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The Battle For The Mind Continues
Outrage and incredulity followed the terrorist bombings and attempted bombings in London on July 7 and 21 — outrage that it should happen in London and incredulity that the perpetrators were mostly British-born Muslims.
Some of the immediate outrage had politicians and others making strong statements condemning the attacks and describing the bombers as evil, scum, filth and more — even before anything was known about them. While such re-actions are understandable, such descriptions of the individuals involved were not really appropriate.
Yes, the acts they committed were terrible and evil — but the young men involved were members of families — they were sons — they had mothers and fathers.
Over the years of dealing with families where a son or daughter had got caught up in a cult or extreme Christian fringe group, we found that parents directly involved thought that it was tragic for their sons or daughters had become involved in a cultic group. Most thought their sons and daughters were good young people — but some thought that OTHER young people were somehow evil and nasty for having enticed their children into a cult and for ’brainwashing’ or indoctrinating them.
Is a person to be regarded as scum, filth or evil because they were vulnerable to intensive indoctrination? That sort of a response does little to come to grips with the broader picture and many issues involved in such vulnerability ultimately leading them to commit such terrorist acts of mass murder.
Following the London bombings, and attempted bombings, some members of the Muslim community in Britain, Australia and elsewhere, unconditionally condemned the murders. Other Muslims were more conditional in their comments, while still others went into denial and rejected the idea that these (and even other) bombings had anything to do with Islam or that the perpetrators were Muslims.
Since the London bombings questions have been raised in Britain, Australia and elsewhere, about Islam, terrorists, and connections between the two.
In Britain, a confidential official Government report found its way into the public arena. It revealed concerns raised in 2004 about Muslim extremists and the potential vulnerability of disaffected Muslim young adults. The report declared:
Many young British Muslims integrate and contribute positively to society. Britain scores higher than other European countries for acceptance of Muslims. But:
Â· Some feel they cannot be both British and Muslim; and polls suggest a small but significant minority are sympathetic to extremism and terrorist activity;
Â· Extremist groups in the UK actively recruit young Muslims;
Â· Small numbers of young British Muslims have engaged in terrorism, both at home and abroad.’
The report described Islamic extremism:
’By extremism, we mean advocating or supporting views such as support for terrorist attacks against British or western targets, including the 9/11 attacks, or for British Muslims fighting against British and allied forces abroad, arguing that it is not possible to be Muslim and British, calling on Muslims to reject engagement with British society and politics, and advocating the creation of an Islamic state in Britain.’
It also showed that Muslims were more inclined to believe they faced discrimination than members of other religious groups; were less active as British citizens than members of other religious groups; and were less likely to be involved in voluntary service activities than members of other religious groups:
’Religious discrimination: The majority of all faith groups were satisfied with government and employer action to protect rights of people belonging to religions. But a significant minority of Muslims, and especially young Muslims, were not satisfied. ’
’Active citizenship: Participation of Muslims is around three quarters the rate of all faith communities as a whole. Young Muslims are least likely to participate, compared with all faith groups. Muslims are least likely of all faith groups to engage in volunteering.’
Muslims were least likely to volunteer. Over half of Muslims engaged in informal volunteering (54%) but this is the lowest rate of all faith groups (overall total 67%). Similarly around a third (30%) of Muslims volunteered formally compared with two fifths of all faith groups as a whole (39%).’
’Analysis suggests that religion combined with ethnicity was not strongly associated with participation in volunteering for all groups (with the exception of respondents who were Black or mixed race and Christian). Education, occupational status and age were the engagement in formal volunteering.’
The report makes for very interesting reading, and raises questions on the British Government’s past handling of Islamic extremism, as well as considerations relevant for Australia. Websites enabling the report to be examined and downloaded include: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1688261,00.html (check the links to 4 pdf files of the report) and http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/report/2004/muslimext-uk.htm#who
While many have tried to separate the Islamic faith of the majority moderate Muslims from that of the extremists, objective research reveals that this is anything but easy or simple. The common cry of Muslim moderates is that ’Islam is a religion of peace’ but this is clearly contradicted by the claims and statements of Islamist extremists who also quote the Quran, and punctuate everything, from violent threats and throat-cutting to courtroom antics, with the Islamic rallying cry: ’Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!’ (’Allah is the Greatest’) Whenever a Muslim shouts, ’Takbeer’ (’Who’s the Greatest’) all Muslims respond with ’Allahu Akbar!’
In his article: The Two Faces of Islam . . . Still Smiling - Why All Muslims Benefit From Terrorism, David Wood states : ’If someone were to ask me, “David, do you believe that Islam is a religion of peace?” my answer would not be “Yes” or “No.” Rather, my response would be, “First tell me what you mean when you say ’Islam,’ for it is a term that is used in different ways.” If by “Islam” we mean the religion that is practiced by more than a billion people around the world, I could reasonably answer with a qualified “Yes,” because it is a religion of peace for many people (though not for all). But if by “Islam” we mean the religion taught by Muhammad, I would have to respond with a resounding “No.”’
He goes on to add: ’The Qur’an is very inconsistent in its approach towards unbelievers, due in large part to Muhammad’s own inconsistency. In conversations about Islam, a Muslim may argue that, according to the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). A critic may reply with a very different passage:
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection” (9:29)
…When Muslims are in the minority (as they are in America [and in Britain, Australia and other Western countries]) the message is always “Let us live in peace with one another, for Islam is a religion of tolerance and understanding.” Then, once Islam has spread throughout the country, the message suddenly changes to “Anyone who stands against the Prophet is worthy of death!”’
Towards the end of his article, written on July 7 (the day of the London bombings), Wood comments: ’Today’s terrorist attacks in London, strangely enough, will help Islam grow even stronger. There will be a brief period of outrage against Islam, but once the smoke has cleared (both literally and figuratively), the world will once again rush to defend Islam, and more bills will be passed, “protecting” Muslims from those who would speak out against Muhammad’s “religion of peace.” No matter how violent Islam becomes, as long as people fail to recognize that its two faces are part of the same head (and that both faces are calmly smiling as new laws make Islam untouchable), Muhammad’s empire of faith will thrive in a world of false tolerance.’
(Read David Wood’s whole article at: http://answering-islam.org.uk/Authors/Wood/two_faces.htm)
An Anglican clergyman in Britain, using the name ’Charlie’, penned an ’Open letter to moderate British Muslims’ a few hours after the London bombings. He acknowledged that there was an immediate and clear concern on the part of the British police and government ’to prevent a backlash against Muslim communities in the UK.’ He shared that concern, having Muslim friends himself, who, he says, ’feel their religion has been hijacked by extremists (at least in the headlines). They genuinely believe that Islam is a “religion of peace” and that there is no justification for suicide bombings, etc. The last thing that moderate UK Muslims need is to suffer religious hatred and physical attacks. Should that start to happen, I will personally be with them, standing by them and standing for their right to live their lives, and practise their religion, free from fear. We live in a secular democracy, and while I do not share their religious beliefs, I acknowledge their right to hold them.’
Charlie warns his Muslim friends (and all Muslim recipients of his ’Open Letter) that, ’If you just keep saying, “Islam is a religion of peace, it does not advocate violence”, it could turn out to be a shot-in-the-foot for the Muslim community.
Why? Because many non-Muslim Brits [Aussies, Americans and others] don’t believe it, (or at least are not convinced by it), that’s why.
Non-Muslims watch the news, they hear what the terrorists say, they note the fact that Al-Qaeda quotes the Qur’an, and uses Islamic terms (“Jihad”), and say that they do what they do in the “name of God”. It is very hard for non-Muslims to believe that their deeds are un-Islamic because, unlike the IRA, or animal rights activists, these terrorists justify everything they do within a specifically Islamic framework.
Additionally, non-Muslims are increasingly reading the Qur’an, and the hadith (traditions about the life and thought of Mohammed which are highly revered by many Muslims). Here they find things which seem to advocate a vision of Islam that is far from the “religion of peace”…’
He goes on to point out some of the contradictions and statements on violence in the Quran and Hadith [official ’Traditions’] and includes the challenge: ’I appreciate that your spokesmen have denounced such terrorist actions, but in the light of the London bombings, that does not even begin to go far enough. Non-Muslims want to hear you denounce Islamic states that allow the death penalty against those who leave Islam. They want to hear you tackle the Afghan mullahs who openly preach violence and abuse against women. They want to hear you speak out against “honour killings” (whether in Britain or Pakistan [or Australia or elsewhere]). They want vocal condemnation of the human rights abuses in extreme shariah-states such as Saudi Arabia. They want to hear you state openly and unambiguously that Muslims are free to leave Islam without fear from the community. They want to hear you flesh out your vision of peaceful Islam, and fight for it against those who hold a different and more sinister vision.
For example, there are several Islamic countries that practise the most barbaric forms of capital and judicial punishment (Saudi Arabia, Iran etc). They don’t behead people, or amputate hands, or stone adulterers just for the fun of it. More often than not, the legislative process is controlled by Islamic clerics, supposed experts in “Shariah law”, who study the Qur’an and other literature and define what is “Islamic punishment”. These people are not idiots — they know more about Islamic traditions and sources than most rank-and-file Muslims. They have decided that it is “Islamic” to stone those caught in adultery, etc.
I am not saying that they are right — simply that their view of Islam has to be addressed....by you; because if you don’t tackle these issues publicly, non-Muslims will think you have something to hide.’
Charlie also advocated the need for a modern reformation in contemporary Islam and suggested that Muslims need to want it and initiate it to bring reform from within.
(Read Charlie’s ’Open Letter’ at: http://answering-islam.org.uk/Terrorism/open_letter_to_muslims.htm)
The call for reform has been echoed by many others — including more liberal thinking Muslims (unfortunately all too often rejected as apostates and worse by many ’moderates’).
Writing in the New Statesman, and having his article repeated in The Australian Financial Review (August 5, 2005), Muslim writer, Ziauddin Sardar, asks: ’At about the time the bombs were going off in London, bulldozers were demolishing sacred historic sites in Mecca and, in Delhi, a group of women was demonstrating against an “inhuman” fatwa ordering a rape victim to renounce her husband.
Three seemingly unconnected violent acts. But they weave a thread highlighting a question we Muslims just cannot ignore:
why have we made Islam so violent?’
He rejects the denial that many Muslims portray all too easily and states: ’As a Muslim, I also have a duty to recognise the Islamic nature of the problem that the terrorists have thrown up. They are acting in the name of my religion; it thus becomes my responsibility critically to examine the tradition that sustains them.’
Arguing for a rational and humanist reinterpretation of Islam for today, Sardar adds: ’It just won’t do to say that these people [Kharjite and Taliban-like extremists] are “not Muslims”, as the Muslim Council of Britain seems to suggest. We must acknowledge that the terrorists, and their neo-Kharjite tradition, are products of Islamic history. Only by recognising this brutal fact would we realise that the fight against terrorism is also an internal Muslim struggle within Islam. Indeed, it is a struggle for the very soul of Islam.
In that struggle, all Muslims have to examine their words, deeds, motivations and interpretations of Islam. The traditional exegesis of the Koran - the traditional rhetoric used by gentle, bushy-bearded, kind old mullahs who wouldn’t hurt a fly - nevertheless is formed from the same building blocks as that slippery slope on which pathological mindsets are created, where Islam is used to justify the unjustifiable.
And it leads to equivocal arguments by which many defend or seek to explain the indefensible.’
(Sardar’s full article can be read at: http://afr.com/articles/2005/08/04/1123125847360.html - also worth reading are a couple of his earlier articles at: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/islam/story/0,1442,576698,00.html and: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/islam/story/0,1442,577943,00.html)
Denial and avoidance of the problems within Islam by so many ’moderate’ Muslims is unproductive and unhelpful — for them and for the non-Muslim communities in which many now live. It has led most Muslims in Western and non-Islamic, countries to develop a ’victim’ mentality, similar to a ’persecution complex’ commonly seen in many cultic groups.
Many Muslims keep telling others that they are misunderstood, that people are not treating them equally, and they keep repeating such claims to the point where others (and perhaps they themselves) actually believe them, regardless of evidence — and regardless of the fact that such claims are rarely made by members of other religions who may also be in the minority. This has led to all sorts of Islamicly-influenced ’anti-religious discrimination’ calls, and even legislation, by academics and politicians who seem unable to take the larger overview of the complexity and contradictions of Islam, and take more notice of lobby groups than of factual documentation and evidence.
A very interesting book on Islam, within the Australian context, is: 101 Questions You Asked About Islam, by Mehmet Ozlap (Brandl& Schlesinger, Blackheath NSW, 2004). It is a book that provides very positive answers to questions asked by (generally uninformed) non-Muslim visitors — such as school excursion classes - to Sydney’s Auburn Gallipoli Mosque.
The book’s preface is by Professor Terence Lovat, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Arts) of the University of Newcastle. He opens his comments with the unsubstantiated claim: ’Islam is, without doubt, the most misunderstood of all religions...’ and concludes with: ’This book...is a work of art, having been crafted in loving detail...I commend it also for its potential to spread the word about the wisdom and beauty of Islam’ — raising serious questions of sound academic objectivity.
In contrast to Mehmet Ozlap’s book, Irshad Manji also writes from a Muslim insider’s perspective but with very different conclusions. The Trouble with Islam — A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith (Random House Australia, Milsons Point NSW, 2004) ought to be compulsory reading for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
On page 2 of her book Manji states: ’Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis, and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?’ She concludes her book with the following three questions aimed squarely at the Islamic community: ’So, I’m down to my final fair shake for Islam. Whether I leave it behind will be up to me. In another sense, though, it’s up to us. What I need to see is an appetite for reform.
** Will we snap out of our rites and spark our imaginations in order to free Muslims worldwide from fear, hunger, and illiteracy?
** Will we move past the superstition that we can’t question the Koran? By openly asking where its verses come from, why they’re contradictory, and how they can be differently interpreted, we’re not violating anything more than tribal totalitarianism.
** If my analysis is wrong, can you explain why no other religion is producing as many terrorist travesties and human rights transgressions in the name of God? And can you explain this without pointing fingers at everyone but Muslims?’
Between her opening and concluding comments, Irshad Manji raises many interesting, controversial and challenging questions — especially for fellow-Muslims. A major question, asked many times in her book is, basically, ’When did we (Muslims) stop thinking?!’ She also takes a more objective look at many issues — from Middle Eastern history and present realities to the denial of many basic rights for women and minority groups within Islamic societies.
With disturbing candour, Canadian journalist and television presenter, Irshad Manji, attempts to set the record straight for both Muslims and non-Muslims in many areas of perception affecting Islam. Unfortunately most Muslims will refuse to read her. She’s a woman critical of the male domination of much of Islamic belief, culture and life; she dares to question both the Quran and Muhammed; she also openly admits her lesbian lifestyle (a factor which will also, unfortunately, lead many Christians to refuse to examine her claims). In spite of fatwas against her; in spite of angry reactions from, and rejection by, moderate Muslims in Australia and elsewhere; in spite of her lifestyle choices and other issues — her book is still well worth reading and carefully considering.
(Read her comments to Prime Minister John Howard for his summit with Muslim leaders:
read Andrew Denton’s informative interview: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1189233.htm
visit her website — read the news section and source notes backing up her book at:
We echo the calls for reformation made by liberal Muslims within the Islamic community, and others, and call for a more objective consideration and research of Islam and its authoritative writings — the Quran and the Hadith (Traditions) — by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Until some of those reforms that changed the narrowness of the troubled Christian Church on the Middle Ages begin to happen within the Islamic community around the world, there is a real danger that the ’us versus them’ mentality will continue to cause tension and difficulty, if not a major clash of ’civilisations’. Silence over atrocities committed by Muslims; denials of any such being related to Islam or the Muslim community; and blame shifting by pointing to Western involvement in some Islamic countries (especially when many of the Muslims in those countries are happy for Western involvement) is likely to increase negative attitudes and misunderstanding of Islam and the Muslim community. The Muslim community cannot live harmoniously in Western society and reject all that makes the West what it is today (with its complex mixture of good and bad). Muslims need to be more adaptive to modern Western society instead of trying to make Western society conform to their views and rights. Constant claims of being offended by Western religious and secular traditions and asking for these to be altered to make Muslims more comfortable will ultimately lead to greater resentment and probably greater prejudice. It is not the way to win friends and change enemies.
Non-Muslims — Christians and secularists - need to become better informed about various major religions found in the diverse society that makes up our nation, including Islam. We don’t need more propaganda. We need more honesty, openness and balanced information, along with a willingness to talk with neighbours of other faith backgrounds.
We concur with the comments of David Wood and ’Charlie’ — made early in this article — that the majority of Muslims are peaceable people who want to live their lives in conformity to their faith and as harmoniously as possible with other citizens in their area. Those who have come as refugees and migrants have a real struggle to learn a different language, different cultural expectations and behaviours, perhaps differences in how they live out and express their religious convictions. The challenge for a reformation of, and in, their Faith could greatly add to their struggle — but be ultimately worthwhile. They need friendship, understanding and patience — as well as people who are willing to help them where possible and yet engage them in open discussions of differences.
In difficult and tense times, Christians have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to put Christian love into action and help those who are different discover they still count and have great value before God.
(From TACL Vol 26 #4 July/Sep 2005)