America, Muslims and Torture

13 May 2004: The reports and pictures of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners have shocked the world, and rightly so. There is absolutely no justification for the torture of prisoners. It is against international law and against all humanitarian values as well. As Christians we condemn all acts of torture no matter who committed them. The people who are responsible for these horrible deeds must be punished.

It does not matter whether those prisoners were guilty of some crime, or not. There is no justification for what the American soldiers did. Period. If their guilt is established in a court of law, they should be properly punished. But torture is unacceptable.

Some days after the reports about the torture in Iraqi prisons had become public knowledge, a militant Muslim group cut off the head of Nicholas Berg, an American civilian (not a soldier and not one involved in fighting), and published the video of his execution. However, already some weeks before that, several other Americans civilians were deliberately killed, and their bodies dragged through the streets for public display.

Without reservation, Answering Islam condemns the torture of prisoners by American soldiers, or by anyone else for that matter. We demand that the guilty be punished for those horrible deeds.

Let me pose, however, a few more pertinent questions: Will Muslims also condemn the torture and mutilation of non-Muslims committed by the Muslim militia? Will they call for a severe punishment of the guilty, not only of the Americans, but also of the Muslims who committed these crimes? As America investigates the events and brings the guilty before a court of law, will Muslims do all they can so that the same happens among their own?

The final question which is certainly the most painful one: Are Muslims willing to condemn all torture and mutilation, no matter who is the victim and who is the person responsible? Will Muslims, in particular, also condemn the torture and mutilation that was committed upon direct command of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam? The articles about Muhammad's role in the death of the Uraynians and the death of Kinana present a detailed discussion of these incidents as reported in the Muslim sources.

It did not stop with these incidents. Torture, mutilation and humiliation were committed by Muslims over and over again in the history of Islam, both against Muslims and against non-Muslims. And this was not only done by some radical fanatics, but by the spiritual and political leaders of the Muslim community. Consult Sir William Muir's work The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall - From Original Sources for details.

Whether or not Muslims will condemn the torture committed by their fellow Muslims as much as they condemn the torture committed against Muslims and whether or not they will condemn the torture committed upon the command of Muhammad himself, we demand that the torture that has been committed against people currently in the "care" of America be properly punished. Even if Muslims seek to justify their torture, there is still no justification that the officials of a free and democratic society torture anybody.

However, if Muslims are not willing to condemn the crimes against humanity in their own history, both past and present, including the ones committed under the direct responsibility of Muhammad, their condemnation of the same crimes by Americans will ring hollow, and appear to be little more than hypocrisy. This is a matter of moral integrity.

If you are a Muslim reader, you certainly have the right to be angry about the violation of the human rights and dignity of these Iraqi prisoners. But if you find this absolutely unacceptable, you should also begin to think about whether or not you want to be part of a religion that was founded by somebody who ordered the torture of his enemies in more than one instance, and whose life has been declared by the Qur'an to be the role model for every believer of Islam.

Jochen Katz

Further reading: Islam and Beheading.

Muhammad and his enemies
Islam & Terrorism
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