footsteps we Muslims all aspired to follow, had warned of the treacherous and evil ways of the Jews. They had betrayed him and tried to kill him, for wherever there is a Jew he plots and plans to destroy Islam. He smiles at the Muslim, but deep inside he hates him. He extends his hand to the Muslim in pretended peace, all the while enticing him toward a trap of debt, debauchery, and sin.

I swallowed all this propaganda as the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The other students who joined those lessons were as diverse as any group of students in a city like Nairobi; their families were from Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, and various Kenyan regions. But we identified ourselves first and foremost as Muslims; ethnicity was no barrier to our deeper loyalty to our faith. In the name of Islam we digested the anti-Semitic propaganda that was offered to us. It came to us in the mosque, in our religion classes at school, in Islamic centers, and from Islamic radio, magazines, pamphlets, television stations, and audiocassettes (and later, videos, DVDs, and blogs and other online instruments). Jews were bloodsucking, lethal enemies of Islam.

Some of my fellow students, selected on the basis of their piety and loyalty to Islam, were offered special scholarships to further their study of religion in Mecca and Medina, the holy cities of Saudi Arabia, or in Lahore or Teheran. 

They came back to Nairobi after a few years and, like Jehovah's Witnesses in the West, went from door to door in their respective neighborhoods. They preached Islam, of course: prayer, charity, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca (if you can afford it). But they also made thousands of believers aware of an enemy that lurked in the shadows, ready to attack them: the Jew.

When I reflect back on this particular strand of anti-Semitism, I see three distinct features. The first is demographic power: increase the number of people who believe that Jews are their enemies. The second is to use Islam as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism. The third is psychological: present the Muslim as an underdog fighting a powerful and ruthless enemy.

A Somali woman poet, Safi Abdi, who is clearly immersed in this same propaganda, recently published a poem in English that is a perfect illustration of this strategic triangle:

Hamas is a victim of U.S. policy.

Hamas is Palestine, Palestine is Hamas. 

Hamas was born under Israeli siege. 

Hamas was born at the foot of a Zionist boot.

In this poem the Jews are a scapegoat for evil and Islam is a unifying force against evil. Muslims are called upon to ignore their local problems of war, poverty, and tyranny and to unite against Israel, the Zionists, the Jews. This is the anti-Semitism of the twenty-first century. A Muslim who questions the existence of this enemy or his motives is either a fool or a traitor and a heretic.

Europe's long tradition of Christian and pseudo-scientific anti-Semitism was taken to its logical conclusion by Hitler and the Nazis, with the willing help of many other Europeans who participated in his program of Jewish annihilation. 

The evil of this "Final Solution" was exposed after the defeat of the Third Reich and combatted thereafter by the reeducation of ordinary Germans, the memorialization of the Holocaust, and the stigmatization or prohibition of neo-Nazi groups. As a result, by the end of the twentieth century most civilized people in the West believed that European anti-Semitism was a thing of the past.

But it is not. It has mutated into something new: Arab Islamic anti-Semitism has replaced European anti-Semitism. The new anti-Semites have borrowed a few tricks from the Nazis. They employ propaganda tools, such as the counterfeit Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that were endorsed by the Nazis. However, they also have something that the Nazis did not have: a world religion that is growing faster than any other religion, a warrior faith that is espoused by over one and a half billion people. Hitler had Mein Kampf and the might of the German Wehrmacht; today's anti-Semites, like the Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Osama bin Laden, have a holy book, a far greater demographic power, and a good chance of getting their hands on a nuclear weapon.

Despite outer appearances, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East is no longer about territory. 

It may seem to be so to Jews and Americans, but from the- Arab Islamic perspective it is a holy war in the name of Allah, and victory will come only if the Jews are destroyed or enslaved, if all the infidels are killed, converted, or "dhimmified" into the status of submissive, second-class citizens.

Wars are never fought only on battlefields with military means. Israel, America, and Europe may have stronger armies, but Islam has the numbers. The targets of Muslim propaganda—women, gay people, infidels, Christians, atheists, and Jews—are divided among themselves. The more these groups in the West are divided, the better for Islam. 

Shia and Sunni Muslims may hate one another; Arab Muslims may degrade African Muslims as slaves; Turks and Persians may look down on Arabs. But at the end of the day, when an imam calls for Tawhid, unity in the oneness of Allah, and performs the takhir, "Allahu Akhar” nearly all Muslims unite.

For Muslims to stay united, however, Islam needs an enemy, conspiracy theories, and a rival creed. Jews are the best of scapegoats, for the conspiracy theory that claims they control the world is believed by many. 

I have heard a Muslim theologian in Holland preach that all evil has been brought to humanity by the Jews. According to him these evils are communism, capitalism, and individualism. He pointed out that Karl Marx was a Jew, Milton Friedman was a Jew, and Sigmund Freud was a Jew. Marxism is an atheist creed and therefore an enemy of Islam. Free enterprise is a distraction from prayer; it involves the ungodly pursuit of earthly wealth and a system of lending and borrowing with interest (usury), which is forbidden by Islam. So capitalism too is an enemy of Islam. Acknowledging individual urges, dreams, consciousness, and layers of subconsciousness replaces a focus on the hereafter; virtues and vices are not seen as tensions between following the straight path of Allah and that of Satan but as the result of natural and psychological causes. Thus Freud and his followers are also enemies of Islam.

Islam is not a belief; it is a way of  life, a violent way of life. Islam is imbued with violence, and it encourages violence.

Muslim children all over the world are taught the way, I was: taught with violence, taught to perpetrate violence, taught to wish for violence against the infidel, the Jew, the American Satan.

I belong to a small group of lucky people who have escaped the permanent closure of my mind through education. I have learned to drop the prejudices that were ingrained in me. In school and in university it was hard sometimes when I learned things that were contrary to the teachings of Islam. I was always aware of a nagging sense of guilt and sin. Reading political theory in Leiden, I felt as if I had been transported to Sodom and Gomorrah. Everything seemed to contradict the political theory of Muhammad. But slowly I learned the new rules of a free society, new ideas that have replaced the old set of values that my parents gave me. The crucial question is whether or not there is a way to help many more young people achieve this opening of the Muslim mind.

Time and again in the past few years I have been asked by Americans who have heard my warnings about the increasingly dangerous impacts of Islam on Western societies: What can be done? Is there anything can we do? It is now time to address the all-important question of remedies.








Keith Hunt