Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Where are all those so-called moderate Muslims?"

When terrorists strike, we often hear skeptics ask questions like "Where are all the so-called moderate Muslims?"

In Iraq, one possible answer is that they are too busy burying their dead. But outside Iraq, the question continues to be posed. It's as if ordinary people who just happen to be Muslim are expected to stop whatever it is they are doing and engage in a few hours of very public righteous indignation.

North American journalist Paul Barrett believes the reason this question is raised so often may have something to do with the fact that many Muslim religious leaders always add qualifications and caveats to their condemnations. Many say: "Yes, terrorism is bad but then so is ..."

Specifically, until recently, Muslim leaders often added caveats to their condemnations that robbed them of real force.

In a 1 March essay for Slate, Barrett cites the responses of one prominent American, UCLA Law Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, to this apparent Muslim equivocation regarding the September 11 2001 attacks. Here's what he says about UCLA Law Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl ...

Non-Muslims who insist they haven't heard from moderate Muslims on the topic of terrorism simply haven't paid attention to outspoken figures like Khaled Abou El Fadl. A scholar of Egyptian descent who teaches Islamic law at UCLA, Abou El Fadl takes an unambiguous stand opposing religiously motivated violence against innocents, no matter what the alleged justification.

After 9/11, Abou El Fadl appeared frequently in the national media. He emphasized the restrictions the Quran placed on stealth attacks, rebellion and harm to noncombatants. He told the CBS Evening News in October 2003: "You cannot kill a woman, you cannot kill a child, you cannot kill a senior individual, you cannot kill a hermit, you cannot kill a member of the clergy, you cannot even kill peasants who are not fighters." He emphasized that in modern terms, these prohibitions translate into a ban on all terrorism.

While he rejects the idea that moderate Muslims have been mute on terrorism, Abou El Fadl has argued that Muslim leaders in the U.S. have failed "to convince the American public of the outrage felt by most Muslims over the tragedy of September 11." Abou El Fadl has proposed a huge Muslim demonstration of mourning at the World Trade Center site: something truly dramatic and designed to attract television coverage, so the world would have to take notice.

Barrett almost suggests this kind of unequivocal position is rare among US Muslim community leaders. Of course, Abou El Fadl could hardly be regarded as a community leader in that he doesn't (as far as I am aware) hold any elected position in any grassroots community organisation. Rather, he is an academic whose views are his own, even if they are influential.

In terms of the Australian experience, it is true that a number of Muslim community leaders have engaged in equivocation. But is it really equivocal to link terrorist acts to underlying causes? After all, many alleged conservatives make excuses for the Cronulla rioters by referring to "underlying causes" (lack of police presence, years of alleged Lebanese abuse of Anglo-Australian females etc). Even John Howard referred to the underlying causes of the Cronulla rioters.

In fact, Mr Howard refused to condemn the rioters at all. One could argue that Muslim leaders are at least condemning terrorism, calling a spade a spade. It's one thing to equivocate. It's another to refuse to even acknowledge that a wrong has been done.

What do readers think?

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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