PARIS: Anti-mosque protests in New York and threats to defile the Quran are playing into the hands of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden who thrives on Islamophobia, experts say.
"This rise of Islamophobia in the West is the oxygen that sustains Al-Qaeda," Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told AFP.
"What’s happening currently in the US is playing directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden," he said.
"This entire concept of ‘war on terror’ supplied Al-Qaeda with the theological and ideological fuel to convince many people in the Muslim world and tell them: ‘Look, we are the vanguard of Islam, the West is waging a war against the Believers’," he added.
"Their strategy is to trigger a clash of civilization."
Gerges argued that the West was "being forced against our own will into a confrontation that doesn’t exist. It’s a trap."
The latest violent protests in the Muslim world, notably in Afghanistan and Indonesia, against plans by an obscure Florida pastor who represents a tiny evangelical church with a few dozen followers to burn copies of the Quran show how easily the masses can be manipulated, said Gerges.
The pastor, Terry Jones, suspended his plans after saying he had received pledges that a planned Islamic cultural center would be moved further away from the Ground Zero site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.
Gerges and researcher Dominique Thomas of the French elite EHESS school of social studies agree that it is extremely important to understand that Al-Qaeda uses its radical interpretation of Islam only to better push its own agenda and political objectives
"Wait and see: I bet that in the next few days or weeks, you’re going to have an audio tape, most probably by (Al-Qaeda number two) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, coming out and using that particular stupid Quran story," said Gerges.
"It’s not out yet, only because of security reasons."
"Behind this fundamentalist religious rhetoric, we have a revolutionary political discourse, not unlike that of a revolutionary Third World liberation movement, and which is not religious at all," Thomas said.
"They’re saying: ‘The West is occupying our land; they have been carving up our territories for the last 80 years under the (1916) Sykes-Picot agreement – that’s indirect and direct colonialism’.
"’They’re stealing our wealth, they’re invading our countries, they’re killing our women and children.’ This is called politics. Islam has nothing to do with it," Thomas said.
The Sykes-Picot he referred to was a secret World War I accord between Britain and France that defined spheres of influence in western Asia after the expected fall of the Ottoman empire.
"Bin Laden’s rhetoric may be brimming with religious references but when he addresses the American people directly, he says: ‘If you are bombing our cities, we’ll bomb yours’ or ‘Ask yourself why we’re not attacking Sweden’," he said.
Gerges and Thomas argued that by simply seeing the September 11 suicide bombers as Muslims without asking why they acted, New York opponents of the Islamic center near Ground Zero fail to see the motive behind the attacks.
And they become grist for Al-Qaeda’s mills, they said.
Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the self-styled Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, agrees that jihadists are political.
"These jihadists use Islamic language to pursue their political agenda and to recruit foot soldiers for their cause. It’s very sad," he said.
"Islam has nothing to do with their agenda. Islam is a simple religion, it’s all about integrity, piety, commitment, respect for other people and the rule of law."
He added that Islamist extremists were "pursuing … a quest for political control.
"And in the end, it’s ordinary Muslims who are suffering. Directly, because in their attacks they are killing mainly Muslims, and indirectly, because they suffer from the bad name these terrorists are giving to Islam."