Where are Muslim cries of despair at what is being done in the name of their religion? This has been the great void of recent years, and what has led some non-Muslims to the wrong conclusion that all Muslims are culpable.
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed , general manager of Al-Arabiya Television.
It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims. …
We cannot tolerate in our midst those who abduct journalists, murder civilians, explode buses; we cannot accept them as related to us, whatever the sufferings they claim to justify their criminal deeds. These are the people who have smeared Islam and stained its image.
We cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise; an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women.
We cannot redeem our extremist youths, who commit all these heinous crimes, without confronting the Sheikhs who thought it ennobling to re-invent themselves as revolutionary ideologues, sending other people's sons and daughters to certain death, while sending their own children to European and American schools and colleges.
Comment: Only when the sentiments of this powerful and moving statement become commonplace will there be real progress in the war against Islamism. (September 5, 2004)
Sept 23, 2004 update: An article titled "Destroying the stereotype" in Al-Ahram (Cairo) by Osama El-Ghazali Harb, editor-in-chief of the quarterly Al-Siyassa Al-Dawlia, is far less impressive than the Abdel Rahman al-Rashed article – it's full of self-pitying silliness ("we witness the emergence of a new anti-Semitism, the Semites in question today being Arabs") – but nonetheless it marks a step forward:
it is the behaviour of individuals and groups that define themselves as Muslim which has allowed this stereotyping of Muslims to spread. … Muslim and Arab intellectuals and opinion leaders must confront and oppose any attempt to excuse the barbaric acts of these groups on the grounds of the suffering endured by Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and elsewhere around the world. … Our most difficult, and most important, challenge is to create a strong body of Islamic public opinion which loudly condemns the actions of these groups. … Once we have made this position clear to the world, we will earn its respect, and in doing so we will destroy the hateful stereotype that today tarnishes our religion and our culture.
Oct. 10, 2004 update: Anouar Boukhars, a Moroccan graduate student at Old Dominion University in Virginia, has written a strong piece, "The problem within Islam." In it, he states:
Terrorism is a Muslim problem, and refusal to admit so is indeed troubling. As Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, rightly put it, "[T]his is not the time to stir up anti-American sentiments, or sermonize over U.S. foreign policy." It is time to ask "how, in the 21st century, the Muslim world could have produced a bin Laden."
The current clash in Islam is a clash of theologies. It is a clash over interpretation, meanings and traditions. This clash over Islam's social meaning and its interpretive authority unleashed a battle over who defines religious authority, who produces it, how and in what social contexts.
The history of Islam is one of a struggle between the extreme fundamentalists who claim to hold a monopoly of truth, and who use violence and terrorism to impose their views on fellow Muslims, and mainstream Islam who professes an entirely different vision of the ethical, the moral and the religious.
Oct. 30, 2004 update: For coverage of the anti-Islamist petition to the United Nations, see my weblog entry at http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2004/10/anti-islamists-petition-the-united-nations.html.
March 26, 2005 update: In a discouraging piece of news, Ahmed al-Baghdadi, a liberal professor of political science at Kuwait University and columnist for As-Siyasa newspaper, has given up his writing and may flee Kuwait altogether to seek asylum in the West. He came to this decision a week after an appeals court convicted him of mocking Islam and sentenced him to a suspended one-year prison term. It also ordered him to pay a US$6,825 deposit, which he would forfeit if he were convicted again of the same offense within a three-year period. Al-Baghdadi appealed the verdict but wrote in his final column today that he would give up his writing even if he won. "It is not a matter of a court ruling here or a court ruling there. It is the sick climate that is filled with germs and viruses of hatred and tyranny." He said he could not play "the Kuwaiti roulette" – continuing to write without knowing when the next court case might come.
His problem arose from a June 5, 2004, column in which al-Baghdadi wrote that "ignorant" teachers in Kuwaiti state schools teach boys "how to disrespect women and non-Muslims." He stated his fears that such teachings could lead his son to terrorism. "I want to have a son with an education and a mind I can be proud of, not [a son] with backward thinking." Two Islamists complained about the column, starting the judicial process. This followed a previous court case in 1999, when Al-Baghdadi had been convicted for blaspheming Islam because he wrote that the Prophet Muhammad initially failed to convert nonbelievers in Mecca.
One can hardly blame al-Baghdadi for throwing in the towel, but one can mourn his decision; and hope that his voice does re-emerge from a Western perch.
April 17, 2005 update: He's back! Ahmed al-Baghdadi (see previous update) was so angered by what an Islamist columnist, Khaudair al-Enezi, wrote in the newspaper Al-Qabas on April 14, about al-Baghdadi being an extremist whose opinions "feed terrorism," that he picked his pen back up. After reading al-Enezi's attack, "I decided to resume writing, no matter what the consequences will be. … I am holding my ground [armed with] my reason, my pen and my learning," he wrote on April 16.
July 17, 2005 update: Irshad Manji has an insightful comment in her Time magazine essay "When Denial Can Kill: We Muslims must admit that our religion might be motivating the bombers."
It's not enough for us [Muslims] to protest that radicals are exploiting Islam as a sword. Of course they are. Now, moderate Muslims must stop exploiting Islam as a shield—one that protects us from authentic introspection and our neighbors from genuine understanding
Mar. 8, 2007 update: Abdel Rahman al-Rashed (on him, see above) asks a good question: "Why Do Islamist Extremists Who Incite Against the West Insist on Living There?" After naming a few well known cases of this phenomenon (Abu Qatada, Osama Nasser, Omar Bakri Mohammed, Omar Osama Al-Masri), he then answers his own question: They
are enjoying all the benefits of the [government] they despise: They want the financial aid, the security, the [rule of] law, the justice and the freedom of expression afforded by this government. Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy? When they preach, aren't they greatly deceiving their followers – [considering this discrepancy] between what they say and what they do?
It is some of the extremist hate-mongers living in the West who are inciting the Muslims in the East against Western countries... – those [same] countries that have hosted them, given them protection and shelter, and in many cases also financed the education of their children, including their Islamic and Arabic language studies. It is also revolting to see writers denouncing the actions of [Western] governments that wish to get rid of the extremists by sending them back to their Islamic countries.
Instead of demanding that the Arab [countries] mend their legal and security deficiencies, they ask the [Western] countries that have thrown out these extremists to spare them and to tolerate the ideological damage that they inflict upon their societies.