In an interview posted on the liberal Arab website Aafaq on October 4, 2010, Palestinian reformist Zainab Rashid said that the Arab dictatorial regimes exploit the Palestinian cause in order to divert attention from their own domestic problems and suppress initiatives of democratization and reform. She also opposed the Islamization of the Palestinian cause, saying the Palestinian issue will never be resolved as long as it is construed as a religious struggle destined to continue until Judgment Day.
She argued that violence and extremism in the Arab and Islamic world stem from Islam's religious and legal texts, and called upon Arab intellectuals to renounce such texts, and to struggle for one supreme goal: "the secularization of the state and of society – which is to say, complete separation of religion and state."
Following are excerpts from the interview.
Who Is Zainab Rashid?
Q: "...Who is Zainab Rashid? As a woman living in Ramallah, how has your 'controversial' personality been shaped by the oppressive atmosphere in which women live in Arab states? What motivates you in choosing the topics you write about?"
A: "My name is Zainab Rashid and I am a Palestinian who experiences and endures the same things suffered by any Palestinian woman... The suffering [of the Palestinian woman] is two-fold: she lives in a chauvinistic society, which continues to treat women as immature and incompetent beings... and she suffers [both] from the occupation and from the rule [of the Palestinian Authority], whose methods, until some three years ago... resembled the methods of gangs rather than institutions..."
The Palestinians Are Acting against Their Own National Interests
Q: "In your recent article, you declared yourself a Palestinian. Many, however, view the things you write as offensive and hostile to Islam. What makes people question your Palestinian identity and accuse you of being hostile to Islam?"
A: "The Palestinians... are in conflict with most of the Arab states in which they live: their peculiar positions are not in keeping with the [most] minimal Palestinian national interests, nor with the rules of hospitality [of the state in which they reside].
"Despite the recurrent failures that have been the lot of Palestinian activism, the Palestinians have continued to feel assured in their convictions, whether in Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, or Iraq. This holds true in all areas of life, especially in the realm of religion. Unfortunately, the Palestinians consider themselves to be the greatest of the Muslim believers, at the forefront of the religious battle that they are waging against the hated Jews – a battle that is supposed to continue until Judgment Day.
"[Given that] I criticize all these positions, they cannot but cast doubt on my Palestinian [affiliation]... These accusations are leveled at any Palestinian man or woman who deviates from the stupid Palestinian axioms which have been turned, by our people and our leaders, into sacred truths that cannot even be questioned.
"[Given that] I criticize the negative aspects of Palestinian activity in Jordan, their overstepping of boundaries in Lebanon – which in some cases has come to the point of massacre – their involvement in all Lebanese affairs, even the most crucial ones, [their] attempt to establish facts [on the ground] and establish a Palestinian state within Jordan and Lebanon – it is only natural that the majority, who participated in, supported, and rooted for this, should question my national and religious identity.
"When I oppose the absurd, inhumane Palestinian stance with regard to the occupation of Kuwait by the Iraqi dictator... when I condemn the 9/11 terrorist acts... and when I criticize the religious texts, which are used by Palestinian and other Muslims to Islamize Palestine and the Palestinian cause... texts in the name of which Palestinians kill their brothers, accusing them of heresy and treason, texts that have served and continue to serve as a cover for the severe social hypocrisy that exists in our society and in other societies – it is only natural that they should question my national and religious identity..."
The Tragedy of the Iraqi and Sudanese Peoples Is Greater than That of the Palestinians
Q: "In your articles, you do not focus solely on the Palestinian issue, as most Palestinian writers do, but [you also address] general topics predating [the days of] Islam, as well as the conflict between [Islam] and modernity. Why do you deal with these topics?"
A: "There is a general tendency, which most Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are still promoting successfully, [to see] Palestine as the central cause of the Arabs and Muslims, and as the greatest humanitarian tragedy of all times. Notwithstanding my appreciation of this great tragedy and its terrible consequences for the Palestinians, it is not the greatest tragedy. The tragedy of Iraq and the Iraqi people under Saddam's regime... and then under the army of Muslim suicide [bombers] has been immeasurably greater than that of our people. The tragedy of Sudan and the Sudanese people, especially the inhabitants of Darfur under Omar Hassan Al-Bashir's criminal regime, is an infinitely greater tragedy than ours. There are many topics which I view as my moral and humanistic obligation to address and bring into the limelight...
"As for my writing about Islam and its struggle, not only with modernity but with anything that differs [from it] – whether in the realm of thought, faith, or culture – this is due to Islam's importance and the significant place it occupies in our society. Everything has been Islamized – politics, culture, economy. It is as if we are living in some encampment of the Quraysh [tribe] in Mecca more than 1,400 years ago. The main battle of the educated sector today is against the religious texts and those who [exploit] them. This battle must not cease until one supreme result is achieved, namely the secularization of the state and of society – which is to say, complete separation of religion and state..."
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The Arab Dictatorships Are Exploiting the Palestinian Cause
Q: "The Arab regimes use the Arab-Israeli struggle as a pretext for evading any democratic reform. You believe that the Palestinian issue will be resolved once the dictatorships are abolished and secular civil states are established. But the Islamists run things in most of the Arab states, and it is reasonable to assume that they will emerge victorious in any fair elections, just as Hamas did. That being the case, how do you expect change to come about?"
A: "What exists is an Arab-Israeli conflict, not a struggle as the resistance front's media continuously claims. The Arab dictatorships use this conflict... as a pretext [to avoid reform] whenever questions arise regarding democracy, pluralism, and government turnover. This is the truth, and there is much evidence to support it.
"The most convincing proof is the attempts of these regimes to make deceitful and callous use of the Palestinian cause and to manipulating Palestinian elements in order to spark disputes. They miss no opportunity to sabotage peace efforts, as we saw at the outset of the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, when Hamas received a directive from the Syrian and Iranian regimes which control it to carry out two attacks in the West Bank, shortly before the first session of peace talks, with the intent of undermining the negotiations. This is what all the dictatorships have done throughout the history of this struggle in order to prevent its resolution.
"If we want this struggle to end, we must stop Islamizing the [Palestinian] cause by interpreting [current] affairs according to what is written in religious texts... How can we resolve this struggle while people, relying on the holy texts, still believe in the depths of their hearts that it will continue until Judgment Day, when the trees and rocks will call on the Muslim to come kill the Jews hiding behind them?
"...Today, any fair elections in any Islamic state will yield an Islamist victory, considering the imperious religiosity that exists among the societies of these states. This [religiosity] forces a hijab over the minds [of these societies], blinding them to their own interests – what is good for them and what is bad. They only understand this when they are hit over the head with an axe, as the saying goes. But by then [it is too late], and they no longer have any way to rid themselves of the Islamist movements' rule, other than asking international forces for help...
"The Islamist movements believe in democracy as a one-time affair, in order to bring themselves to power. Afterwards, democracy becomes bid'a [forbidden innovation], and any bid'a is a deviation whose proper place is in the fires [of Hell]. Truth be told, these movements have no answers to the needs of the state and of society, which is why their golden age [lasts only as long as] they are in the opposition. As soon as they come to power, they are headed toward certain death."
Suicide Bombers – Victims of Shari'a Texts
Q: "The Muslims of America claim that they are oppressed and are under attack. [In fact,] American Muslims who were born and raised in the U.S. are flocking to the fields of jihad in Somalia and Afghanistan. What causes a young Muslim American to join a terrorist organization?"
A: "...The oppression of which America's Muslims speak falls into the category of playing the victim, [a role] which the Muslim leaders are so good at dragging their peoples into. This talk of oppression on the part of America's Muslims is [just] a case of playing the victim. The Muslim leaders excel at pushing their peoples to assume [this role]. There are seven million Muslims in America, and in accordance with the American constitution, they enjoy rights and obligations, just like every other American citizen.
"The problem lies with the Muslim himself, not with the American people or laws. When a Muslim American of Lebanese origin gets a sensitive job in the CIA and exploits this [job] to gather information for Hizbullah; when an American of Palestinian origin realizes his aspiration to become an officer in the U.S. military, and then shoots his comrades, killing 13 of them and wounding dozens [more]; and when young people, having received all the privileges available in America, such as early childhood education and healthcare, and then go to Somalia or Afghanistan to kill American soldiers who are their own countrymen – the problem is not America, its constitution, or its people. The problem lies in the [religious] texts that permitted the Lebanese woman to divulge the secrets to which her job made her privy... and those other young people to kill their comrades and countrymen.
"In any case, they are all victims of religious texts, especially those who are seduced by texts that speak of death in this word for the sake of eternal life in Paradise, which begins immediately after they blow themselves up..."
Q: "Following the 9/11 attacks, moderate Muslims appeared on television claiming that the terrorists did not represent Islam, and that the deed they had committed was opposed to the directives of Islam. How can moderate Muslims fight the extremists and terrorists, when the latter base their deeds on the Koran and the Sunna?"
A: "Today, nine years after the terrorist crime of 9/11, the number of condemnations against this crime from the Muslim world has yet to reach the number of condemnations which the entire world voiced against the Reverend Terry Jones's intentions to burn the Koran. Reverend Terry Jones's initiative revealed the difference between the diffident and embarrassed tone of the Muslim condemnation [of 9/11]... and the harsh condemnation voiced by the entire world [against Terry Jones's intentions]...
"Up till now, no important and widely-followed Muslim leader has dared to declare that the head of the terrorists, Osama bin Laden, or the perpetrators of this crime, are heretics. The reason for this is that they carried out jihad al-talab [holy war against infidels on their own soil], which is considered an obligation incumbent upon all [Muslims], [but] which, if carried out by some, exempts the rest... [In other words,] the crime of 9/11 was carried out by [people who acted as] representatives of all Muslims.
In another sense, according to shari'a, those who carried out the 9/11 crime were immeasurably better Muslims than the so-called moderate sheikhs. The problem lies in the fact that in Islam there is no moderation versus extremism. [Moreover,] in reality, one who calls himself a moderate has no power, money, or equipment with which to carry out what can be carried out by an extremist, who does have some power, as well as plenty of money..."
Non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia Must Be Allowed to Build Houses of Worship
Q: "You opposed the construction of the Cordoba [House] mosque in New York, calling it a Dharrar mosque. To what do you attribute Imam Feisal 'Abdul-Rauf's insistence on building the mosque specifically at this location?"
A: "I imagine that the intentions of Imam 'Abdul Rauf and his supporters are good. And I agree with his declared intentions, according to which the construction of a mosque or Islamic center at this particular location is an attempt... to achieve rapprochement between the Muslims at large and the American people... [But] if the intentions of the imam and his supporters are indeed pure, they should have dropped the mosque [initiative] immediately upon encountering the first negative response from an American citizen – whether or not he be a family member of a 9/11 victim – [instead of allowing] the debate to become a fundamental [argument] about the right of Muslims... to build a house of worship...
"The discourse about building a mosque near Ground Zero testifies to a lack of consideration, bordering on disdain, for the souls of the victims of 9/11 who fell at the hands of a group of young Muslim. Now, in order to prove Islam's tolerance and the openness of its texts, there is no escaping [the need] to first allow non-Muslims to build houses of worship in Islamic states, especially in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam. Thus will we prove Islam's tolerance and debunk claims that link it in any way to the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 crimes. The attempt to exploit the constitutions of others in order to build mosques testifies to the tolerance of these others, not to the tolerance of Islam..."
Violence Is at the Foundation of Islam
Q: "The Syrian philosopher Jawdat Sa'id has proposed non-violence as the [principle] that will return [Muslims] to the path of reason, finding evidence to support this [claim] in the Koran and in the Prophet's way of life, and arguing that 'violence begets only violence.' This is also what Syrian philosopher Khales Jalabi has proposed. What do you think about non-violence as a strategy for opposition and regime-change in the Arab world, and of Sheikh Jawdat's attempt to trace roots [of non-violence] in the Koran?"
A: "Non-violence has proven to be remarkably valuable and effective as a means of rallying the entire world around a particular issue, whether it be opposition to occupation or the establishment of a popular movement against a despotic dictatorship. However, attempts to find Islamic roots of [non-violence] contradict the structure of Islamic texts, and even [Islamic] axioms and their reflection in history, in numerous ways. Islam began employing violence against the cousins [i.e. the Jews] in the Badr invasion [in 624 CE] and in subsequent invasions. It spread east and west by the force of the sword. As much as I respect philosopher Jawdat Sa'id, I wonder how many people agree with what he says... in contrast to the thousands upon thousands who stand behind any given sheikh from among those sheikhs who accuse [other Muslims] of heresy and divide the world into Muslims and infidels.
"Violence is at the foundation of Islam. Any attempt to claim that violence has no roots in Islam, and that [Islam] was spread by pleasant and tolerant means, is an attempt to turn religious texts upside down..."
Q: "The American Center for Security Policy recently released a report which concluded that the laws of Islamic shari'a constitute a threat to American national security. What is your opinion [on this]?"
A: "Let's assume that the non-American Muslims, whose numbers apparently exceed 1.5 billion worldwide, are beyond the sphere of the threat to American national security. Within America itself there are seven million Muslims. So that no one will accuse me of bad faith, [let me stress that] I am not saying that one Muslim in a hundred, a thousand or even ten thousand is willing to blow himself up. But it is clear that we can find one Muslim in 100,000 who would not hesitate to blow himself up in a [crowd of] innocent civilians in [one of] America's cities, if the opportunity arose. That is to say, there are at least 70 people among the seven million Muslims in America who are willing to carry out a [terrorist] attack. When we recall that the 9/11 crime was carried out by [only] 19 people, we can comprehend the scope of the threat which the Muslims pose to American national security.
"The fault does not lie with those willing to blow themselves up. They are victims of the texts which drove them mad, telling them that killing infidels is the path to Paradise and eternal life. The American is an infidel so long as he does not convert to Islam or pay the jizya [head-tax set by Islamic law to be levied from non-Muslims under Muslim rule], according to verse 29 of the Al-Tawba sura. I can say that the American Center for Security Policy arrived at the right conclusion, though it arrived at this conclusion rather late..."
 www.aafaq.org, October 4, 2010.
 According to Islamic tradition, the Dharrar mosque was built by the enemies of Islam as a house of idol worship and a stronghold of the forces opposed to Muhammad. The Prophet ordered it to be destroyed.
 A Syrian Muslim philosopher of Circassian origin who advocates non-violence, which he claims to be part of the tenets of Islam.
 A Muslim doctor and philosopher of Syrian origin who currently lives in Saudi Arabia, and is a frequent contributor of liberal articles to the Arabic press.
 "Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection." [Koran 9:29]