Interview with
Dr. Mansur Abdussalam Escudero

Former President of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Organisations

How were the attacks on the USA viewed by the Spanish Muslim community?

M.A. The Muslim community in Spain is enormously diverse, and has undeniably subscribed to varied and sometimes contradictory points of view on this issue. My own view is that the best reference-point for a Muslim is in the Quran, where Allah says:

'Fight, for the sake of Allah, those who fight against you; but do not commit aggression; surely Allah does not love aggressors.' (al-Baqara, 190)

From this perspective it is not possible to accept that whoever has committed these horrific terroristic acts is someone acting from within Islam.

We viewed the attacks, nonetheless, with a very high degree of concern. Initially there was the pain for the innocent victims and their families, expressed in many letters of condolence. This was followed, secondly, and as a result of the media treatment of the event, by a preoccupation with the consequences of the attack. We Spanish Muslims have seen our religion, our spiritual way, demonized and transformed by the power of the press into something monstrous. We have no alternative to interpreting this as part of the onslaught which has been launched in certain powerful circles (principally in the US) in an attempt to make all of Islam a new arena of conflict. This has the capacity to push the arms race into a new aggressive spiral which can only destroy us. As Ecclesistes says: ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’

Do you think that your position is substantially different to that which we might find elsewhere in the Muslim community?

M.A. I don’t know all the responses and interpretations that are out there. I know, however, that there are many Muslims who have allowed themselves to be caught by the dialectic of ‘united against the Other’, and who have fallen into the logic of confrontation, exclusion, and war. But for us, Islam and the West are not incompatible. Allah is the One Creator. In reality, we ourselves are as much Muslims as we are Western. We are living proof of the falsity of this supposed incompatibility.

What could motivate an attack such as this against the Muslims?

M.A. A deep reality which is latent in our societies, and which we have been denouncing for years: the aberrant image of Islam purveyed by the media. In many cases we know that there is an almost instinctive reaction of contempt towards everything which is not understood. President Bush has issued a summons to a ‘crusade’, and Norman Cohn has spoken of ‘America’s Holy War.’ It is tragic that in moments of crisis irrationality and emotion prevail, when it is exactly at these times when we most need the ability to reflect. A further problem is that the press only depicts what is newsworthy.

Who is Usama Bin Laden?

M.A. We reject absolutely any form of terrorism, from whichever state, or group of desperate men, it may emanate. Bin Laden is seen as a product of the American compromise with the Saudi government during the combat with the Soviet Union. But there is something more obscure at work here. The Western governments seem to spare no effort in identifying the spokesmen of Islam with the most radical elements. Today, the new ‘representative’ of Islam is a man whose existence serves American interests. All of this leads to a false dialogue which identifies Islam with fundamentalism, producing a dialectic of confrontation in which Islam itself is conspicuous by its absence.

How do you assess Bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam?

We know little enough about him, but his association with the Taleban movement shows that he advocates an Islam which has lost all its richness and its open character. They pick up a few phrases and convert them into legal precepts stripped of all nuance. This loss of context robs Islam of its all its human dimension and in fact bypasses the greater part of the Quranic message. To explain the origins of this type of interpretation would take too long, and it is enough to remark that it is a legalistic conception which has little to do with the full religion of Islam. It is an interpretation which has always been supported by colonialist policy, and its most prominent representatives have always worked as effective allies of the British and the Americans.

How concerned are the Muslims of Spain? What is the nature of their worries? Have you detected any form of agitation, and if so, what?

M.A. The Muslim fears Allah alone. What He wishes for us is what is best for us. But we are concerned about the level of ignorance. People have shown themselves to be highly suggestible and there are forces at work which profit from this. The principal form of agitation emanates from the press, which repeats official opinion without question. In times such as these we should not flag in the task of urging reflection and wisdom.