God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East

By Twing, Shawn L. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East


Twing, Shawn L., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting From a Militant Middle East

During the last decade political Islam has developed into a topic for serious academic and policy debate. The politicization of the Islamic faith, often inaccurately referred to as "Islamic fundamentalism," has become central to discussions of united States foreign policy, and especially its national security counterpart. There is a belief among many scholars and policymakers that conflict between the Western, secular democratic world and the increasingly "Islamic" Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, is inevitable. This school of thought is led by Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington, author of a now-famous article predicting a "Clash of Civilizations," and challenged by many others, among them Georgetown University's John Esposito.

Adding to this debate is the recently released book, God Has Ninety-Nine Names, written by New York Times correspondent and former Cairo bureau chief Judith Miller. It is an attempt, in her own words, to "convey in a historical context the mood of the countries within the region, the tone of their debates, and the forms taken by the struggle for dominance in each of them." It has received considerable praise from some, and venomous criticism from others. In this duality lies the essence of Judith Miller's book.

For those who wish to undermine Miller's credibility, she provides many opportunities. One particular example stands out above the rest. In her chapter entitled "Israel," she analyzes the political history and motivations of the recent Islamic Movement in Israel and the occupied territories, focusing on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and, surprisingly, Israel's indigenous Islamic Movement. If she had focused solely on Israel and Palestine, the chapter would have been a success. Unfortunately, however, seemingly at the urging of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, she also included the hotly disputed topic of support for these organizations in the United States.

As "evidence" of a network of financial support for Hamas in the United States, Israeli officials interrogated Muhammad Salah, a Palestinian Islamist arrested by Israel who allegedly decided to cooperate with the Israelis in exchange for a lesser sentence. Although Salah apparently was not aware that Judith Miller was in an adjacent room during the interrogation, he spoke at length about a Hamas support network in the United States which funnels millions of dollars to the group and, by association, to the Izzadin Al Qassim Brigades, the militant faction of Hamas responsible for so many acts of terror.

Salah named Musa Abu Marzook as the chief Hamas political official in the United States, and implicated the Richardson, Texasbased Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and the Virginia-based United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) as Hamas supporters. It is interesting to note that a supposedly credible witness with so many alleged ties to American supporters of Palestinian Islamist organizations did not mention Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, a Florida professor who replaced Fathi Shikaki as leader of the Islamic Jihad when Shikaki was assassinated in Malta.

Relying only on a single source for such an important assertion, combined with the fact that the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation disagree with the Israeli government about Hamas support in the United States, brings into question the validity of the Israeli government's assertions that Palestinian Islamists have a vast support network in the United States. …

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