The Art of Death
The moderate Muslim majority is a myth.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, May, 2009.


Andrew C. McCarthy

Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood’s epigrammatic founder, was never at a loss for the chilling turn of phrase. His rally cry, the Brotherhood’s signature pledge that “Jihad is our way” and “Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope,” is the soundtrack of the “Arab Spring.” It speaks for a region over two-thirds of whose putative liberty lovers prefer to kill apostates than to abide freedom of conscience. Their embrace of the very sharia chauvinism that ties together Banna, bin Laden, the Saudi royals, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev explodes the Western myth of the moderate Muslim majority.

Yet the United States government clings to the myth. Even as Boston buries its dead, just as they must do from Cairo to Thailand, Americans are instructed not to notice the inevitable progression from Islamic-supremacist ideology to aggression and murder. The See No Islam campaign entails such inanities as portrayal of the Brotherhood as a “largely secular” outfit. Thus, few of us have heard of Banna’s odes to “the art of death.” To know them is to see the farce in President Obama’s sudden angst over hunger-striking jihadists, and in the renewed vigor of his quest to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

About 166 detainees remain at Gitmo. Around 100 of them have joined in a hunger strike that began four months ago when some of the jihadists accused their military guards of mishandling Korans — sorry, I mean Holy Korans — during searches of their cells.

Mind you, cells are regularly searched in every prison. Gitmo is unusual only in the heightened necessity of this routine. Jihadists frequently attack the guards with weapons improvised and hidden in their cells. The Holy Koran, meanwhile, is not wholly Koran — jihadists often use it to pass each other messages. No surprise there: Islamic supremacists take the book to command war against infidels — under the crazy notion that scores of verses like Sura 8:12, Allah’s command to “strike off [the unbelievers’] heads and strike off every fingertip of them” in order to “cast terror into [their] hearts,” actually mean what they say.

Alas, as we’ve seen before, the Pentagon brass — the guys who see jihadist mass murder at a U.S. military base as “workplace violence” — would sooner repeal the First Amendment than abide any mishandling of the Holy Koran. Indeed, Gitmo protocols have long directed that, where possible, only white-gloved Muslim military personnel should touch the sacred text, even when cells are being tossed. The Defense Department has thus internalized the supremacist principle that infidels are not fit to touch things Islamic, the very principle by which our friends the Saudis forbid public professions of Christianity and ban non-Muslims from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina.

While we avert our eyes from the ugliness of our enemies’ ideology, they go to school on us. Guerilla training for jihadists prominently includes propaganda. Much of this, naturally, is geared to rally the Left’s assorted shock troops of Western self-loathing. In equal part, though, it is theater. A good hunger strike works wonders. Like all real jihad, it is what Banna famously called “the art of death.” The omnipresent specter of martyrdom, he knew, was a transformative agent of influence.

Relying on Muslim scripture in a book he called “Jihad,” Banna explained that Allah reserves the greatest “reward” for the “martyrs and fighters in His way.” Only those “who have modeled themselves upon the martyrs in their performance of jihad can join them in this reward.” Performance was not a word chosen idly.

As the late Arabist scholar Robert P. Mitchell observed in his seminal 1960 study, The Society of Muslim Brothers, Banna understood that what made jihad so effective was the “relationship always implied between it and the possibility, even the necessity, of death and martyrdom.” Death is the salient aim of jihad, whether it is the terror of killing infidels or the power of the jihadist’s example in surrendering his own life for the cause. That power is the unparalleled capacity of art to move and inspire.


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