August 18, 2005
By Joseph Loconte
The vicious terrorist attacks over the last 18
months--in Spain, Egypt, Great Britain, and Iraq--appear to have
Muslim organizations in the West on the defensive. It's not unusual
anymore to hear clerics in Europe and America say they're prepared
to expel extremists from their mosques. More Islamic authors and
organizations are condemning terrorism without a string of
qualifiers. There's even support in some Muslim quarters for the
tough anti-terrorism laws proposed this month by Britain's Tony
Blair. The doctrine that the intentional killing of civilians is
always wrong seems to be winning a new level of rhetorical
None of this can be equated with a serious campaign against
extremism, of course. Influential clerics in the religious centers
of the Islamic world continue to equivocate, even about Osama bin
Laden; many if not most muftis, or jurists, endorse the terrorist
activities of Hamas and Hezbollah. Nevertheless, ordinary Muslims
in the West are growing impatient with their leaders' silence or
hedging on terrorism.
Over the last six months, Muslim authorities have issued several
self-described "fatwas," unenforceable legal rulings, condemning
violence against civilians. These statements--from the Islamic
Commission of Spain, the British Muslim Forum, and the Fiqh Council
of North America--all cite the Koran to condemn the taking of
The Spanish fatwa, issued a year after the Madrid train bombings,
takes the unusual step of condemning Osama bin Laden as an
apostate. It reads in part: "The terrorist acts of Osama ben Laden
. . . that entail the destruction of buildings or properties, that
entail the death of civilians, like women and children, or other
similar things, they are prohibited . . . within Islam." The ruling
also rejects as a "fraud" the terrorists' claim to be "defending
the oppressed nations of the world or the rights of Muslims."
Less than two weeks after the July 7 bombings in London, the
British Muslim Forum announced a fatwa that "strictly, strongly and
severely" condemns the use of violence against civilians: "Suicide
bombings, which killed and injured innocent people in London, are
haram--vehemently prohibited in Islam--and those who committed
these barbaric acts in London are criminals, not martyrs."
Most recently, the Fiqh Council of North America issued an
"absolute condemnation" of terrorism. "Islam strictly condemns
religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent
lives," wrote the 18-member council. Given the unsavory past
rhetoric and affiliations of many of the 130 organizations and
leaders who have endorsed it, this statement cannot be taken at
face value. That the council felt compelled to issue it, however,
is worth noting.
"I think there's a little more clarity in these fatwas than any
past effort," says Husain Haqqani, who teaches international
relations at Boston University. "But . . . will they be reiterated
on a day-to-day basis in Muslim discourse?" Others complain that
the rulings don't come from the centers of gravity of the Islamic
world--from authorities in Mecca or legal scholars at al-Azhar
University in Cairo. Mamoun Fandy, a fellow at the Baker Institute
for Public Policy at Rice University, puts it dryly: "A fatwa from
Brooklyn or the National Press Club--that's not where Muslims go to
get their fatwas."
As Fandy and others argue, unless "extreme
pressure" is applied on Muslims everywhere to treat terrorists as
pariahs, very little will change. In this sense, it is important to
watch the Islamic response to Tony Blair's anti-terrorism
initiative. Among other things, it will make it easier for the
government to deport foreigners who are "advocating violence" and
it will criminalize the "condoning or glorifying" of terrorism.
Since Muslim organizations have failed to police themselves, Blair
seemed to suggest, the government will now do it for them: A list
will be drawn up of extremist websites, bookshops, networks, and
organizations of concern.
"I'm glad that . . . the government is finally taking action to
deal with this menace," says Omar Farooq, of the Islamist Society
of Britain, in response to Blair's proposal. "Day after day these
lunatics, on our behalf, go into the broadsheets, on to the
televisions screens, and are really messing up our lives here. We
don't want that to happen."
Neither do younger Muslims such as Shadi Hamid, a Fulbright Fellow
in the United States who joined an August 4 panel discussion on The
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "When a lot of Muslims argue that the
immorality and illegality of these killings is contingent upon
certain political considerations . . . we enter a very dangerous,
slippery slope." Salim Mansur, a professor from the University of
Western Ontario, agreed. "It is a Muslim reformation we have to
talk about," he said. "Muslim conduct, Muslim behavior has to
change." Three of the four Muslim panelists on that show called for
an end to equivocation on terrorism.
Until such views seize the spiritual and intellectual strongholds
of Islamic influence, the death cult of al Qaeda will probably have
little trouble finding new recruits.
Mr. Loconte is a
research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and
editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront
Hitler's Gathering Storm" (Rowman & Littlefield). He served as
a member of the Congressional Task Force on the United
First appeared in the Weekly Standard
The vicious terrorist attacks over the last 18 months--in Spain, Egypt, Great Britain, and Iraq--appear to have Muslim organizations in the West on the defensive.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
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