L.A. Daily News - July 14, 2005
Terrorism not in faith of Muslims, Christians
By Parvez Ahmed, Guest Columnist
When asked whether the recent bus and subway bomb blasts were acts of Islamic terror, London Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair responded that the culprits were certainly not "Islamic terrorists" because Islam and terrorism do not go together.
He was echoing the sentiments of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who earlier said, "The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims, both here and abroad, are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this kind of terrorism every bit as much as we do."
During a private meeting with American Muslims, the British ambassador to the United States, Sir David Manning, was emphatic in distancing the London terror bombings from Islam, which he described as a faith of "peace, reconciliation and tolerance."
Despite this sentiment, it is quite common to see terrorism committed by Muslims referred to as "Islamic terrorism." Yet efforts to find an alternative to this false assertion have often been inconclusive.
As author Karen Armstrong recently noted in the Guardian newspaper, "Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the West is an implacable enemy." She also pointed out that acts of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army are not referred to as "Catholic terrorism."
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. That act of barbarism was never attributed to any religion, despite the religious roots of the conflict.
Columnist Thomas Friedman recently promoted another damaging stereotype by writing that "the Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. ... To this day -- to this day -- no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."
Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, debunks this myth by cataloging numerous condemnations from prominent Muslim religious figures who not only have called the "jihad" of Osama bin Laden un-Islamic, but also have pointed out Islam's emphatic rejection of terrorism.
After the bombings in London, every major Muslim group in America and abroad issued clear condemnations, dissociating the barbarism of a few from the peaceful practices of the mainstream majority.
"We join Americans of all faiths, and all people of conscience worldwide, in condemning these barbaric crimes that can never be justified or excused," the Council on American-Islamic Relations declared in a public statement.
The response from the Islamic Society of North America, one of America's largest Muslim groups, was:"Attacking civilians who are going about their daily business is a criminal act that violates Islamic principles and must be condemned by all Muslims."
Misperception about Islam's position against terrorism is making an already jittery American public even more suspicious. More importantly, it is also preventing meaningful dialogue between American Muslims and policy makers. Lack of dialogue also leads to very little discussion about the underlying issues of terrorism, which Tony Blair asserted must be dealt with if terrorism is to be eradicated.
However, this important step cannot be achieved so long as the American public remains misinformed about Islam in general and Muslim positions related to terrorism in particular. Only when the blame game stops can meaningful dialogue begin.
American Muslims should rightfully undertake the mission of building bridges of understanding between America and the Muslim world. This can happen when mainstream American Muslim groups are constructively engaged by policy and opinion makers.
Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Write to him by e-mail at email@example.com.