Expert discusses jihad at the U

Cati Vanden Breul

When researchers try to define jihad and those who practice it, few allow “jihadis” to speak for themselves, said Middle East expert David Aaron at a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs discussion Tuesday.

Using quotes from radical jihad followers to illustrate his research, Aaron, who served as deputy national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, described the goals of jihad.

Aaron started by clarifying what he meant by a “jihadi.”

“This is not a description of Islam as a whole,” he said. “This is a very specific sect that’s fundamentalist in origin and rejects all other Muslims.”

The tendency toward violence defines jihad extremists, Aaron said. Some moderate Muslims might sympathize with some of their causes – such as getting the United States to pull out of Iraq – but they disagree with the use of suicide bombings, he said.

Sami Khwaja, president of the University’s Muslim Student Association, said fundamentalists also differ from mainstream Muslims in the way they view jihad.

“We all know how the extremists always throw out words like jihad. But when they say it, it means a totally different thing,” Khwaja said.

To most Muslims, jihad is an “inner struggle” to follow Islam’s teachings, he said.

“Say someone is very addicted to drugs and wants to stop, but it’s hard for him. That’s his jihad to overcome,” Khwaja said.

But, for extremists, jihad essentially is a fight against the “unbeliever” or the “infidel,” Aaron said.

“They think (the United States) is morally depraved, our economics are unjust and our obsession with materialism is soul-deadening,” he said.

He said the extremists’ immediate goal is to drive the United States out of Iraq, but their ultimate goal is to create an Islamic state to “rule the entire world.”

Extremists are willing to use jihad as a justification to kill fellow Muslims and innocent civilians as a way to fulfill what they see as Islam’s purpose, Aaron said.

Before the United States can make any progress in the Middle East, it needs a change of government at home, he said.

“We obviously need a fresh start and we need a fresh team to do it in order to rebuild credibility,” he said.

But political science senior Trevor Ford, director of the College Republicans, said new lawmakers wouldn’t make a difference in fighting extremists.

“If people hate you, they’re going to hate you no matter what you’re going to do,” Ford said. “There is room to make headway with certain segments of the population, but at the same time you can’t compromise things that would make us safer.”

Khwaja said students should learn about Islam and its true teachings because too many people misunderstand the religion.

“There’s over 1,000 Muslims at the University,” he said. “A lot of us were born here, and we’re just as American as anyone else.”