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Overcoming a Muslim cultural view that can describe Saddam's capture as "The hero fell yesterday"

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While not the only Arab observer to call upon Arabs to examine their own culture and cease blaming external forces for Arab misfortunes, Abdelrahman al-Rashid, formerly editor in chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, and now managing director of the satellite channel al-Arabiya, made what I agree was a scathing attack on Muslim clerics who justify the killing of the innocent in the name of jihad. In a Beslan hostage editorial, al-Rashid wrote:

It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims… We [Muslims] cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise… An innocent and benevolent religion... has been turned into a global message of hate and a universal war cry… A man of [Yousef al-Qaradawi's] advanced age incites young men to kill civilians, while his two daughters are studying under the protection of British security in the "infidel" United Kingdom."

Given that al-Rashid had singled out al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric whose opinions air regularly on al-Jazeera, as a hypocrite, and that separation of church and state are non-existent in Muslim countries, I had held my breath under the assumption that the response of the Arab street would be binary, either to demand a fatwa for his head on a pike or to ignore him, again. Over the next week I looked for reaction (from both English sources and from the likes of Arabic & Regional Media Review translations from UNAMI (UN Assistance Mission for Iraq), but there was nothing, only mirrors of the original text.

But then Al-Rashid is the one Arab observer that dissected Arab commentary over the dustup over mutual targeting between Israel and Iran and said that Iran will use its nuclear weapons against Arab states rather than Israel:

Iran's history does not support the view that the weapons it is amassing are for fighting Israel. [After listing Iranian confrontations with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE, and Qatar, Al-Rashid] concluded that Iran's presumed nuclear capability was aimed at targeting neighbouring countries, basing his assumption on the fact that there has never been a single clash between Israel and Iran. Iran does not share borders with Israel and has had no direct conflict with it. It supports forces that are against Israel although its weaponry cannot be sent to these parties. "Then who is at the receiving end of these [Iranian] sophisticated weapons? There is only one logical answer: [Arab] neighbouring countries."

The Economist notes that "ordinary Muslims find themselves confronted with increasingly fierce claims for possession of their faith [in which] rival narratives have emerged at either end of the extremely broad Muslim spectrum." Offsetting al-Rashid, "The spokesman for a jihadist group in Iraq dissents. Wherever you cast your eye,… you find only one truth, which is that infidels are slaying Muslims "in every way, in every land, and with overspilling hatred":

jihadists voice the conviction that sympathy for Muslim causes never existed in the first place. Islam, they say, is so imperilled that fighting for its survival is not merely right, but a sublime duty. And so vicious are its enemies that any means may be used to deter them, the more shockingly cruel, the more effective. Ultimately, they believe, Islam will triumph only if all foreign influence is chased from a vast, unified Islamic state.

The "puzzle" to non-Muslims is how Muslims can exclusively focus on Muslim injury yet remain oblivious to their extremist members, but that view appears in the most controlled, moderately western state-owned organs. Within 48-hours Egypt's daily Al Ahram, "relegated to inside pages the brutal massacre of 12 Nepalese kitchen workers by Iraqi guerrillas, who claimed to be "executing God's judgment" against "Buddhist invaders" [while setting to front page] that rioters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, had attacked a mosque—but did not explain what they were angry about."

What I do not see is the claim that "the sheer nastiness of jihadist violence has begun to generate a powerful groundswell of angry Muslim opposition… the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan provoked a chorus of condemnation [not only against terrorism] but also against the clerics whose extremist interpretations support that terrorism."

I am waiting for the answer to an al Awsat article asking why have we not heard a call of fatwa against bin Laden when Salman Rushdie can be condemned for a novel. Egypt's weekly Rose al-Yusef; said that "our fear of speaking out has become the terrorists' fifth column." If root cause is "a literalist interpretation of Islamic tradition and the Koran" that calls for a "radical reform of religious education and for curbing the power of the religious establishment," we have at least a generation, perhaps two, to effect the change. That will be cheap if it can erase four centuries of accumulated Muslim slights.

Arab journalist attacks radical Islam
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC World Service Arab affairs analyst
Published: 2004/09/07 15:00:25 GMT

The war for Islam's heart
The Economist
Sep 16, 2004

The Arab Press on Saddam Hussein’s Capture
George Ziyad
World Press Review
Dec. 15, 2003

Gordon Housworth



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