History News Network: Was CNN’s “God’s Warriors” Fair?

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[Hat tip to HNN]

By Timothy R. Furnish

Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody, GA. Mr. Furnish is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger, 2005). He is the proprietor of www.mahdiwatch.org.

On August 21-23, 2007, CNN ran a series entitled “God’s Warriors,” hosted by Christiane Amanpour. The two-hour segments dealt, in nightly order, with Jews (and Israelis), Muslims and Christians. I watched all three, but since my areas of expertise are Islamic and Christian history (as well as being a Christian myself), my commentary will not encompass the first night.

As is usually the case with CNN, powerful images from exotic locales are interspersed with seemingly hard-hitting interviews and spiced with almost subliminal commentary from the host—in this case, Amanpour. She began the segment on “God’s Muslim Warriors” by talking to “Ed” Hussein, a Brit and former member of Hizb al-Tahrir who has written a book—The Islamist—on his journey into and out of that organization dedicated to establishing a global caliphate transcending national borders. This was followed by a brief, and useful, description of Sayyid Qutb and his writings. Qutb was the Egyptian intellectual who is, in many ways, the most important proximate influence on modern jihadist thought, especially in his contention that Western civilization is corrupt and godless and its influences must be replaced by Islamic ones, especially law.

Amanpour interviewed the usually-knowlegable Fawaz Gerges on Qutb, then jumped to the topic of Iran, where we got our first clip of the ubiquitous Karen Armstrong. Armstrong has somehow gained the status of an expert on Islam, despite the fact that she works only in secondary sources or in sources in translation; furthermore, Armstrong never met a Pollyannish view of Islamic history that she didn’t totally accept. This was followed by a recap of 1979’s Iranian Revolution, then of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the role that Shi`i views of martyrdom played in Iran’s being able to eventually repel Saddam Hussein’s invasion. Amanpour, in one of several clips from Qom—Iran’s ayatollah central—then talked to Grand Ayatollah Saanei who, when asked about terrorism, replied (at least according to the translator—my Farsi is not that good) “terrorists should go to hell—but we have the right to defend ourselves.” Amanpour, as usual (at least with Islamic interviewees—she behaves rather differently when talking to Christian evangelicals), did not press the ayatollah to explicate that curious statement. Perhaps we might have learned that one ayatollah’s terrorist might be another ayatollah’s martyr?

From here Amanpour took us to Cairo and briefly reviewed why and how Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. However, in explaining the ideological roots of the folks who riddled him with bullets, Amanpour noted the undeniable influence of Qutb on groups like Takfir wa-al-Hijra, but then opined that Qutb had “redefined jihad”—the clear implication being that jihad was nonviolent until Qutb weaponized the concept. This is a politically-correct absurdity, for as I (and other writers) have demonstrated, jihad’s primary meaning has been “conquest of the Dar al-Harb [non-Muslim territory] by the Dar al-Islam [Muslim world]” since at least the 9th c. CE, if not going back to Muhammad himself.

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