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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

10 Reasons Terror Meets Silence From Muslims

10 Reasons Terror Meets Silence From Muslims
By ROGER COHEN
International Herald Tribune

Mao Tse-tung famously remarked that, "The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea." That sea, for jihadist Islamic fanatics, is the Muslim world.

Since the 9/11 attack on the United States, the West has been disappointed in that world's failure to raise its voice against terrorism. Here are 10 reasons why moderate Muslims have remained largely silent in the face of the violent extremism that invokes Islam's name.

1. Islamic militants, be they freelance suicide bombers recruited on the Internet or Qaeda operatives, are widely seen as the only genuine resistance to an intrusive and hypocritical United States that has, in Muslim eyes, co-opted the autocratic governments of the Arab world and favored Israel in its fight with the Palestinians.

2. The Bush administration now says it favors democratic reform throughout the Middle East. But its chosen initial instrument, the Iraqi invasion, is often viewed as an unacceptable occupation of Arab land, and the decades-long history of cynical American connivance with oil-providing despots has not been forgotten. Given a choice between militants fighting the Middle Eastern status quo and a new American policy also avowedly directed at change, many Arabs find the former more credible and sympathetic.

3. The Islamization of Arab societies over the past three decades came in response to the failures of those societies. Repressive and corrupt one-party regimes, condoned by Washington in countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, left the mosque as the only significant platform for political opposition. It is therefore not surprising that militants and terrorists who invoke an anti-Western Islamic ideology find a wide echo, even after the collapse of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the failures of the theocratic revolution in Iran.

4. Middle Eastern governments that are nominally America's allies are playing a double game. It is still easier, and more popular, for these governments to encourage railing against America in Iraq, or Israel in the West Bank, than it is to embrace an American-backed transformational reform program that might bite them back, as recent events in Syria show. Hala Mustafa, an Egyptian writer and intellectual, said her access to Egyptian television was curtailed after she failed "to conform to the anti-American stereotype." She added: "If you are pro-American, you are put under every kind of pressure. The regime regards you as an embarrassment." Moderate Muslims receive little or no real encouragement from their governments or media to speak out against anti-Western jihadists. The Saudi royal family may call Al Qaeda "madness and evil," but their money helped birth it and their power remains inextricable from a fundamentalist Islam whose anti-Western currents are strong.

5. Decades of repression have led to the depoliticization of many Arab societies. People are passive. They do not believe that by raising their voice, or taking to the street, they can make a difference. They are susceptible to conspiracy theories, chief among them any that demonize America. Islamization, exploited in various guises by many regimes, has encouraged this tendency. In God-given, as opposed to man-made societies, the individual carries little weight.

6. A sense of humiliation is widespread in the Arab world, fed by Israel's victories, America's invasion of Iraq, a history of Western colonization, and the economic and cultural failings chronicled by the United Nations in successive Arab Human Development Reports. The other face of humiliation is belligerence; the other face of misery is the quest for recovered pride. In this context, jihadists who embrace death over being demeaned are viewed as salvaging some vestige of Arab and Islamic honor.

7. All-conquering Western modernism, with its share of arrogance and prejudice, is widely rejected as an identity by young Muslims. When the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said Western civilization was superior to Islamic civilization, he was seen as being blunt about something widely felt. Similarly, when President George W. Bush spoke of a "crusade," Muslims thought they were hearing the truth behind the circumlocutions. Their response: to embrace Islam as a culturally authentic alternative to the West and, in extreme cases, to decide to fight the West with bombs.

8. Islamic fanaticism has successfully imposed a realm of fear, on Muslim intellectuals and others. People are afraid to speak out against Islamo-terrorism for fear of being killed. Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Muslim city councilor in Amsterdam, said he often asked groups of young Dutch Muslims if they would speak out if they learned that a member of their families was preparing to plant a bomb. The response was silence and evasion.

9. Fear of human reprisal for speaking out is sometimes complemented or reinforced by fear of divine reprisal. Osama bin Laden is a puritan Muslim. He points, not implausibly, to certain texts from the Koran in justification of his actions, including the beheading of the infidel occupying holy Arab lands. To denounce him and his movement in public is therefore to risk incurring the wrath of Allah.

10. Islam is far younger than the world's other main religions. The Prophet Muhammad died in 632, less than 1,400 years ago. Perhaps Islam's effervescence and violence may be compared to that of Christendom at the time of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that was followed by religious wars of devastating brutality in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Not for centuries after that did Western colonialism, inseparable from missionary Christian zeal to convert the pagan unbeliever, reach its zenith. No wonder, then, that Muslims are reluctant to speak out about, or denounce, the bomb-bearing zealots who proclaim, however preposterously, Islam and its civilization as their cause.

All of the above suggests Bush may be naïve in arguing that the West's only fight is with a "perversion" of Islam, a latter-day Fascist ideology. Rather, it is with a deep-rooted movement of Islamization for which the West bears significant responsibility. The Muslim sea is deep and wide and not about to yield its sharp-toothed fish.

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