Why I ...

September 11, 1998

I believe killing by Islamic fundamentalists should be condemned

Jean Y Michot

Theology lecturer at Oxford University and fellow of the centre for Islamic studies

This week The Observer reported that I had written a book that justified the murder of seven French monks in Algeria in 1996 by a militant Islamic faction.

Far from believing that the murder of the monks from the Tibhirine monastery in the Atlas mountains by the Groupe Islamic Arme was justified, I believe we must condemn the killings. I published the booklet Le statut des moines, a European translation of a medieval text by Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya, under a pseudonym to safeguard my security. In the introduction, I link IbnTaymiyya's text to a statement by the GIA explaining the killings. Taymiyya argues that under Islamic law monks who associate with people outside their community may be killed in time of war.

I do not at all share these views. In the introduction I endorse the consensus of the Muslim community in condemning the murders.

People rehearse the accusation that I am an apologist for murder only by misrepresenting my work. According to The Observer, I wrote: "The drama (the execution of the monks) could undoubtedly have been avoided with a little good sense if the monks had followed the suggestion of taking a holiday in France". This is gross mis-quotation. What I wrote is: "The drama could probably have been avoided with a bit of common sense, if the monks had followed the suggestion made to them in 1993 by the Algerian governor (of the province) to take 'some holiday in France'." The phrase 'take a holiday' is a) not my phrase b) was uttered before the tragedy.

I believe such murder must always be condemned.

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