Monday, January 03, 2005

Do Muslims denounce terrorism? Yes they do! Jan. 3, 2005

Do Muslims Denounce Terrorism? Ues they do!
Arab American Media Syndicate, Jan. 3, 2005
By Ray Hanania

In the war against extremism, moderates are at a significant disadvantage.

Extremism is driven by emotion, not logic. It is usually cloaked in religious fervor, which is fueled by faith rather than reason.

And no place is more emotional or driven by religious fervor than the Middle East, where tyrants rule and an illusive peace results in enormous hardships and suffering for the public.Moderates there are faced with the impossible task of convincing a cynical public battered by suffering, brutality and oppression to believe in the message of moderation. Yet the Arab and Muslim worlds find it difficult to the Western definition of "moderation" when they see clear a double standard in the West on issues of violence, morality and justice.

Worse, the Western news media that carries these messages often is biased an imbalanced.

It is easier for extremist Arab and Muslim leaders to be extremist. Most Arabs and Muslims believe that the media's bias reflects the bigotry and biases of the West.

In contrast, moderate Arab and Muslim leaders find themselves burdened not only by the double standards in the West, but also by the fundamental confusion in the West over basic Arabic words and phrases commonly misused by the media to symbolize extremism.

The mis-translation of commonly accepted phrases has a significant role in casting Arabs and Muslims as extremist, when in fact, they are not.

The word "Jihad" is another often misunderstood and distorted for political purposes, as is the meaning of the word "Allah."

Many in the West believe that "Allah" is a different God than the God of Christians and Jews. In fact, Allah is merely the Arabic translation for the word God. Muslims and Christian Arabs both embrace not only the same God of the Bible and Torah but also the same prophets while sharing the same Biblical history.

In Arabic, the true meaning of "jihad" is to "strive" or "struggle" in the sense of an honorable goal. Yet in the Western media, the Arabic word Jihad is inaccurately translated into the politically charged catchphrase of the extremists as "Holy War."

The Arabic translation of "Holy War" is al-harbu al-muqaddasatu, a phrase rarely used by mainstream Arabs or Muslims at either the political or religious pulpit.

The term "martyrdom operation" is often used by religious leaders in sermons, but it has a specific meaning in Arabic that is different from the English translation. It does not refer exclusively to "suicide bombings."

Martyrdom operation refers to any act of civilian or military resistance to an oppressor. In the case of the Palestine-Israel conflict, a martyrdom operation includes both suicide bombings that target civilians, and legitimate resistance to Israel's military occupation.

Posters pasted to the walls and buildings in the West Bank and Gaza not only showcase suicide bombers who pose prior to committing their homicidal missions, but also the faces and names of Palestinians who were killed during Israeli air strikes against alleged militant suspects.

According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, almost two-thirds of Palestinians killed during the past four years of the "Intifada" (rebellion) were unarmed civilians not engaged in violent protests. Israeli disputes that and considers all Palestinian fatalities, civilian or otherwise, to be "terrorists."

Driving through any Palestinian city, for example, one might think the walls are covered by posters glorifying suicide bombings. But the fact is that many of the posters are of victims killed by Israeli military operations that include not only adults but many young children.

On July 23, 2003, for example, Israel launched an air strike using an American-made F-16 jet, into a residential apartment building in the al-Daraj area of Gaza City. The target, a man suspected of being involved in alleged terrorist acts, was killed. But the strike also killed 18 innocent Palestinian civilians and wounded and maimed more than 150 others.

How can Israelis or Palestinians be "moderate" in a situation like that where the other side does not recognize their crimes and each justifies their response?

Polls of Palestinians and Israelis reflect this extremism. Surveys of Palestinians show strong support for "martyrdom operations," which include suicide bombings and also legitimate armed resistance against occupation.

Similarly, the majority of Israelis support Israel's tough military policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the confiscation of Palestinian lands, and the "extra-judicial" killing (assassination) of suspected "terrorists."

You cannot hold one community to a standard that you deny to another. If extremism exists among Arabs and Muslims, for example, it also exists among Israelis and the West, which absolves Israel of its brutal and often illegal policies.

It is politics and media bias that puts meaning where meaning does not exist. The fact is that there are extremists who do embrace suicide bombings specifically. But it is easy to distort legitimate expressions of grief and the emotional cries for justice and turn them into the glorification of "suicide bombings" when they are not.

A news report in the leading Jewish American newspaper, The Forward, reported in December 2003:

In March 2003, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the current president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and former Egyptian Grand Mufti, said that "martyrdom operations" against Israel are "100% legitimate." One year earlier, he ruled that Palestinians who carry out suicide operations in the occupied territories are regarded by God as "a martyr" and "even rises to the highest level of martyrdom." Last year, he urged Muslims all over the world "to take up jihad against the invading forces." Tantawi, Grand Imam of the flagship Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, proclaimed in 2002 that suicide bombings against Israel are valid.

To Arabs and Muslims, the meaning is clear. But to those who oppose Islam, the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood or the Arab World, the broader definitions are replaced by "suicide bombings" and "holy war."

Even when Arabs and Muslims are specific in denouncing "suicide bombings," extremists are quick to respond, equating "martyrdom operations" with "suicide bombings."

On June 20, 2002, as polls showed strong Palestinian support for "martyrdom operations," more than 50 Palestinian leaders published full-page newspaper ads in leading Palestinian and Arabic newspapers condemning "suicide bombings."

The ad appeared in most Arabic newspapers including Al Quds, the leading Palestinian daily, the day after a suicide bombing killed 19 people on a Jerusalem bus, and hours before another suicide attack killed seven more people at a bus stop the same evening.

The message, endorsed by signatories like Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman and a legislator, and the Palestinians' senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, was repeated in mosques and in political halls throughout Palestine.

But the media immediately countered their message with a response from a spokesman for Hamas, who said that despite the call, his organization would continue "martyrdom operations" as a legitimate form of resistance.

One of the major problems is that the West often skirts the complicated specifics of the Middle East conflict and instead embraces the simplistic stereotypes.

The more difficult a crisis is to understand, the easier it is for extremists to exploit it, the West to misunderstand it and the moderates to find themselves impossible to explain.

But Zohair Dobei, considered a moderate Muslim sheikh in the West Bank city of Nablus, stressed the Islamic prohibition on killing civilians. He also was critical of Palestinian mothers who have appeared in videos, endorsing bombing attacks subsequently carried out by their sons.

Survey results are distorted to reflect support for suicide bombings as opposed to the broader context of violence in the act of self-defense.

When the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center reported in April 2003 that 66 percent of Palestinians believe "Palestinian military operations against Israeli targets" are a suitable response during the current political situation.

Even in those cases where extremists have embraced suicide bombings specifically, the support is often placed in the context of the current conflict.

In response to the public denunciation of suicide bombings on April 20, 2002, Hamed Baitawi, chief of the Islamic Clergy Committee in Palestine who has close ties to Hamas, told the Associated Press, "martyrdom operations" are "legitimate at present … Islam demands that we avoid killing women children and civilians, but God ordered us to fight our enemy in the same way that he fights us … As long as the Israeli occupation is killing our people, we have the right from the sky to kill its civilians."

That attitude is not only present in Muslim society, it is also common in Jewish and Christian societies, too.

The fact is that a majority of Americans support the war and invasion of Iraq, even though no evidence exists proving claims that Iraq was involved in September 11th, was engaged in supporting al-Qaeda or terrorism against the United States or was a direct threat to this country.

Saddam Hussein was heavily demonized in the Western media and was an easy target and, therefore, violating international law to enter his country, destroy his government and occupy Iraq was accepted. Most Arabs were angered by the hypocrisy of the American position on Iraq rather than being supportive of Saddam Hussein, yet their opposition to the war in Iraq was often translated into support for Saddam Hussein;s government.

Cries for Muslims and Arabs to "denounce" the violence of September 11th have become political weapons in the wars against Islam, the Palestinians and the Arab World.

The fact is nearly every major Muslim and Arab organization denounced the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks and the accused perpetrator, Osama Bin Laden, a renegade militant trained by the CIA and Western military forces in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

In the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, renown for alleged Islamic extremism, leaders of 25 Arab and Muslim organizations held a press conference to denounce, unequivocally, the Sept. 11th al-Qaeda attacks.

Community leaders of rival organizations set aside differences to stand on the same stage. Only two organizations refused to participate, including the Islamic Association for Palestine which is accused of being the political voice of Hamas in the United States.

The organization's two leaders, who were also members of the nearby Bridgeview Mosque board, held their own press conference blocks away. Although they denounced the terrorism, they insisted that it was "the result of American foreign policy" and that the "roots of terrorism" must be better understood.

The larger press conference was ignored by the major media while the press conference by the IAP was given widespread coverage.

As word of anti-Muslim acts spread, the Imam of the Bridgeview Mosque Jamal M. Saad held a "prayer session" where he said, "Ugliness has no nationality. Crime has no race. This is a time to be one people."

In Detroit, Michigan, which is considered the "Washington D.C." of the Arab and Muslim American community, newspaper publisher Osama Shiblani said "99 percent of the leaders of the Muslim and Arab community denounced Bin Laden and the attacks on Sept. 11 as the acts of thugs, terrorists and murderers."

The community even worked with the FBI to help convince more than 14,000 Arab and Muslims residents to come forward and participate in "interviews" to help fight terrorism.

Many who volunteered found themselves harassed, detained and arrested for minor INS infractions unrelated to terrorism, national security or September 11th. The round-up was viewed as an opportunity to single out Arabs and Muslims for routine INS violations typical or many other racial and ethnic groups.

"After we did everything we could to help them, they turned around and attacked us and said our community supported terrorism," Siblani recalled of statements made by Secretary of State Colin Powell who addressed the Muslim and Arabs of Detroit.

Muslims and Arabs continually denounce terrorism and excessive violence by the community, but they also insist on denouncing similar violence and terrorism by Israel and the West.

Critics site this "moral equivalence" as the challenge to their sincerity insisting that Arabs and Muslims only denounce a specific form of violence committed by their community while turning their backs on the same violence by the West.

Americans may not see a difference between the terms "martyrdom operations" and "suicide bombings" or "jihad" and the terrorism of al-Qaeda, but Arabs and Muslims do see those differences.

Western bias drives the false claim that Muslims and Arabs do not denounce excessive violence such as the recent beheadings in Iraq, suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq.

They do denounce them, but not by the double standard that is insisted on by the West.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist, and the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. His columns are archived on the web at

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