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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why Muslim leaders don't truly condemn Islamic terrorism

In the aftermath of the London bombings there have been a number of excellent articles in the British press that take an honest look at the role of Islam in modern terrorism. This long one is also excellent, and although he parrots the "tiny minority of extremists" line, the author raises some very good points. Here is an excerpt:

There seem to be two broad reasons why many Muslim leaders appear unable or unwilling to break absolutely with the teachings that give cover to violence. The first is that their religion is much more literal and much more political than modern Christianity. Its Prophet was a political and military leader.

The faith Mohammed taught does not just hope that the world will become Muslim. It wants all human society and politics to be governed by religious law: it draws no distinction between the secular and religious sphere (except to condemn the secular). Therefore, Muslim leaders find it very difficult to resist the hotheads who say that Sharia - the divine law - should be imposed wherever possible.

In addition, the religion is absolute in its attitude to particular bits of territory. It is forbidden, for example, that any other religion be practised in the Arabian peninsula, because that land is considered sacred to Islam. Therefore, it is hard for a "moderate" to oppose the second-class citizenship of Christians or Jews in Muslim lands, or to say that "infidels" fighting in Muslim countries should not be murdered - even when they are his fellow citizens in a Western country.

When someone like bin Laden says that Islam should confront the "Cross-worshippers" and the "Zionists", he is making a claim in which politics and religion dangerously reinforce one another - a claim which most Muslims might not like, but which most of their leaders cannot find quite the right words to resist.

The second reason is that the leaders are frightened. In private conversations with the moderates, one is always told that they are under "enormous pressure", that they risk losing control of their own people, and therefore they cannot say very fierce things against the extremists. One must accept that this pressure exists, which only goes to show how serious the problem is.

The Bishop of Stepney, say, would not have to look over his shoulder before he dared to condemn Christian suicide bombers (if there were any). But if his friend Mohammed Abdul Bari wants to condemn Muslim ones in Israel, then his life - or certainly his career - might be threatened.