February 20, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 346

Editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: Why Do Liberal Christian Arabs Defend bin Laden?

February 20, 2002
Special Dispatch No. 346

In late December 2001, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, editor of the Saudi owned London-based Arabic dailyAl-Sharq Al-Awsat, published a two-part article titled "Christian and Liberal Positions on Al-Qa'ida," in which hecriticized Prof. Edward Sa'id and other liberal Christian Arabs living in the West, for their defense of the extremistIslamic minority as a display of loyalty. In mid-February, the paper published a letter to the editor from a SaudiIslamist who wrote in defense of Sa'id. Following are excerpts from both the article and the letter:

Al-Rashed's Criticism

Al-Rashed wrote: "Twenty years ago, the position of a writer such as Edward Sa'id, who defended Iran's Islamic revolution when Western hostility towards it was at its peak, did not embarrass me, even though he was a Christian living in New York. His position was based on moral and scientific arguments that made him the…No. 1 warrior in defense of Islam in the West. But the increase in Islamic extremism has weakened the arguments of all non-Muslims who defended Islamic extremism, among them Prof. Sa'id himself, because of the dreadful image of Muslims that emerged following the events of September 11."

"Why, then, does a group of people [destined] for slaughter by Al-Qa'ida defend [Al-Qa'ida's] ideology and supporters? I maintain that this is part of Arab hypocrisy, whether we refer to Christians, Shiites, Druze, or liberal Sunnis."

"The truth is that even before recent events… I sensed a sycophantic tendency on the part of many Christian Arab intellectuals who set themselves at the forefront of defending extremist Islamic movements. I am referring to their overstated defense of these organizations' barbarity, which went so far as to give Osama bin Laden the titles of 'Sheikh' and 'Great Jihad Warrior.' It would appear that this is an attempt to prove the Christians' belonging to the ranks of the Arabs [by expressing support] for the demagogic Muslim minority whose voice is the loudest today, while ignoring these movements' errors and the risk the methods they employ pose to the future of the Arabs, whether Muslims or Christians."

"I am not denying that there are non-Muslims who sympathize with the Islamists, and that there is intellectual convergence [between the Islamist and] the Arab left – among them Christians – with regard to hostility towards Western political institutions."

"However… just like the majority of intellectual Muslims, so should the majority of Christian Arabs, primarily the intellectuals, refrain from supporting extremist groups when they see the flames of the fire everywhere in our region, and when they see [these groups'] hatred of anyone not fundamentalist and their genuine desire to destroy the existing institutions…"

"It should be stressed that supporting a fundamentalist is not an essential element in the rhetoric of solidarity [between Muslim and Christian Arabs] – unlike the issue of the Arab right to Palestine. There is no reason for certain Christian intellectuals to run after every Arab demonstration, even if it is a demonstration against Christians themselves, as they do now in their support for Al-Qa'ida and its men."[1]

"The exaggerated fear demonstrated by Christian Arab intellectuals (by their defense of Islamic extremism) has given rise to a sense of repulsion – even, in all honesty, rage – about the opportunism of those who at the same time demand to remove religion from the politics [i.e. Christian Arabs]."

"These intellectuals' support of extremist Islamic groups stems from hatred of the West. However... Christian Arab intellectuals defend a man like Osama bin Laden, who calls openly for killing Christians. If someone asked me for tangible proof of the hypocrisy of most of the Arab intellectuals, Christians and others, who defend Al-Qa'ida - I could send him their manifestos and articles, which attest to crude political hypocrisy. It would be better for them to be silent…"[3]

An Islamist Responds
Muhammad Ahmad 'Abbas Othman, of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who identified himself as an Islamist, sent the following letter to the paper:

"…I want to say that they [the Christian Arab intellectuals] are not sycophantic, and have not defended the extremist movements; they defend the Islamic movements in the Arab and Islamic homeland. [These movements] are contending, alone... with the American, Western, and Israeli offensive, which is aimed at subduing the Arab and Islamic nation, imposing hegemony on it, exploiting its resources, and forcing it to believe what America and world Zionism believe…"

"Edward Sa'id is a writer free in his thoughts and writings, who resides in the heart of the Western world far from the government and popular pressures [of Arab countries]… and is a professor at leading Western universities. What does he have to fear? [If anything], he exposes himself to hostile Zionist and Western attacks. Just like [Paul] Findley and [Roger] Garaudy, he gains nothing from these fundamentalist groups, even if they were to take power in their countries…"

"I have not read – not even once – any defense by Sa'id of Islamic extremism, as [Al-Rashed] claims. Yet he stands at the head of Islam's defenders in the West… I have read more of Edward Sa'id's writings than Al-Rashed has, and I found no hypocrisy…"

"Allah and his mercy be praised, I belong to the ranks of the Islamists. I am a seventh-century sheikh who reads Al-Sharq Al-Awsat every day. As an Islamist, according to the 'secular' label, I have great respect for the Christian Arab writers included in Al-Rashed's enraged attack. In my private archives, I keep the writings of Edward Sa'id, Clovis Maksoud, [James] Zogby, and others like them – men of truth, faithful to their Arab origins, who defend their Arab identity and their Islamic civilization..."[3]

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 27, 2001.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 29, 2001.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 16, 2002.

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