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Born in Cairo and today living in Switzerland, Bat Ye'or has written several books on the life of minorities under Muslim rule, including: Jews in Egypt, The Dhimmi, and The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. She addressed the Middle East Forum on February 19 to discuss her newest study, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002).

After the events of September 2001, it is evident that America is fighting to defend the values of freedom, liberty and respect for the individual - values directly contested by the militant Islamic ideology of jihad (sacred war).

Jihad in History

Jihad was first developed from the eighth century by theologians and jurists who divided the world in two: Muslims and infidels. Infidels, as they saw it, included all non-Muslims and those Muslims not pious enough according to them. The jihadists concluded that Muslims have a sacred duty, mandated by Allah, to defeat the infidels and to impose Qur'anic law upon them.

Accordingly, jihadists believe that the whole world must come under Muslim rule. The conquest of land for them is the reclaiming of territory unlawfully ruled by infidels. Jihad, then, is seen as a defensive war, not an aggressive one.

Jihadists today, similarly, see themselves defending against a threat from the infidel West to gain political and cultural predominance over Muslims. The tactics of jihad provide them with the rationale to enslave women and children, take men as hostages, or kill them at random. The jihad ideology motivated not just the September 11 attack but has also been applied in many other instances, such as the Arab-Israel conflict and efforts against Christians in Lebanon Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The Balkans as once-Muslim countries, now face threats from jihadist groups in their effort at re-Islamization.

Not All Muslims

It would be wrong to think that all Muslims adhere to the ideology of jihad for, in fact, many Muslims reject it. Some have fallen victim to it, as is the case in Algeria, where jihadists carry out violence against moderates in an attempt to enforce Shari'a (Islamic law). There are many other Muslims around the world fighting for values of freedom.

Still, with more than a billion Muslims in the world, there is a sizeable jihadist presence, and jihad has many manifestations. In Pakistan, jihadists challenge President Pervez Musharraf's authority. Turkey has reduced the influence of jihadists, but they still pose a threat. Egypt battles al-Jihad and Gama`a al-Islamiya, as well as jihadists from al-Azhar University who seek to impose the Shari'a. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the governments are in a state of turmoil as they battle jihadist forces. Sudan in 1989 fell to jihadists.

Some apologists today claim that there is such a thing as moderate jihad, thereby trying to make the word acceptable. They say that jihad is a "striving" or an "inner struggle." But this redefinition from warfare to moral self-improvement is false and an insult to the millions of victims who have suffered at the hands of jihadists through the centuries. In truth, jihad is a genocidal war that has provided justification for conquest over centuries. Those who deny that jihad is violent are rewriting and dehumanizing history.

America's War on Terrorism

In the view of jihadists, Islam must not be dominated by the U.S., a country where an inferior religion predominates. Conversely, jihadists believe that if they can conquer America, they can conquer the world.

This is why America's new war, a war against jihad, is so important. It must be fought on several fronts, ideological as well as military. To win requires knowing and combating the objectives of the enemy.

Summary account by Jonathan Schanzer, research associate at the Middle East Forum.