Elder: What does "jihad" -- an essential duty of every Muslim -- mean?
Spencer: When people say that jihad is a peaceful struggle -- it means "struggle," literally -- it means to bring the soul into line with the teachings of the Koran and the will of the law, that's true. But it's not the only meaning of jihad, or even the principal meaning. Throughout Islamic history, and Islamic theology and law, you have violent jihad being the primary understanding of what it means -- this collective responsibility of the Islamic community to wage war against non-Muslims until they either convert or submit as second-class citizens under Islamic rule.
Elder: There are about 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. What percentage subscribes to this violent jihad ideology?
Spencer: It's difficult to tell. Some people have estimated 10 percent, which sounds comforting until you realize it's 100 million people. There are also more disturbing indications. A recent poll in the Palestinian Authority indicated that 71 percent approved of suicide attacks against civilians in Israel. Noncombatants are not to be targeted . . . but if they are considered to be aiding in the war effort, then they can legitimately be fought. This is the justification that Osama bin Laden used for 9/11, and the Palestinians use for suicide bombing attacks in Israel.
Elder: If the West hadn't interfered in the Middle East, if the U.S. hadn't propped up the Shah of Iran, if we didn't have troops in Saudi Arabia, if we weren't supporting Israel, then would this part of the Arab world have it in for us?
Spencer: They might not be as stirred up as they are, but there's no doubt that they would have it in for us, nonetheless. You're talking about a group of people that gets their intellectual justification from passages such as . . . the prophet Muhammad saying, "I have been commanded to fight against people until they confess that there is no God but Allah and that I am His Messenger." The Muslim world took that seriously and acted it out for centuries. Before there was any Crusade, they overran Egypt, Syria, North Africa and the rest of the Middle East, which were all Christian lands before the Muslim conquest. For centuries, they continued to press into Europe from the west and the east, into Spain and France until they were stopped, and on the Eastern side up to Vienna, where they were ultimately turned back. . . .
No Islamic sect has ever repudiated the doctrines of violent jihad that the radicals are using today. The radicals see themselves as continuing a conflict that's gone on for 14 centuries, that doesn't ultimately have anything to do with the causes that you named. It started long before (these causes) ever existed and will continue long after they are solved.