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Unconstructive comments in reply to young muslim!!

Reader comment on item: Militant Islam's New Strongholds

Submitted by Trevor Stanley (Australia), Mar 15, 2003 at 17:11

I was just reading some of the comments in response to the "Young American Muslim Adolescent".

The muslim world is currently facing a crisis in parallel with the crisis faced by the west. The west's crisis is that a disciplined, ruthless, multinational terrorist organisation, which has spent the past decade infiltrating networks into our communities, is trying to kill us, and there is very little we can do about it which will bring immediate results. Many people are trying to find easy ways out.

Many on the left say that if we only stop doing all the terrible things we've supposedly been doing, or perhaps redistribute the world's wealth, everything will be ok again. In Australia, leftists have claimed that the Bali bombings were retribution for Australia's alliance with America against Iraq. These commentators have made no attempt to explain why a French tanker was bombed by al Qaeda, or why the 11th September agents were not impoverished by the west, but on the contrary enriched by it. On the other hand, many in the west seem to think that concluding that Islam itself is the enemy, is the answer. I must say I have at times been surprised at the number of muslim 'intellectuals' who have followed the same pattern of the western left-intellectuals - they have denounced the terrorist attacks in a short paragraph then spent the rest of their article or sermon railing against the west. However, I have a number of muslim friends and acquaintances whom I know are shocked by the actions of al Qaeda, and ashamed that these actions are being associated with their religion. None of them has in any way indicated that they thought the US 'had it coming'.

This brings me to the crisis for muslims. Unbeknownst to many in the west, the muslim world is engaged in a protracted struggle between moderates and radical islamists. As the islamists are religious fanatics, they tend to 'punch above their weight'. The moderates are like you and me - they vote the way they believe, but most are not actively involved in politics. The radicals, on the other hand, believe that they must struggle relentlessly for sharia law, that every moment of idleness is a sin against Allah. Is it any wonder that their voices are heard more often than those of the moderates? For most people in the muslim world, this is like being a German in 1935. There's this crowd of belligerant fanatics committing the most atrocious acts in your name - and there is nothing much you can do about it. Keep in mind that the militant islamists often attack their fellow muslims for being 'apostates' (ie straying from the path). This is a very old battle which we in the west have only just woken up to, despite the fact that Osama bin Laden has been trying to pick a fight with us since 1991. Most Australians are still unaware that in the weeks before and after the Bali bombings, there was also a string of about a dozen terrorist bombings in the Philippines.

Essentially, this division in the muslim world is a huge advantage for us in the west. Great news: we are not alone against a billion muslims. In fact, we are helping the muslim world to clean up its extremists. So where are all the moderate muslims? They do exist. In fact, Salih bin Muhammad al-Luheidan, Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia, issued a sharia ruling on the 14th of September 2001 in which he unequivocally condemned the 11th September attacks. An excerpt: "Viewing what happened to the Twin Towers was like watching Doomsday. Those who commit such crimes are the worst of people. Anyone who thinks that any Islamic scholar will condone such acts is totally wrong. Aggression, injustice and gloating over the kind of crime that we have seen are totally unacceptable and forbidden in Islam." I have other examples, but do not have time to find them and type them in at present. Many of them are directed at the muslim community, where they will do the most good. You should also remember that unlike, say, the Catholic Church, the Muslim faith does not have a single, universally recognised hierarchy. There are quite a number of maverick 'religious scholars' out there who are about as representative of Islam as the guy standing on the corner shouting "The world will end on tuesday unless you embrace Christ" is of Christianity.

The media also plays a role here. The headline "Sheikh declares US Satan Reaping Wrath of Allah" sells a lot more papers than "Recognised Saudi scholars reiterate that killing civilians is wrong". It doesn't matter whether the papers point out that various councils of islamic law have declared that the Nutty Sheikh has no actual standing or authority to make such claims, because that qualification doesn't really register in the same way as the 'seas of blood' rhetoric does. Keep in mind that in Indonesia, which is often touted as "The biggest muslim country in the world", Sharia-Islamist parties struggle to retain 4% of the vote. Most of the unrest in that country is the product of the tension between moderates and militants described above.

The last thing I want to comment on is the claim that Islam is a violent religion. Yes, people like the Ayatollah Khomeini said that the Koran commands muslims to be violent. In much the same way, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan says the Bible commands us to incinerate people who are 'the wrong colour' - most unchristian! On the other hand, the standard muslim greeting, Salaam Aleikum, means "peace be upon you". And in case you hadn't noticed, the Iranian Republic is not too popular with its people these days! The argument about whether the Koran tells people to be violent has been played out time and again, pointlessly. I just opened up the King James Bible. The first thing I saw was "The punishments upon disobedience", in Deuteronomy 28 - my eyes came to rest on the words "Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, on all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me." (It continues in this way for another three pages). What a charming fellow the Lord is, eh? Hmm... on that topic, "the law of blasphemy" is listed under Leviticus 24. It involves "the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian", so the naive reader could conclude that this passage is directed at jews and/or modern-day Egyptians. "And The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp, and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. [...] And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him [...] And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death [...mandatory capital punishment for manslaughter? ...] And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses."

So there we have it. A spot of Christian sharia law, straight from the Old Testament, which Christianity inherited from the Jews. I'm glad I'm typing this over the internet, rather than saying it face-to-face, because I'd have been stoned halfway through the previous paragraph, right?

Any book of divine writing, be it the Bible, the Koran, or whatever, can be read a number of different ways. If you want to read it as a justification for acts which can only be reasonably construed as evil, you can do that with any such book. If you are a decent person, you can find ample inspiration for moral development from the same book. How do you expect a moderate muslim to describe the Koran? "Oh, well, yes, it does have some bits about stoning people, but most muslims ignore those bits"...? The only reasonable alternatives are (a) state that the Koran is a book of peace (which for moderate muslims it is), or (b) renounce one's faith.

Grabbing a copy of the Koran and rifling through it for juicy jihad bits will not help you understand Islam!

If you're not sure how to bolster moderate muslims, I think it's fair to say that telling someone that they are wrong to believe their religion is peaceful, and that you think it should be 'straightened out' by the application of external force is probably not the way to go about it.

I'm not just saying this to be argumentative. I really do want this problem sorted out in the shortest time possible (which is probably at least 20 years) because I don't like people being blown to bits, especially when those people could include me and my loved ones! The only way we can do this is if moderate muslims and the west work together against militant islamists, rather than playing into Osama's hands by denying moderates the opportunity to work with us.

Yes, there are major barriers between muslim and non-muslim cultures. It will take a lot of time for mutual understanding to develop. I've certainly done a lot of reading, discussing and thinking over the past two years. I think it's worth the effort though.

Trevor Stanley.
Perspectives on World History and Current Events.
http://geocities.com/pwhce/
[The quotes from the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council Chairman come from Rubin and Rubin, "Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader", page 305. That section, "Middle East Reaction to September 11", contains unqualified condemnation of the terrorists from pages 301-315. Some of it is highly critical of many in the muslim world. It's definitely worth a read.]
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