Many people’s reactions to the atrocities of September 11 have gone from disbelief, to sadness, to anger, quiet or otherwise. We commonly hear that we have received a declaration of war, and should respond accordingly. This essay outlines my arguments for restraint.
The moral case. Morality should be universal. If attacking hostile governments by killing civilians is “evil” and “the very worst of human nature,” then it is no better for the U.S. to do so than for Afghanistan to.
The terrorists who attacked the U.S. last week haven’t spoken up, but probably would describe U.S. foreign policy with “evil,” “cowardly,” “despicable,” and other words that Bush used. They believe that political ends and avenging wrongs from a foreign military justifies killing enemy civilians, even if their support for the government was only indirect. Analogously, Bush’s speech stated that: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Calls for a spectacularly bloody retaliatory strike aimed loosely towards the billion Muslims in the world are increasing, while dissent has been muted. Mountains of historical evidence document America’s tolerance for heavy “collateral” damage when attacking the infrastructure of a demonized enemy, such as Saddam or Milosevic.
Tuesday’s tragedy demonstrated America’s surprising physical vulnerability, but, perhaps more disturbing, our response threatens to show a moral weakness that will be much harder to justify in hindsight.
The practical case. In Israel, extremists on both sides use terrorism and “random” violence for ends which are neither desperate nor irrational — they aim to derail peace efforts and provoke a violent response on the other side that will cause moderates to reject compromise and side with extremists. “Jew” or “Arab” loses meaning in the face of the deeper struggle between hatred and tolerance, though typically only events such as Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination by an extremist Israeli shock people into remembering. These oft-forgotten and crucial lessons from terror sound like Sunday school truisms: “the aim of violence is to beget further violence” and “blood cannot be washed away with blood.”
These principles must sound a little other-worldly after Tuesday’s atrocities, but there is no other time when it is more important that we remember them. Pausing to note that we can prove very little about the motivations of
Islam has Been Hijacked by Terrorism
In the wake of September 11, leading Muslims in America and other Western countries rushed to condemn the killings. Yet they were slower to condemn the likely killers. “They, of course, condemn the destruction that happened on September 11,” says Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank in Philadelphia. “The leading organizations have never, however, condemned the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, militant Islam.”
American Islamic leaders reply to such charges with indignation. They protest that it is unfair, even bigoted, to demand that they disassociate themselves from people with whom they have never been associated. “What we’ve found is that other religions don’t have to defend their faith when extremists do maniacal acts,” Salam al Marayati, the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Office, told The Tampa Tribune. In the same vein, Imam Abdul Rauf, of the Al-Farah Mosque in New York City, told CBS News’s 60 Minutes: “That’s just as absurd as associating Hitler with Christianity or David Koresh with Christianity. There are always people who will do peculiar things and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion.”
For some time now-since well before the September 11 attacks-some Muslims have been arguing that the whole concept of the “Islamic terrorist” is an unfair stereotype. “A terrorist,” writes Syed Soharwardy in an article published online, apparently before September 11, by an outfit called Muslims Against Terrorism, “should be identified and condemned as a terrorist, but a terrorist should not be identified with his/her religious affiliation.” Why, Soharwardy demands to know, is the terrorist who happens to be a Muslim always identified as a Muslim terr…
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…sques and on television and in the streets and everywhere, even if that means criticizing, say, Hamas at least as sharply as they criticize, say, Ariel Sharon. Western Muslims didn’t ask for this battle, but if they continue to shrug and say, “Don’t look at us, look at Israel,” they will lose it anyway.
“Islam was hijacked on that September 11, 2001,” a Muslim cleric named Hamza Yusuf said at a White House prayer meeting last month. The metaphor may have been more apt than he realized. Islam has indeed been hijacked, and not just by the terrorists of September 11, but also by Hamas and Hezbollah and all the others who commit or condone murder in God’s name. If respectable Muslim leaders continue to shrink from confronting and resisting the hijackers, we now know what will happen-to the hijackers, to the passengers, and to the people on the ground.