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Mutilations and Muslim law


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Mutilations and Muslim law

Jeff Jacoby (archive)

June 14, 2004 | Print | Send

"A recent fatwa posted on a popular Islamic website in Saudi Arabia," reports Neil McFarquhar in The New York Times, "explains when a Muslim may mutilate the corpse of an infidel."

The ruling by Sheik Omar Abdullah Hassan al-Shehabi specifies two circumstances in which the desecration of an infidel -- i.e., a non-Muslim -- is permitted. One is retaliation -- "when the enemy is disfiguring Muslim corpses or when it otherwise serves the Islamic nation." The other is when mutilation will "terrorize the enemy" or "gladden the heart of a Muslim warrior."

With conditions like those, it is hard to imagine any situation in which an Islamist militant couldn't justify the mutilation of a victim's body.

"That a cleric can post such an argument in an open forum," comments McFarquhar, "goes a long way toward explaining how the most radical interpretations of religious texts flourish in Saudi Arabia."

But it isn't only in Saudi Arabia that they flourish.

The popular "Ask the Scholar" feature of Islam Online (www.islamonline.net) was recently asked "how Islam views the issue of mutilating dead bodies of enemies." In a reply, Sheik Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, began by declaring that mutilation is "not allowable" under Islam. But then came the loophole:

"It is possible to mutilate the dead only in case of retaliation. . . . If he inflicts any physical damage on anyone, he should be retaliated against in the same manner. In case of war, Muslims are allowed to take vengeance for their mutilated dead mujahids (fighters) in the same way it was done to them." This, the European sheik explained, is the teaching of the Koran (16:126), which counsels patience but authorizes revenge.

Does this mean that normative Islamic law authorizes Muslims to mangle the bodies of non-Muslims they have killed? I am not a scholar of Islam and would not presume to say. But two facts seem indisputable: (1) A Muslim intent on such mutilation can find clerical authority to justify it. And (2) a small but implacable minority of Muslims are intent on such mutilation. Indeed, it has become a signature of the evil we are fighting, as the news of the last few months has shown.

(Warning -- the following descriptions are graphic.)

Fallujah: Four Americans are ambushed, hauled from their vehicles, jumped on, pounded with bricks. As jubilant Iraqis chant Islamic slogans, the bodies are dismembered and set on fire. Two of the charred remains are then hung from a bridge; the other two are dragged behind cars along the city's main street.

Khobar, Saudi Arabia: A British oil executive, Michael Hamilton, is one of 22 people murdered in an Al Qaeda attack. His corpse is dragged through the city, then dumped near a bridge.

Gaza: After six Israelis are blown up in a bomb attack, Palestinians are filmed dancing in the streets and playing with the dead men's body parts. In a video, two Islamic Jihad terrorists take credit for the massacre -- and display the severed head of one of their victims.

Iraq: Islamofascists videotape their murder of Nicholas Berg, a 26-year-old US civilian. Shouting "Allahu akhbar!" ("God is great!"), they saw off Berg's head as he shrieks in fear and pain.

The disfiguring of victims' bodies did not begin this year. In a notorious lynching four years ago, two Israelis were taken from their car to the second floor of a Palestinian police station in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where they were literally torn limb from limb. Their internal organs were pulled from their bodies and their eyes gouged out. What was left of them was then thrown from a window to a cheering crowd below, which set the corpses on fire and dragged them through the town.

Perhaps even more infamous, at least to Americans, were the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 and the mutilation of the bodies of US soldiers in Somalia in 1993.

We are in a war to the death with an enemy whose deepest civilizational values come straight out of the 8th century. In the world that they would impose on us all, there is no dissent, no pluralism, no path to God but theirs -- and no mercy or tolerance for those who might choose a different path.

Our enemies make no secret of their intentions: We will bow to their totalitarian idea of Islam, or we will be killed. And not only killed, but mangled, mutilated, and subjected to the most hideous indignities they can devise.

The terrorists and their followers burn and batter corpses for the same reason the Taliban smashed magnificent statues -- for the same reason Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf": to openly proclaim their contempt for the moral principles of the civilized world.

Ultimately it is up to the world's moderate, modern Muslims to rise up against the barbarians in their midst. Until that day comes, there is nothing the West can do to ameliorate or appease this enemy. We can only destroy it -- or be destroyed.

©2004 Boston Globe

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