Justice for Palestinians But Oppression for Infidels?


What drives Muslim animus for Israel: brotherly love for “oppressed” Palestinians or religious hatred for “infidel” Jews?

A recent incident in Jerusalem goes a long way in answering this question. Hizb al-Tahrir—the “Liberation Party”—held a large, outdoor event near al-Aqsa mosque to commemorate the anniversary of the Islamic conquest of Constantinople (May 29, 1453). There, as he had done before, Palestinian cleric Nidhal Siam made clear that, from an Islamic perspective, liberation and conquest are one and the same.

After all the takbirs (chants of “Allahu Akbar”) had subsided, Siam spoke:

Oh Muslims, the anniversary of the conquest [
fath/فتح, literally, “opening”] of Constantinople brings tidings of things to come. It brings tidings that Rome will be conquered in the near future, Allah willing….  We are approaching the fulfillment of three prophecies, and we pray that Allah will fulfill these prophecies by our hands. The first prophecy is the establishment of the rightly-guided Caliphate in accordance with the way of the prophet. The second prophecy is the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of the Caliphate. The third prophecy is that Islam will throw its neighbors to the ground, and that its reach will span across the east and the west of this Earth. This is Allah’s promise, and Allah does not renege on his promises.

He and the assembled throng then repeatedly chanted, “By means of the Caliphate and the consolidation of power, Mehmed the Conqueror vanquished Constantinople!” and “Your conquest, oh Rome, is a matter of certainty!”

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Consider for a moment the significance of these assertions—coming as they are from Palestinians, who, when speaking to and seeking sympathy from the international community, often present themselves as an oppressed people whose land is unjustly occupied.

First of all, the Islamic conquest of Constantinople was just that—a brutal and savage conquest the sole legitimacy of which was the might of arms. As Muslims had done for centuries earlier in North Africa and the Middle East, they invaded and conquered “New Rome”—not because it had committed some injustice, but because Islam commands the subjugation of non-Muslims, as Siam made clear. Moreover, Islam had long seen and targeted Constantinople—beginning with its prophet, Muhammad, who desired its women—as the “ultimate prize.”

Which leads to Rome: what does it have to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict that it too deserves to be conquered? Absolutely nothing—except that, since the conquest of Constantinople, Islam has seen Rome as the symbolic head of the Christian world, and therefore in urgent need of subjugating. Or, in the words of the Islamic State, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah…  [We will cast] fear into the hearts of the cross-worshipers.”

Most telling is Siam’s “third prophecy”—delivered to thundering applause: “that Islam will throw its neighbors to the ground, and that its reach will span across the east and the west of this Earth.” In other words, no one is safe the sword of jihad.

Surely all this must seem surreal when placed in context? How can Muslims seek to present the Palestinians as a conquered and oppressed people whose land was stolen—while, in the very same breath, praising former and hoping for future conquests, replete with oppression and land-grabbing from other peoples, only because they were/are non-Muslims?

Further underscoring the idea that the “liberation of Palestine” is intimately connected with the conquest of the non-Muslim world, Siam called on Muslims to work towards fulfilling the “three prophecies,” that is, “[1] to establish the Caliphate, [2] to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and [3] to conquer Rome.”

Note how, while the “liberation of al-Aqsa” may seem to revolve around notions of universal justice and the elimination of oppression, the establishment of a caliphate is, as it was all throughout history, about conquest and expansion—to say nothing of the open wish to subjugate Rome, let alone conquer all “across the east and the west of this Earth.” Yet all three goals are presented as part of Islam’s selfsame vision.

The message is clear: for too many Muslims, desires about “liberating Palestine” are really more about “conquering Israel”—not because Israelis are unjust, but because they are infidels.

Note: See Ibrahim’s book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, for much more on the fall of Constantinople and other themes related to this article.

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