This article first appeared in the 16 January 2006 edition of The Irish Times and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
Rite and Reason: Headlines about al-Qaeda bombers can mask the true tolerant nature of Islam, and we should not blame Islam for al-Qaeda, writes Richard Whelan.
The true tolerant nature of Islam is not appreciated in much of the West not least because bad news – such as al-Qaeda attacks and their spurious justifications – gets headlines. A review of coverage of al-Qaeda actions and beliefs in the media in the Islamic world shows a different picture.
Take Indonesia for example. It is an important influence within Islam. It is the largest Muslim state in the world and one of the world’s largest democracies. Of its population of 220 million, approximately 190 million are Muslims – the vast majority vote for political parties that are both moderate and tolerant.
The Jakarta Post of November 23rd, 2005 quoted the vice-president of Indonesia Jusuf Kalla stating that Indonesia is waging a war against terrorism on two fronts.
The police are fighting the direct terrorist threat, which led to the Bali bombings. But there is another front, that against extremist religious and other leaders on the ideological front.
He stressed that he sees the second, ideological, war as the more important conflict. The vice-president showed dozens of Muslim clerics a video made by the Bali suicide bombers which was seized by police.
In the video, the bombers, like all al-Qaeda militants, displayed no remorse for what they had planned and very strongly said they believed they would go to heaven for their terrorist actions in the jihad against the “enemies of Islam” – in this case Western tourists.
The vice-president and the religious leaders totally disagreed with this interpretation of jihad by the al-Qaeda bombers and saw it as crucial to condemn and confront their fringe ideological views.
An opinion piece in the same newspaper by Lily Zakiyah Munir, director of the Centre for Peace and Democracy Studies in East Java, focused on the al-Qaeda tactic of aggressively condemning the vast majority of people, Muslims and non-Muslims, who disagreed with their warped beliefs.
She noted that it seems “easy now for some Muslims to condemn others, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as being sinful, deviant, unbelievers or damned, as if they were little gods who can look into people’s hearts”.
She went on to confirm a key point about the al-Qaeda belief system: “Jihad is often equated with ‘holy war’. This notion, in Arabic al-Harb al-Muqaddasah, does not exist in the Koran. War is never holy; it is either justified or not.”
Another contribution from Khalad Duzdsar, a Palestinian writer from the Common Ground News Service in Jerusalem, pulled no punches in his analysis of the serious threat al-Qaeda posed to Islam itself.
Muslims, Islamic countries and Arab countries now face a crucial challenge. There should be no excuse now for neglecting and denying the dangerous, wide spread of the carriers of this new mad disease . . . All Muslims and Arabs should unify in one mission, which is to fight the mad ideologies presented by mad secessionists from what Islam really brought to the world and what Islam really wants to promote.”
The writer is clearly worried by the effects on the Palestinian struggle for a homeland.
“I do accuse those people for damaging our cause and destroying our years of struggle for freedom. They can’t take our cause as an excuse for their evil and mad beliefs. No matter where they are acting; in Baghdad or New York, in Istanbul or Paris, in Madrid or Amman, in Cairo or London, in Beirut or Jerusalem, or even in Bali, it only causes damage for us. Especially, in times where we Palestinians are searching for international support to bring to life the long-hoped-for Palestinian state.”
The threat to the West is real, but it does not come from Islam. The bombs we saw in Madrid and London were not the work of Islam, but of a deranged minority of extremists within Islam.
Nor was the bombing of Omagh the work of nationalist or even Catholic Ireland . . . and we don’t begin to think of ourselves as to blame for that.
The majority of Muslims perceive al-Qaeda as we do. There is however a self-declared “minority of a minority of a minority” who believe that Islam is incompatible with secular democracy and the modern world. The only way this demented minority could win is if we provide them with a conflict of civilisations which would radicalise the moderate Muslim opinions quoted above and the majority of those within Islam.