Posted by: sean | July 28, 2005

"Excuse makers" and "truth tellers"

Last Friday, in his op-ed column, Friedman wrote about “excuse makers” and “truth tellers.” According to him,

[E]xcuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed.

It seems apparent that Friedman is making the common mistake of confusing explanation and vindication. The former is objective and value neutral, whereas the latter is not. It should be obvious to anyone who has thought about the issue at all that explaining terrorists’ motives is not at all the same as vindicating murder. And not making that clear distinction is the sort of specious reasoning that leads to simplistic phrases like, “they hate us because we’re free.”

He then goes on to talk about the “truth tellers”:

Every week some courageous Arab or Muslim intellectual, cleric or columnist publishes an essay in his or her media calling on fellow Muslims to deal with the cancer in their midst. The truth tellers’ words also need to be disseminated globally.

For once, I agree with Friedman. Articles like this one from Al Jazeera by Soumayya Ghannoushi, who is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, are somewhat refreshing. Ghannoushi draws a comparison between revolutionary anarchists and al Qaeda, stressing that while the former finds ideological justification in Marxism, the latter finds its justification in a fundamental brand of Islam. She quotes the Qu’ran to show that al Qaeda’s terrorism is irreconcilable with Islam, but in the end since she has no religious authority, this line of reasoning is neither here nor there, because like most holy texts (including the Christian Bible), for every verse Ghannoushi finds that spurns violence, a fundamentalist Mufti can find another that embraces it.

One interesting point that she illustrates, however, is that the acts of al Qaeda are instrumental in justifying racism against and the oppression of other Muslims. Terrorist violence creates a sort of “us vs. them” mentality, which traps reasonable Muslims between two extreme positions, “Bush’s hammer and Bin Laden’s anvil”:

Although the two claim to be combatting each other, the reality is that they are working in unison, one providing the justifications the other desperately needs for its fanaticism, ferocity and savagery. … The two share a shallow, myopic, dualistic conception of the world populated by ‘us’ and ‘them’ in Bush’s language, ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ in Bin Laden’s.

This has the perverse effect of stripping support and empathy away from some of the real victims, in whose name al Qaeda purports to be speaking, giving a negative image to all Muslims and giving a justification for further injustices, which creates more extremists, and so on ad nauseam.

Ghanoushi’s article has some glaring problems, like her portrayal of the oppression of Palestinians as genocide — while the Palestinians’ situation is horrible and their treatment by the Israeli government egregious, a researcher in the field of social sciences should know better than to use the term “genocide” innapropriately. But in the end, her conclusion is just, and not only should more people in the Muslim world hear it, more people in the West should know that there are Muslims fighting al Qaeda in the war of ideas:

[T]he mindless killing of the innocent in Madrid, or New York is the wrong answer to … real grievances. These are illegitimate responses to legitimate causes. Just as occupation is morally and politically deplorable, so, too, is this blind aggression masquerading as Jihad.

So in this vein, it is refreshing to see the Times reporting good news today in the form of Muslim religious groups officially condemning terrorism, and with a fatwa, no less:

Muslim scholars in the United States and Canada plan to release a fatwa, or judicial ruling, in Washington today saying that Islam condemns terrorism, religious extremism and any violence against civilians, including suicide bombings. …

The fatwa cites the Koran and other Islamic texts, and says that making innocent people targets is forbidden – “haram” – and that those who commit such violence are “criminals” and not “martyrs,” as supporters of suicide bombers have often claimed.

The edict is signed by 18 Islamic scholars who serve on the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Muslim jurists who interpret Islamic law, and is endorsed by more than 100 Muslim organizations, mosques and leaders.

This ruling, carried out by the Fiqh Council of North America follows a similar ruling by the Sunni Council, Jama’at e Ahl e Sunnat, in Birmingham, UK after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London and a March 11 fatwa (English translation here and in Arabic here) from the Spanish Muslim Council on the first anniversary of the Madrid train attacks. It seems curious that the Spanish and British fatwas would have gotten so little exposure in the American press, especially at a time when so many people are complaining that Muslims are not doing enough to discourage Islamic terrorism. After searching for news about the two Euopean edicts, the only major American source I could find was an AP piece printed in the Post. To my mind, these fatwas are newsworthy, and could actually help deter future attacks and save lives.

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