Muslim silence in the face of “Islamic terrorism”

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Muslim silence in the face of “Islamic terrorism”

Aref Assaf

In the schism known as “clash of civilizations” famously coined by Samuel Huntington, which pits Islam against the Christian West, Muslims are supposed to be murdering Christians.

Alas, the recent Amman hotel bombings have irrefutably demonstrated that Muslims are also capably willing to murder fellow Muslims. In fact, more Muslims have been killed by suicide bombings than Christians have or Jews combined. It is this realization, which I believe, will be the rallying point for most Muslims to take a stand against suicide bombings by extremists. As the old saying goes, if you have a glass house, then throw no stones. The Amman atrocities send wake up call not only to Christians but also to Muslims worldwide that the extremism of Al-Qaeda is an equal opportunity murderer. To them, if an innocent Muslim dies in these horrific attacks, he dies a martyr, if a Christian dies; he dies an infidel not worthy of sorrow or compassion. One of the Amman victims was my classmate of many years. He left a wife and children whose lives will never be the same.

If misery loves company. then death must unite us even more. This is a moment in history when Arabs and Muslims must unequivocally raise their voices of condemnation against terrorism committed by others Muslims. A need to reclaim the true meaning and message of Islam is the duty of Muslims everywhere. While tolerance of subculture ideas is urged, the curse of extremism must no longer have any place in our cultural narrative or religious life.

Doubtless, the charges that Muslims have not so strongly disassociated themselves from these acts are not entirely fair. Data showed a credible evidence of wide and far-reaching opposition by the great majority of Muslims. The West has either deliberately failed to hear the message or and quite possibly the message was not well communicated. Yet it remains unacceptable that Muslims rest their souls until there emerges a new and all-encompassing movement, which teaches and enforces the sanctity of life and does not glorify and legitimize suicide bombings or any method used to inflict harm and bring death to innocent people.

 

But why do Muslims commit terrorist acts? A good start is for us to of see the recently released an award-winning movie, Paradise Now, which masterfully enjoins the audience into the mindset of those about to engage in a suicide, attack. While violence in the name of Islam cannot be attributed to one single, unambiguous root cause. Causes, motives, and objectives are plural and constantly shifting. This kind of terrorism stands, I believe, at the nexus of four main socio-political and psychological factors whose role and influence varies in each case. These are:

• the breakdown of traditional religion in the face of modernity

• the excesses and misjudgments of western foreign policies

• repression and double standards in domestic politics

• the persistence of traditional cultural codes

In combination, the emotional consequences of these factors form a highly combustible mix of despair, anger, frustration, and shame.

The first factor, the breakdown of traditional religious culture, leads to an existential malaise, which leaves the individual desperately searching for meaning in life and susceptible to extremist ideologies that can appear an irruption of truth into a psychological wilderness. The multifarious and fragmentary religious revival of recent decades is at once an attempt to overcome this spiritual disintegration and a consequence of that same process.

The second factor, western foreign policy, causes deep anger in the Middle East – in particular, the United States’ almost unconditional support for Israel, its long-term support for autocratic stability over the potential risks of democracy and its woefully misconceived invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. History has repeatedly shown – and Osama bin Laden is not slow to notice this – that an external threat and foreign occupation can transform a peaceful, moderate Islamic tradition into the confrontational jihadist alternative. The recent histories of Chechnya and Palestine are further proof.

The third factor, repression of political dissent and stifling of economic opportunity by rulers in the region itself, is provoking levels of anger and frustration that for many people approach boiling point. Osama bin Laden’s own statements clearly show his immense feelings of disgust and betrayal of what he sees as a fatally corrupt and self-serving Saudi ruling family. The rallying cry of a radical religious reformism provides a further tool to mobilize the disenchanted and marginalized.

The fourth factor in the rise of Islamist extremism and violence is the cultural dimension, which includes influences like the strong tradition of honor, especially in the Middle East. For many people, simply being host to foreign forces on home soil is an intolerable affront to their integrity and must be resisted by any means necessary. Another aspect of this is the frustration generated by the persistence of traditional customs regarding sex and marriage in a globalized world where the alternative approaches to these issues are so evident on satellite TV and the internet.

As such, it becomes clear that terrorism by Muslims indeed has much to do with political aspirations than with religion. A recent Zogby poll attempts to explain the role of religion in Arab lives and a careful analysis may further explain the near disconcert between being a good Muslim and one who is indifferent if not supportive of suicide bombings.

The Poll is based on empirical data from a new poll of six Arab countries by the leading pollsters Zogby International. The poll, based on face-to-face interviews in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) during October 2005, asked citizens and residents for their views on education, business and the importance of Sharia (Islamic) law.

Three important conclusions can be deduced from poll The first point has always been clear to citizens and residents in the Middle East but has been heavily obfuscated or ignored by a growing Western tendency to paint Arabs, Islam, and Muslims in a single color. The poll confirmed yet again that Arabs hold a very wide range of views on the role of religion in their public lives, reflecting, for example, the same sort of lively debates on abortion, evolution or prayer in public school that defines American culture. There is no such thing as “an Arab view” on Islamic governance or applying Sharia law. There are many different and often conflicting views, within countries as well as across the region.

The second point is that Arabs tend to be very comfortable with religion’s playing a public role in their societies, but they want the impact to produce positive results, in terms of good government, honest business practices and quality education that improves their children’s life prospects.

A majority of respondents, except in Lebanon and Jordan, want to apply Islamic Sharia law to business operations (82 percent in Saudi Arabia, 69 percent in the U.A.E., 58 percent in Morocco and 50 percent in Egypt). In Jordan, just 39 percent favor this, and in Lebanon, majorities of both the Muslim and Christian populations soundly reject applying Sharia.

The third and perhaps most significant point is that while a majority of citizens polled said Sharia law should be applied to businesses, they also believe that further interpretation is needed to allow businesses in the Muslim world to integrate into the global economy. In other words, most Muslims see Islam and the laws derived from it as living, evolving phenomena that are inspired or dictated by the divine, but that also require constant human reinterpretation to best serve temporal needs like education, business, and governance.

Alas, the class of civilization need not happen. Islam and the west can coexist and their survival is mutually inclusive. As Muslims begin to fervently reassess their moral and practical stands vis-à-vis terrorism, the West must offer all its help to these feeble efforts and embark on a campaign to address the outstanding issues that preclude a more harmoniums relationship between the followers of Islam and other religions.

Although uttered in an entirely different context, the words of Martin Luther King seem eerily prescient as the world attempts to understand and respond to the curse of suicide bombings: “If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.”