London terrorist bombings elicited familiar response: Islamic organizations and Muslim communities in Europe and North America condemned the terrorist attacks and stressed the dissonance between the deplorable acts of the terrorists and the humane principles of Islam. Tony Blair paid tribute to the intrinsically peaceful teaching of Islam and reminded his countrymen that the British Muslims are law-abiding and contributing members of the British society, as he condemned the militant ideology espoused by the terrorists. “We know that these people act in the name of Islam,” Blair stressed, “but we also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law abiding people who abhor terrorism every bit as much as we do.”
Pundits of the militant Right found in the London attacks another opportunity to equate Islam with terrorism, to question the sincerity of the Muslim rejection of terrorism, and to incite the public against Islam and Muslims. Given the laud and extensive condemnation of terrorism by Muslims, particularly in North America and Europe, the militant-Right cry has shifted from “why Muslim leaders do not speak out against terrorism?” to “are Muslim leaders sincere in their condemnation of terrorism, or are they doing it to deflect anger and prevent a backlash?”
Clearly, Muslims are genuinely appalled by the brutality of the terrorist acts, and some are going the extra mile to make sure their condemnation is made laud enough, and is repeated enough, so that they can be heard by the deafest of their critics. The Fatwa issued by the Religious Council of North America, and supported by major Muslim organizations, is the latest effort in this regard.
The strong stand taken by American Muslim leaders against indiscriminate violence is a testimony of a remarkable maturity and the clarity of vision in dealing with a complex issue. The laud condemnation of terrorism is important to cut through the anti-Islam rhetorics and to reassure the public that Muslims reject indiscriminate violence and the killing of innocent civilians.
Muslim leaders cannot, however, stop their quest for justice at condemning atrocities committed by few misguided Muslim youth. They must do more to show young Muslims how to turn their moral indignation into a positive force that brings more balance and justice to the world, instead of exploding in anger. Muslim leaders must work more to shed light on the double-standard approach adopted by many western governments and institutions toward Muslims.
This is not only the right thing to do, but the only path to ensuring that Muslim leaders continue to speak for the values and interests of the larger Muslim community and address Muslim concerns. The expression of justice and compassion should not be reserved to atrocities committed by the terrorists against western civilians, but must also address Muslim pain and suffering visited on them by the action of western democracies.
Muslim leaders must do more to expose the harsh reality of many Muslims throughout the world and speak for the Muslim suffering; the must do more to pressure political leaders and leaders of public opinions to address the roots of anger and frustration that breed militancy and give rise to terrorism. The key here is the foreign policy of western powers, particularly the United States, toward Islam and Muslims. Ignoring legitimate grievances and applying double standards in dealing with Muslim societies and issues must stop if the war on terrorism is to bear fruits.
Muslim leaders and organizations have been repeatedly asked to condemn terrorism and repudiate individuals and groups connected with terrorist acts. This is a fair demand and Muslims should respond positively and take unequivocal stand against the violent attacks by angry Muslim radicals against innocent civilians and bystanders. By the same token, Muslim leaders should put similar demands on western leaders, and insist that the same set of standards be applied to all.
It does not help addressing the problem of terrorism when someone like Thomas Friedman put all the blame for terrorism on the Muslim world and feel that the West might be justified for treating every “Muslim living in a Western society” as a suspect and “a potential walking bomb,” and in cracking “down even harder on their own Muslim populations.” Friedman conveniently forgets that Western governments must take responsibility for befriending brutal dictators throughout the Muslim world, and supporting the daily humiliation of Palestinians in occupied Ghaza and the West Bank.
It does not help when American leaders press hard to liberate European societies and Christian minorities in western Indonesia and southern Sudan from the yoke of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, but remain passive in the face of authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world, or in the face of the Israeli, the Indian, or the Thai aggression against Muslim populations that live under their control.
Similarly, Muslims do not hear loud condemnation when bigots like Ann Coulter, Daniel Pipes, Franklin Graham, Michael Savage, or Pat Robertson use venom to demonize Islam and Muslims, incite the attacks against both western and eastern Muslims, or openly call for violation of the basic human rights of all Muslims.
Muslim leaders must continue to speak against violence, brutality, and injustice, as they reject terrorism and indiscriminate violence against civilians and demand that the Islamic respect for the sanctity of human life, and the Islamic injunction against the killing of innocents be strictly observed. But this is not enough.Muslim leaders must go beyond the condemnation of terrorism to become more active in the roots of violence, hatred, and terrorism. They must reject exclusivist ideologies that privilege particular religious or ethnic communities whether it takes the form of Jewish, Christian, or Muslim exclusivism.