Maps of Arab countries and Israel. Note that Israel is a tiny island in a sea of Arab countries.
Syrian columnist Khayri Hama:
"... the conflict with the Zionist enemy has never been a border issue, nor an interstate conflict but rather a total confrontation concerning the survival of our [Arab] nationalism . . . against threats posed by the Israeli entity."
From Syrian daily Al-Ba'th, July 26, 1994
Arab Nations frequently present the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious conflict of the Moslems against the so called "infidel Jews". Thus, the Arab countries at war with Israel use Islamic religion as an ideology to mobilize the Arab as well as non-Arab Moslem nations against Israel.
To understand the role of religion in the Arab-Israeli conflict it is essential first to understand the expansion of the Muslim empire in recent history and its ideology and goals.
Caveat: Please note that the term Islamic-Arab has been used here to refer specifically to the new violent radical-Islam guided nationalism. In the Middle-East there used to be a sizable percentage of non-Muslim (Christian and other sects) and moderate-Islamic Arab populations. These moderate populations have been continually pushed out of the Middle East or radicalized. The best examples of these are the Lebanese Christians who have practically lost their country to radical shiite Muslims. The harsh statements used here do not apply to all Arabs of the region, but those that have been emphasized here. There are many Arabs who are fighting against the radicalization in the Arab-Islamic world. For one of the outstanding examples see Nonie Darwish and Arabs for Israel. But in our perception their influence in the Islamic world has been minimal and unfortunately they will not be able to reverse the current trends in Arab countries.
The Islam religion started with Mohammad in the 7th century, in Saudi Arabia of today. Mohammad included in Islam the idea of jihad (holy war) to spread Islam by the use of force. Islam was spread rapidly to all the Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East (see map of Arab countries above). Islam religion in the hands of the Arab nations has turned into a tool of Arab nationalism and xenophobia (see over a million pages in the internet on the subject of Islam and Arab Nationalism).
In the past five centuries, many non-Arab nations have adopted Islam as the official state religion. These countries extend from Mauritania, at the Atlantic Ocean edge of Africa, to Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean. In some respects, Islamic countries today represent an empire, extending across many nations over the vastest tract of land ever ruled by a single empire in the world.
According to Islam, the Caliph is the religious and government authority that rules the Muslim empire. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the Caliph assumed his authority which was later transferred among different Islamic dynasties. The title of the Caliph was held by the Ottoman sultans from 1517 until 1924. The Caliphate institution was abolished by Ataturk who established the modern Turkey as a secular Western looking state.
Many Islamist groups already declare that their aim is to re-establish one Muslim Nation (Islamic ummah) encompassing all Muslim nations, ruled by Islamic law replacing secular governments. Many Arab, as well as non-Arab countries, such as Iran and Afganisthan are examples of this trend. The mass demonstrations of support for Osama bin Laden in many Arab countries are popular expressions of support for this wish for global Islamic unity.
In historical perspective, the wish of Islamists for global rule is reminiscent of the communist ideology to establish a "world nation of proletariat" (the communist slogan was "Workers of the world unite!"). It is significant that at the peak of the power of the USSR empire, the Arab countries were strong natural allies of the USSR against the West.
Like any ideology that wishes to establish a totalitarian global rule, Islamic Arab-fundamentalism presents a serious threat to the community of nations, including the non-Arab Muslim nations, such as Turkish republics.
While the role of Christianity as a force in shaping International affairs has decreased, the role of Islamic Empire in shaping International affairs has greatly increased as a result of several factors:
Islamic countries have stagnated economically for centuries. Arab countries with the world's richest resources have not been able to use their financial power for constructive development of their countries and have failed to advance their societies. All Arab countries are ruled as monarchies or as undemocratic regimes with very poor standards of living (see Table). Science and technology levels remain virtually undeveloped in most Arab countries.
With the advances in modern technology, the gap between the Western world and the Islamic countries has been widening. This poses a dilemma for Islamic radicals who view Islamic religion requiring divine world dominance and conquest. To compensate, Arab-Muslim clerics relate to the western world -- with its successes in technology, and its failures in some social moral standards -- as a real enemy of Islam and Muslims.
U.S.A., as a leader of the Western civilization has been dubbed as "the Great Satan" by none other than the political leader of Iran, a major Islamic country.
In the face of the vast differences between the Western civilization and the Arab culture, radical Islamic fractions within Arab countries have developed a new religious philosophy for the destruction of the Western culture by acts of terrorism. These acts are committed by suicide terrorists who receive the honor of "shahid" with the promise of eternal life in heaven. The most recent example is the attack on America by suicide crews that have led to the deaths of thousands. The identified participants of September 11 terrorism are all Arabs mostly from Saudi Arabia (see ABC NEWS story on suspects). While the world remained indifferent to suicide terrorists in Israel, the world was awakened by the attacks in the US to the dangers of radical Islam.
These events have been called part of a modern "clash of civilizations" between the radical Arab-Islam and the Western world. Yet, they could be foreboded by recent events in the Middle East. It is absolutely wrong to consider the recent acts of terrorism as the action of a few radicals such as Osama Bin-Laden. The acts grow on a very fertile ground of Arab national radical and violent philosophies presenting themselves as modern versions of jihad.
Israel stands at the forefront of this modern clash of civilizations as the only country that represents the Western world in the Middle East. In contrast to World War II times, now the Jewish people are not just the victims but also the frontline fighters against these evil forces that threaten the human civilization. Brutal killings of civilians by Islamic-Arab suicide bombers, and terrorists in Israel are nowadays almost a daily occurrence, and are executed in the name of "Allah" with the blessing "Allahu-Akbar" (God is great)! Many Islamic-Arab parents train their youth already at an early age for suicide terrorism (see Education section and Articles section). In this atmosphere, killing of non-Muslim non-believers has become a social norm that threatens to throw the humanity back to the darkest days of barbaric cultures. Yet, in the modern age the consequences will be much more severe. If weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of evil forces of terrorism they will threaten mass decimation.
The Islamic-Arab intolerance against non-Moslems is not limited to Jews (see: Islamic-Arab Persecution of Christians). Throughout centuries Arabs have systematically persecuted and ousted both Christians and Jews. The sizable Christian communities in Arab countries have dwindled to insignificant numbers with the mass emigration of Christians. The Jewish refugees from Arab countries were mostly absorbed by the modern State of Israel, whereas the Christians have emigrated to Europe and America
The Arab-Muslim religious philosophy of Jihad, of forceful conquest and conversion finds its violent expression also in intra-Arabic conflicts. The fact is that the number of Arabs killed in armed conflict is much greater in wars among Arab-Muslim factions, than in wars against Israel. For example, the number of dead (mostly youth and children) in the Iran-Iraq war is estimated at over 1,500,000 (see Google search). Similarly, the number of dead in Iraq's war against Kuwait is also estimated at greater than 100,000.
The recent civil war and fighting between different factions in Iraq are most outstanding examples of extremely violent intra-Arab conflicts with almost daily suicide killings.
The word "assassin" originates from a "secret Islamic order originating in the 11th century who believed it was a religious duty to harass and murder their enemies." (source: The American Heritage Dictionary)
In contrast to Islam, the Jewish beliefs and traditions are associated specifically with the Jewish People. Judaism strongly opposes forced conversions of other nations. The Old Testament Torah delineates the Land of Israel where the Jewish people lived (see map at the time of King David and Solomon). Israel does not seek expansion beyond the Land of Israel. Israel has withdrawn its army from territories captured after each war (for example giving up all of Sinai peninsula).
The use of Islamic religion to encourage suicide bombers with the promise of heavenly life with virgins, illustrates the great gap between Islam and Jewish beliefs. The Hebrew Bible prohibits killing in the Ten Commandments and completely rejects and deplores suicide. But Judaism also states that "If one comes to slay you, slay him first" (Brachot, 58). This phrase is a relevant moral guide for dealing with the modern day terrorists.
There are many examples in history where Jews lived in relative harmony over hundreds of years with non-Arab Moslem nations (see a brief history of Turkish Jews as one example). So, when Islam is not shaped by violent Arab nationalism, good human neighborly relations with mutual respect are possible between Jews and other non-Arab Moslem nations.
The rise of Israel is seen as a threat by many believers in Islam. Yet, Judaism should be seen for what it really is: the first monotheistic religion that led to the birth of other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam. It is our hope that the shared belief in one monotheistic God will provide the common ground for mutual understanding and respect, if not now then in the future.