Too much politeness, too little candour
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 25 September 2004)

By all the rules of common sense, the jihadists who spread random terror across the world, murdering the innocent from the schoolrooms of North Ossetia to the killing fields of Sudan, should now be facing ferocious, unrelenting criticism from armies of articulate Muslims -- imams, teachers, writers and community leaders.

Among Muslims there should be thousands of loud, angry anti-terrorists, just as there are thousands of terrorists. Loyal Muslims should be the toughest enemies of the jihadists, because it's the reputation of Islam that's being wrecked. In a single generation suicide bombers have turned a civilization with a magnificent history into a grave geopolitical threat.

Nevertheless, Muslim critics of terror are pathetically few. Mundir Badr Haloum, a Syrian university teacher, recently became one of them with a striking article in a Lebanese daily, Al-Safir. Haloum refuses to see terrorists as isolated from mainstream Muslims. Speaking in the name of Islam, they are part of Islam; and Islam must deal with them. But most peace-loving Muslims remain silent. (They should reflect that silence sounds a lot like acquiescence.)

"Muslims produce terrorism, succour it, and praise it," Haloum writes. "We condemn it only when forced to. Motivated by considerations of power ... we wear a pained expression on our faces but in our hearts we rejoice at the brilliant success -- a large number of casualties. This is a reality that must be acknowledged." Islam needs to admit that terrorism "nests within us as Muslims and that we must exorcise it." Muslims desperately need reform.

His arguments sound much like those of Irshad Manji, the Canadian author of The Trouble with Islam. Manji argues that Muslims in the West should use Western freedom to reconstruct their religion. But her ideas remain exceptional, supported mainly by the young and powerless.

Meanwhile, Islamic leaders have become experts at changing the subject. Mention the mass murders and suddenly they're talking about how the West persecutes Muslims. Mention some unthinkable crime, like Muslims wrapping children in suicide-murder belts, and Islamic community leaders start denouncing the vile, secularist French, who won't allow girls to wear the hijab to school. The outrage!

Shortly after 9/11, Muslims learned how to raise a mighty whine about mistreatment. Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress can go on forever about injustice perpetrated under federal security law. He finds racial profiling everywhere, and sees it leading to the loss of jobs and thus low self-esteem among the young. Some of what he yammers about may be pure fiction ("the subjection of whole communities to police harassment and intimidation") but he's tireless.

Muslim publicists prey on terrified bureaucrats, anxious to show their multi-cultural credentials, and on dozy, gullible newspaper editors, like the Globe and Mail people who on Wednesday published a painfully familiar article by Mazen Chouaib, director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. Chouaib says you shouldn't call a terrorist a terrorist. That is, he opposes the doctrine of plain language that all good editors try to teach writers. He thinks the National Post and other CanWest papers (which use the word "terrorist") are vilifying Arabs. Like a brain-dead human-rights commissioner or a university harassment officer searching for language crimes, Chouaib believes that you can make something better by giving it a nicer name.

Being a good fellow, he of course opposes murder, though in the peculiar way of official Muslims. Their opposition routinely comes with a "but" attached, a hedged non-apology. ("Violence is abhorrent. We will never condone it, but we can understand its motivations ....")

Would any other religion active in the 21st century speak gently of such monstrous behaviour? If the Lutherans or the Zen Buddhists learned that thousands of their co-religionists were not only murdering at random but also bragging about it, would they miss the fact that this international crime wave was by far the worst problem afflicting their beliefs? Or would they labour day and night to shame the killers and their friends, shun them and cast them into outer darkness?

In this matter we (Muslims and the rest of us) suffer from too much politeness and too little candour, which is why Muslim leaders are allowed to stray so far from the main problem. They should understand that while everyone feels unfairly judged at one time or another, we all must learn eventually that our actions, not the words spoken about us, will determine our reputation. That's why Muslims should listen when Haloum insists that they press for reform to make possible "our return to history as Muslims and not as terrorists."

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