'Holy war' in perspective

All concerned need to maintain reasoned reactions to the gravely misguided call by Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia for a jihad (Muslim holy war) against Israel. Though jihad does not necessarily mean armed conflict to the Muslim world he was addressing this week, the very term "holy war" sounds inflammatory to Israel and the West. His use of it may serve the purposes of Saudia Arabia's ruling royal family in relation to controlling domestic political strains and maintaining regional influence. But it can hardly fail to be counterproductive for the Arab cause in Europe and the United States. For the sake of peace beyond any simply national interests, perspective on Fahd's outburst is necessary.

In the first place, the Muslim world well knows that armed warfare with Israel has been and no doubt would be a setback to Arabs. But the sword is only the last stage in the Muslims' "religious duty" called jihad. Islam describes four ways by which this duty can be fulfilled, as the Encyclopaedia Britainnica puts it: "by the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword." And: "Modern Islam places special emphasis on waging war with one's inner self. It sanctions war with other nations only as a defensive measure when Islam is placed in danger."

So it would be a mistake to make a fearsome trigger word of jihad when Crown Prince Fahd asks if a "long, relentless holy war" is not the only response left to "Zionist religious and racist arrogance." To Arabs the call is not to arms but to propaganda, pressure, perhaps the use of the oil weapon in the effort to get Israel out of the occupied territories, establish the rights of the Palestinians, and settle the question of Jerusalem satisfactorily. When Israel seemed to predetermine the status of Jerusalem with its parliamentary vote to formalize the whole city as its "eternal" capital, it have the Arabs fresh reason to believe their "moderation" and the Camp David peace process were not effective. Their frustration is understandable.

Yet Fahd's statement seems calculated not only to try to bring pressure to resolve the situation in Palestine. It also looks like an effort to keep the royal family in position to resist militant religious and political elements within Saudi Arabia and placate the large Palestinian bureaucracy concerned about fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories and Lebanon. And Fahd further seemed to be speaking to the larger Gulf region, fully conscious of the rise of Iraq after the fall of the Shah in Iran. It is significant that earlier this month President Saddam Hussein paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia, the first by an Iraqi head of state since the fall of the monarchy in Iraq more than 20 years ago. The Saudis need to keep up their credentials with the hard-liners not only because o shared Arab goals but in order to remain a force for moderation among them.

Such considerations may explain the call for holy war, but they cannot justify it in the eyes of the United States, for example, which the Saudis know is the only country that has sufficient clout with Israel to influence it toward a just peace. And how can Washington hear "holy war" and support the Saudis' request for offensive capabilities added to the American F-15s they have ordered? Whatever the prince's aims within the Arab world, he will have to satisfy the US and other countries that arms for Saudi Arabia are not arms for war on Israel.

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