Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2001 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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Muslim, but not extremist -- SEVEN weeks after Sept. 11, the Muslim Public Affairs Council finally condemned Osama bin Laden as a terrorist. Sort of.

About halfway into an Oct. 30 statement expressing alarm over "the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan," MPAC, almost in passing, chided the Taliban for "not . . . dismantling the Al Qaeda terrorist network, led by Osama bin Laden."

A stinging denunciation? Hardly. Yet it represents the farthest that any leading American Muslim group has been willing to go in condemning the brutal fanatics by name.

I had contacted MPAC and other Muslim organizations a week earlier and explained that I couldn't find any statement in which they explicitly labeled bin Laden and Al Qaeda terrorists and renounced them. I asked if they would do so. I received a reply only from Salam al-Marayati, MPAC's executive director, who said his organization "did condemn bin Laden's terrorism." So why, I asked, does it not do so publicly? A few days later came the statement quoted above. To date, no other prominent US Muslim group, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the American Muslim Council (AMC), has followed suit.

It should not come as a surprise that these organizations are unwilling to clearly and convincingly condemn terror groups like Al Qaeda. Despite their success at getting quoted in the media or invited to share photo opportunities with politicians, CAIR, MPAC, and the AMC are run by radical Islamists who do not speak for the majority of American Muslims. While they do not openly advocate violence themselves, they share many of the terrorists' goals -- which is why they will not condemn them unreservedly and why they are quick to attack anyone who speaks ill of Islamic extremism.

Fortunately, most American Muslims do not share the fanatics' views. So far the moderates have not gotten the attention they deserve, but that has begun to change in the wake of Sept. 11. Appalled that so awful a crime could have been committed by men professing Islam, some traditional Muslims are speaking out. Unlike the extremists, who reacted to the attacks in New York and Washington with complaints about harassment and "profiling," moderates have been urging their fellow Muslims to take a hard look in the mirror.

Listen to what some of them say:

  • Muqtedar Khan, a political scientist at Adrian College in Michigan and a former managing editor of the Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies:

    "What happened on Sept. 11 . . . will forever remain a horrible scar on the history of Islam and humanity. . .

    "The culture of hate and killing is tearing away at the moral fabric of Muslim society. . . . If bin Laden were an individual, we would have no problem. But unfortunately bin Laden has become a phenomenon -- a cancer eating away at the morality of our youth. . . . It is time for soul searching. How can the message of Mohammed, who was sent as mercy to mankind, become a source of horror and fear? How can Islam inspire thousands of youth to dedicate their lives to killing others? We are supposed to invite people to Islam, not murder them."

  • Amir Taheri, Iranian expatriate and veteran journalist:

    "To claim that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam amounts to a whitewash. It is not only disingenuous but also a disservice to Muslims, who need to cast a critical glance at the way their faith is taught, lived, and practiced. . . "It is both dishonest and dangerous for Muslims to remain in denial. . . . The Muslim world today is full of bigotry, fanaticism, hypocrisy, and plain ignorance -- all of which create a breeding ground for criminals like bin Laden. . . . The Sept. 11 tragedies should trigger a rethink of the way Muslims live Islam. We should start condemning those attacks without 'ifs' and 'buts.' Sadly, the way we Muslims live Islam today is a far cry from the . . . golden age when Islam was a builder of civilization, not a force for repression, terror, and destruction."

  • Sheik Hisham Kabbani, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

    "Peaceful Muslims, moderate Muslims, do not interfere in the politics or foreign policy of the United States. . . . But the activists are very clever. They use the mosques and Islamic centers to gain credibility for themselves. . . In front of the microphones they say the United States is good. Then they rally against the United States, they demonstrate against the United States, they say the wrath of G-d is coming against the United States."

Other moderate Muslims, less well known, have reacted similarly. Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from an Egyptian-American, a Muslim student at Yale who had been wrestling with the meaning of Sept. 11:

"My own feeling," he wrote, "is that only by opening our eyes to the cancer in our midst can we finally begin to set about the great and real task of excising it."

These are the voices of Islamic moderation: honest, decent, conscience-stricken. It is these moderates -- not the better-known and better-funded extremists -- who deserve our respect and attention.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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