By Alan Dowd – ASCF Senior Fellow
May 2015 – It’s becoming such a frequent occurrence that it’s difficult to keep track of all the violence being committed in the name of Islam.
There was al-Shabaab’s Easter weekend massacre in April, killing 147 people at Kenya’s Garissa University. This followed the lone-wolf jihadist attack on a Copenhagen café in February, targeting a cartoonist who had caricatured Muhammad in his drawings. This followed the January attacks on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which jihadists executed 10 unarmed people in retaliation for the paper’s publication of crude cartoons mocking Muhammad. The Paris siege continued for days, with jihadists murdering four more at a kosher deli.
This followed Boko Haram’s mass-murder of 2,000 people in northeastern Nigeria, also in January. This followed the Pakistani Taliban’s siege of a school, which claimed 132 children, and al-Shabaab’s shopping-mall jihad in Nairobi in 2013, which killed 67 people.
In 2012, the airing of a film critical of Islam triggered mob violence that left at least 49 dead in six countries. In 2006, angry Muslims attacked a church and diplomatic mission in Beirut, set fire to foreign embassies in Damascus and Tehran, and killed four people in Afghanistan — all to defend their faith from a cartoon. That same year, many in the Muslim world lashed out over a papal lecture ironically about the compatibility of faith and reason. In response, the Pakistani parliament condemned the pope for “derogatory comments.” A leading Turkish official accused the pope of reviving the Crusades. Bombs exploded outside churches in Iraq. And a nun in Somalia was murdered. In 2005, reports that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at a U.S. detention facility — reports that turned out to be false — led to deadly rampages in Afghanistan. In 2004, a Dutch filmmaker was murdered because he dared produce a film critical of Islam’s treatment of women. The list goes on and on.
To be sure, Islam doesn’t claim the Garissa University murderers or the Charlie Hebdo killers or the ISIS fighters or the Boston bombers or the 9/11 mass-murderers. But the hard, undeniable truth is that all of them claim Islam. What can those who consider themselves part of civilization do about this scourge?
Islam is not a monolith. It has many sects and divisions. Just a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims defend their faith by mass-murder. But that tiny fraction is wreaking havoc around the world. What some have termed “Islam’s civil war” is spilling into the rest of civilization. Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali concludes that Islam’s political and religious leaders need to answer a simple question: “What is more offensive to a believer — the murder, torture, enslavement, and acts of war and terrorism being committed today in the name of Muhammad, or the production of drawings and films and books designed to mock the extremists and their vision of what Muhammad represents?”
It pays to recall that other religions, when they have veered off track in their interactions with the rest of civilization, have summoned the courage to ask and answer such hard questions — and then change. The Southern Baptist Convention called on its members to “repent of racism of which we have been guilty.” The Mormon religion lifted a ban on priesthood for black members and ended the practice of polygamy. Pope John Paul II asked “pardon for the divisions among Christians…and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility.” Speaking to Jews, he said, “We are asking your forgiveness; we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.” Pope Francis recently apologized for “grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse.”
Moreover, since Muslims consider themselves citizens of the “Ummah” — the supranational community of all Muslims — it pays to recall examples of nations that have sought redemption after veering off course.
Think of the moving image of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt falling to his knees at a Jewish memorial in contrition for the holocaust his countrymen perpetrated. It was a powerful signal to the world — and to Germans — of the posture Germany needed to take to rejoin civilization. Likewise, Japan’s emperor and prime minister repeatedly apologized for Japan waging a war of aggression during World War II. The U.S. government apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin confessed for the Soviet Union’s “unparalleled brutality” and “dark pages” during the Cold War.
Instead of gestures of reconciliation or reformation, the world gets rationalizations from too many Muslim leaders.
With Paris still under siege, and the offices of Charlie Hebdo still wet with blood, the foreign minister of Turkey warned about “the dangers of increased racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia in Europe.”
The French Council of the Muslim Religion condemned the attacks as “barbaric” but then called on the French public “to avoid provocations.”
“We do take issue with the implication that extremism takes place at mosques and that Muslims have not done enough to challenge the terrorism that took place in our name,” the Muslim Council of Britain indignantly declared. Yet public-school teachers in France report that Muslim students say the attack was staged. Some are justifying the massacre: “Thirteen-year-olds, 14-year-olds saying, ‘You shouldn’t insult the prophet. The killing is justified.’” Where would children hear such poisonous ideas, if not from their mosques and/or homes?
Instead of clarity in dealing with this threat to civilization, Americans too often get nonsense from Washington.
For example, DOD officials within the administration labeled the Ft. Hood terrorist attack “workplace violence.” DHS officials jettisoned “terrorism” for the Orwellian term “man-caused disasters.” When it convened its “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” this year, the White House couldn’t bring itself to use the words “jihadist” or “Islamist” on its website or in the president’s remarks. State Department official Marie Harf connected poverty and terrorism: “We cannot win this war by killing them. We need…to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups…lack of opportunity for jobs,” she said.
This is patently untrue. Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was raised the heir of a billionaire. Current al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri came from an upper-class family of physicians. September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta was an upper-class grad student. ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi grew up in a middle-class home, with family connections to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Anwar al Awlaki, the American who led al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, was the son of a university professor and studied civil engineering at Colorado State. Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood killer, lived a typical American childhood in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. American Taliban John Walker Lindh was raised in the upper-class suburbs of D.C. and San Francisco, attending schools for the gifted and privileged. Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, was born and raised in a well-to-do London suburb. “The borough’s schools are among the UK’s best,” the BBC reported. Ottawa jihadist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s father was a businessman and mother a high-level immigration official. Michael Adebolajo, who beheaded an off-duty British soldier in London, was raised in a middle-class home and studied political science at Greenwich University.
In short, the answer to jihadism is most assuredly not a new jobs program. It’s defeating the source of this sickening ideology—and yes, killing, its footsoldiers. What has happened in Paris, Kenya, Ft. Hood, Boston, Manhattan, Peshawar and too many other places to count is not “workplace violence.” It’s terrorism. These attacks are not “man-caused disasters.” They are acts of war. And the cause of this scourge is not too much U.S. intervention or too little U.S. aid. Nor is it Islam, by the way. It’s the refusal of some within Islam to respect and accept the norms of civilization.
Civilization strives to protect the weak, the innocent. Its enemies target them. Civilization weeps when innocents are slaughtered. Its enemies cheer. Civilization is sickened by the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Seder meal murders, by the Peshawar and Garissa killings, by 7/7 and 9/11. Its enemies are emboldened by them. Civilization teaches that war is an evil to be avoided, its enemies that war is a divine commandment to be followed. Civilization glories in difference and diversity, its enemies in sameness and submission, conformity and control.
To win this war and to defend civilization, we must name the enemy and name the problem. If we don’t name it, we cannot target it. If we don’t target it, we cannot defeat it.
To suggest, as some in the West have, that the solution is for everyone else — Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, moderate Muslims, cartoonists — to try harder not to offend the far fringes of Islam is self-defeating and self-deluding. But don’t misconstrue this as a defense of the likes of Charlie Hebdo, which publishes often-tasteless drawings. People of faith know that mocking what is sacred to other religions is wrong — and that we should apply something like the Golden Rule when interacting with other faiths: to treat their beliefs with the respect with which we would want our beliefs to be treated.
But there’s another principle at stake. People in free societies have a right to share their beliefs without fear of harm. In free societies, offended sensibilities are resolved in the arena of ideas and in the courts, not by bullets. Anyone unwilling to recognize this bedrock principle has, by definition, disqualified himself from being part of that free society.
People in free societies don’t have to read or like Charlie Hebdo or the Koran or the Bible. That’s what this is all about: people of different faiths and no faith at all finding a way to coexist. There will always be disagreements among different faiths. The solution to such disagreements is to agree to disagree — not self-censorship or mass-murder.
The primary responsibility lies within Islam. An ancient faith that allowed religious liberty to flourish under Ottoman rule, a faith that’s honored on the walls of the U.S. Supreme Court as a source of law and reason, must find a way to spark a reformation. But don’t take my word for it. A week before the Paris attacks, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited an ancient center of Islamic learning and spoke directly to Islam’s leading scholars: “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Ummah to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world…We are in need of a religious revolution.”
To be sure, Sisi is an imperfect vessel, but what he said needs to be put into practice. Until it is, civilization must help Muslims defeat those who are trying to hijack their faith.