The question of how to fight Islamic terrorism preoccupies many Arab reformists who are working to denounce Islamist thought, to encourage independent and critical thinking, and to establish values of democracy and human rights in the Muslim world. For example, in February 2005, a group of reformists submitted to the U.N. a request that it establish an international court to judge Muslim clerics who incite to violence and bloodshed. The request was examined by the U.N. legal counsel and distributed to the U.N. Security Council.(1)
Following the July 7, 2005 London bombings, Arab reformists further expanded their criticism and honed their arguments, not only regarding Muslim extremists, but also regarding the European countries, particularly Britain, which allows extremist activity within its borders in the name of protecting individual rights. They also increased their criticism of the silent Muslim majority and moderate Muslim intellectuals, who capitulate to Islamist pressure and do not speak out decisively against it.
The following are some of the recommendations by reformist Arab writers.
Europe Must Change its Lenient Treatment of Muslim Extremists
One of the most salient reactions to the bombings was censure of Europe, particularly Britain, for its years-long policy of granting safe haven to Muslim extremists, enabling them to spread their ideas in schools, mosques, and the media, and giving them legal protection – in the name of protecting freedom of expression. Saudi intellectual Mashari Al-Dhaydi, columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: “The time has come for those who turn a blind eye to notice that the enemies of freedom have, unfortunately, exploited the atmosphere of freedom provided by the European countries, to destroy the foundations of freedom and to strangle any possibility that freedom would be born as a concept, and subsequently as a reality, in Arab and Muslim countries.
“They have used [European] freedom to spread religious fanaticism everywhere. People who disseminate the ideological and political platform of bin Laden …are the greatest enemies of the freedom that the European countries defend…
“Fundamentalist terrorism knows no borders. Whoever thinks he can be comfortable near a wolf and can turn him into a domestic puppy will be astounded when one day it falls upon his flock. A wolf is a wolf, and can be nothing other than itself…”(2)
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director-general of the Al-Arabiya TV channel and former editor of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, called for the expulsion of Muslim extremists: “For over 10 years now, I myself and other Arab writers have warned against the dangers of leniency – not tolerance – in handling the extremism that is now spreading like a plague among Muslims in Britain and among those immigrating to Britain.
“We were never understood why British authorities gave safe haven to suspicious characters previously involved in crimes of terrorism. Why would Britain grant asylum to Arabs who have been convicted of political crimes or religious extremism, or even sentenced to death?…
“The battle we face is against the ideology, as opposed to against the terrorists themselves. The terrorist groups make the most of freedom of speech and movement, as reward [their benefactors] by spreading propaganda among neutral individuals and by frightening their opponents.
“Such leniency on behalf of the British government has allowed Arab and Muslim extremists to seek safe haven in Britain, away from their own countries, to the point that the extremists have overcome the moderates…
“The time has come for British authorities to be realistic and resolute regarding extremism, before complete chaos is unleashed onto British society. In the past, we told you: ‘Stop them!’ Today, we tell you: ‘Expel them.'”(3)
In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Jazeerah, columnist Hamad bin Hamad Al-Salami mentioned by name bin Laden supporters residing in Britain who openly expressed their support for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations in the media – for example, on Al-Jazeera TV and in the Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. “Those [who attacked] Saudi Arabia, [the new] Iraq, Egypt, and others have now risen against the country that hosts them and provides them with work and a livelihood. Among them are: [Muhammad] Al-Musa’ari, [Sa’ad] Al-Faqih, Abu Qatada, Abu Al-Muntazar, [Hani] Al-Siba’i, and [Abd Al-Bari] ‘Atwan. They deceive millions when they appear with their robes and tarbooshes, and sometimes with [Islamic] decorations, claiming to possess knowledge in the ethics of Islam…”(4)
Incitement on the Internet Must Be Stopped
In another article, Al-Rashed singled out the Internet as “the preferred arena for extremists”: “Most terrorist crimes are linked to the Internet… One terrorist group murders, and a group of extremists justifies the act, incites, and recruits [activists].” Al-Rashed explains that the Internet has become an effective tool for terrorists for several reasons: It is easy to use, messages reach the public quickly, it is cheap, and it is uncensored. He goes on to state that “the most important medium in corrupting young Muslims’s thinking throughout the world is the Internet – not the schools – because young people use the Internet intensively and by means of it learn about incitement, recruitment, and terrorist education.” In Al-Rashed’s view, extremist websites must be censored, and it must be understood that “the source of intellectual danger today is the media, including the Internet.”(5)
Arab Intellectuals Must Stop Speaking in Two Voices
Arab reformists also harshly criticized their intellectual colleagues. Egyptian commentator and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Muna Al-Tahawi brought up the issue of the aspirations of some intellectuals to please their target audience: “The time has come for us to declare resolutely that the claim heard whenever Muslims stage a terror attack – ‘George Bush made me do it’ – is a stupid one… The time has come for us to stop rebuking others. We all know the extent to which extremism has increased in our societies, but it is easy to ignore this fact and to say ‘we aren’t like that’ instead of dealing with the matter…
“Much has been written and said about the extremist groups and extremists who found a safe haven in London. But not enough is said about the so-called intellectuals, who are in effect no more than justifiers of terrorism…
“Listening to the interviews with them on the Arab TV channels after the London attacks, one might think that George Bush and Tony Blair themselves went to Leeds, brought the group of young people to London, and pressed the button. The so-called intellectuals rejoiced that on July 7 George Bush and Tony Blair learned a lesson they wouldn’t forget. Of course, all this was said in Arabic. The so-called intellectuals believe that this is what the Arab world wants to hear.
“But when one reads their commentaries in American newspapers, one might think that they had lost their memory and forgotten everything they’d said a few days before on Arab TV. Suddenly, those who hadn’t uttered a single sentence on Arab TV without mentioning George Bush and Tony Blair become cautious and sad. Instead of rebuking George Bush for everything, they tell The Washington Post or The New York Times that they’re surprised and frightened, and cannot understand why young Muslims blow themselves up on London’s public transportation…
“The time has come to talk in one single voice, and not in two voices – one addressed to the West [and the other to the Arabs]. The Arab world is fed up with violence, and has suffered greatly from it…
“Let us speak in one voice that takes responsibility, and let us begin discussing ways of emerging from this frightening chaos that will affect us all…”(6)
The Terrorists Must Be Separated from Their Sympathizers
Egyptian scholar and columnist Dr. Mamoun Fandy also focused on Arab intellectuals’ hypocritical approach of to terrorism. He argued that the television stations’ desire for cheap programming made them prefer showing the readily available extremist material to producing high-quality but expensive shows. Fandy wrote: “The terror events in London, the murder of the Egyptian ambassador to Iraq, and the Arab reaction point to a problem greater than terrorism – the problem of Arabs who identify with terrorism, whose numbers grow daily… In Egypt there is now a group of writers and editors and even politicians past the age of 50, who take political Viagra and feel intoxication and lust when they curse the U.S. and applaud the terrorists. They do not understand that they are fanning flames that will consume everyone, and that they themselves are committing suicide just like those with the car bombs…
“Since 9/11, I have been reading and hearing the Egyptian media, and I cannot name five writers who condemn terrorism unequivocally… Is Cairo such a failure that it contains not a single man or woman who says ‘no’ to terrorism?…
“The terrorist discourse is first and foremost cheap television [programming]… The sizeable increase in the number of Arab satellite channels, and their keen aspiration to fill airtime, are the main reason for the growth of the fundamentalist stream.
“When we compare, for example, production costs for a video film of [Lebanese singer] Nancy Ajram with the cost of broadcasting hours of one of our greatest sheikhs promoting terrorism, we find that the cost of the video film, or of an hour of quality programming, can reach $20,000 – while the price paid by television to one of the sheikhs for an hour [of material] is, at most, $1,000…
“Cheap television [programming] is the incubator of terrorism, and the workshop for the creation of a terror discourse… If the U.S. or the Arab countries want to fight terrorism, they must first of all begin by separating the terrorists from those who sympathize with terror… Unfortunately, all the big businessmen who trade with the U.S. and with the West identify with terrorism – if they didn’t, why hasn’t a single merchant among the friends of the U.S. and the West taken out a single ad in an Arab newspaper condemning terror?… Why do those who really profit from U.S. and Western dollars remain silent? Why are they the first ones to own cheap television stations that spread terror?…”(7)
Muslims Must Denounce the Terrorists; The West Must Stop Being Naive
In another article, written after the July 23 bombings at Sharm Al-Sheikh, Mamoun Fandy called upon the Muslims to issue religious edicts [fatwa] against terrorism, and further added: “Muslims worldwide must have the courage to reject terrorism… Just as bin Laden and his group describe moderate Muslims as followers of the West and as unbelievers, it is time for the Muslim leaders to proclaim bin Laden himself to be an unbeliever…
“Further, it is time to strip the title of ‘mosque’ from a place where firebombs are made …moderate Muslims can boycott such mosques, because they do not have the courage necessary to wrest them from the extremists. When a mosque becomes a place where firebombs are made, it ceases to be a mosque, and should be treated as the scene of a crime…”
Fandy also discussed the West’s naiveti towards those it perceives as ‘moderate Islamists’: “I have met with and talked to a large number of Muslims, especially in the West, who denounce violence in public but say in private conversations that ‘the West deserves [to suffer from terrorism].’ In addition, they say in public that this is vengeance for what is happening in Palestine and Iraq. In their private conversations, all I have heard is blind hatred spurred by a sense of nihilistic destruction, which is a virus that has begun to take over many Muslims, particularly those living in the West.
“Many condemn bin Laden, but unfortunately many others have not condemned him in any way. Most of [the latter] live in Europe and the U.S. They are not sleeper cells, as the naove in the West call them; they are cells that are wide awake, ready to strike at any moment.
“Of course, it is not helpful when a ‘good’ man like London Mayor Ken Livingstone invites Yousef Al-Qaradhawi [to London], just as it is not helpful when Tony Blair and George Bush invite people who are likely in the future to become terrorists to meetings in the British government and the White House. It is regrettable that Western media channels, particularly CNN and the BBC, host Islamist activists who support terrorism and treat them as experts and analysts…
“Only two things can stop terrorism: …issuing fatwas removing bin Laden and his supporters from the fold of Islam, and the West ceasing to be naove about ‘moderate Islamists.’ There is no such thing as ‘moderate Islamists.’ There are ordinary Muslims who lead ordinary lives, and there are terrorists and people who are likely to become terrorists in the future.”(8)
Muslims Must Ban Suicide Bombings for Moral Reasons
Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, former editor of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, called on Muslims to ban suicide operations: “The time has come for us to take a firm, clear stand that will come from the highest institutions of Islamic law and will ban, explicitly and without exception, all ‘suicide operations.’ Not because the West is demanding this of us, nor because the Arab governments have been burned by the fires of these operations, but because they run counter to the spirit and letter of Islam…
“We must return to the ‘fundamentalist’ position that adheres to the letter and spirit of Shari’a and not be influenced by politics or by interests. This is what the leading Saudi clerics, such as Sheikh Abd Al’-Aziz bin Baz and Muhammad bin ‘Athamin, did when they ruled firmly that suicide operations were forbidden. Current [Saudi] Mufti Sheikh Abd Al’-Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh has continued in the same path. Their position [against suicide bombing] preceded the 9/11 attack – thus there is no room to claim that this was due to American pressure [on Saudi Arabia].
“The call to encourage and support suicide operations was strongest in the 1990s, when we finally discovered the weapon that makes the Israelis’ blood flow and spreads among them the horror they have caused us. Frightening suicide operations the length and breadth of Israel, in clubs, coffee shops, and buses, have targeted soldiers and civilians alike.
“We did not care about the children, the elderly, and the women who were cruelly killed. We were angry, and we remain angry, and we did not notice the treacherous nature of the attacks, and [the fact] that they violated the clear religious law against suicide. We did not heed the Prophet’s explicit instruction that the Muslims must kill only combatants, not women and children.
“Anger blinded us, and we enjoyed the analyses that claimed Israel was facing its most difficult challenge since the October  war. The newspapers published news of the fear in Israel, and of emigration from [the country]. And we believed it…
“The two sheikhs, [bin Baz and bin ‘Athamin] belong to the Salafi school that bases itself on the clear text [of the Koran]. Therefore, they paid no heed to all the political justifications, as others did who claimed to ‘better understand the situation and the strategic interest,’ and who refused to rule that suicide operations were permitted.
“Sheikh bin ‘Athamin was clear, even tough, when he told a man who sought his jurisprudent opinion regarding these [suicide] operations: ‘In my view, [he who perpetrates such acts] is committing suicide, and will be punished in Hell’…
“If only we could sketch out a diagram of the suicide operations since they became the weapon of choice of the Jihad warriors, we would see how they have degraded morally, to the point of blowing up children in Baghdad and peaceful passengers on London’s transportation… How wise it would be for all those who permit suicide attacks to go back to the religious fundamentalist position that prohibits them – even if they are a respected cleric such as Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, or a movement with a just cause, such as the Hamas movement. Turning to these operations was a great moral mistake, and turning away from them is a good virtue…”(9)
The Religious Institutions Must Take Practical Measures Against the Terrorists
Sa’ad Allah Khalil, who writes for reformist websites, also criticized Muslim clerics: “How long will we continue to bury our heads in the sand and to think that the world is ignorant and knows nothing about us? How long will we deceive ourselves? How complacent we are if we imagine that we can, with declarations and telegrams [condemning terrorism], convince the world that our thought and culture are innocent of terror…
“It is true that not every Muslim is a terrorist. But since 9/11, hasn’t every terrorist been a Muslim?… Is there a sheikh or an Islamic religious authority that denies these murderers’ and their leaders’ affiliation to Islam? Don’t they give bin Laden the title of ‘sheikh,’ and sometimes the title ‘the sheikh mujahid [Jihad warrior]’? Don’t they always find an excuse and justification for these murderers?…
“The terrorists deliberately distort the precepts of Islam and the image of the Muslims, and thus are necessarily the enemies of Islam and the Muslims. Why, then, isn’t a clear and honest religious position towards them taken… like the hostile positions that these sheikhs take against some of the Muslim schools of religious thought and their followers. Why not dry up all the sources of the terrorists, and demand an accounting from those who encourage them, from their followers, and from those who try to find justification for them? …
“The religious institutions, and the official and unofficial religious authorities, must take real, not formal, measures – in order to salvage what can be salvaged. If they will not do so, it won’t be long until the world stands in a single rank against Islam and the Muslims.”(10)
The Muslims Must Form a New Religious Culture
In addressing the religious dimension of terrorism, Iraqi researcher Majed Al-Gharbawi called for going beyond the issuing of new fatwas against terrorism to form a new, clear-cut religious culture and to expose those who exploit religion for political purposes. He wrote:
“Terrorism in the name of religion and of Islam has become a real danger that threatens global security and the well-being of peoples… [I do not want] to detract from the importance of the psychological, political, and economic reasons [for terrorism], but they are secondary reasons.
“The driving reason is religious ideology… All the bloody acts that struck at Muslims were carried out in the name of the religion, and all the disasters from which the Muslim peoples suffered were in the name of Islam. In the name of religion, wars have broken out; blood has been let; murder has been legitimized; rights have been revoked; regimes have been taken over; those with different opinions have been accused of unbelief; and Muslims with different opinions have even been accused of heresy… Religion was and remains a cover for justifying acts of terror and for arbitrary policies…
“The religious discourse has reshaped the logic of the [Islamist] movements, based on mockery of life and love of death, hatred for the other and self-glorification, neglect of this world and [preparation] for the hereafter, satisfying Allah by means of sacrifice for any goal.
“The religious discourse has not educated the people of the Islamist movements to adopt leniency, mercy, and tolerance for the other – but rather has educated to hatred of the other and plans to murder and uproot the other… The individual in the Islamist movements was not created to settle the land and live his life, but rather for the sake of the world to come; [this individual] aspires daily for Allah to grant him martyrdom so that he will be freed of the burden of responsibility, and will gain Paradise and pleasing Allah forever… This culture is completely unconnected to the human values to which the Koran calls…
“How is it possible to deal with this way of thought? … In my opinion, even fatwas that prohibit this will not help, because [the clerics who would issue them] are denounced by the extremist Islamist movements …
“There is a need to form a new religious culture that will lay out the borders of the Shari’a laws in the Koran, will set out what is characteristic of the life of the Prophet, and will clarify when and how the law is absolute for every time and place… Then, there is a need to discuss intensively the issue of abolishing chapters in the Koran [naskh] and [a need to examine] whether it is true that the verse of the sword [Koran 9:5] abolished all mercy, leniency, and forgiveness in the Koran… [Likewise,] there is a need to view the first Muslims as human beings with feelings, aspirations, and political goals [and not as divine]…
“We must uncover the shame of all those who have enlisted the religion and the religious text for their own political and social goals…”(11)
The Silent Majority Must Speak Out Against the Terrorists
Renowned columnist Amir Taheri called upon the silent and moderate majority of the Muslims in the world to speak out against the extremists who distort the image of Islam. He wrote: “What do we do about people who are prepared to court certain death in exchange for killing others?… The first thing to do is not to be impressed by the fact that an individual who has been brainwashed out of his or her humanity is ready to die in order to kill others. The only reasonable way to treat such individuals is as a new form of weaponry.
“Just like all other weapons that impress when first introduced, these suicide-killers will continue to terrorize and fascinate until we find an antidote… like all other arms, this new weapon is designed by some people, financed by investors, manufactured somewhere, and deployed by leaders who can be identified and destroyed.
“These human weapons are designed and shaped by a constant flow of anti-Western propaganda from Arab satellite television, the so-called Islamic associations, and countless madrassas (Islamic schools) and mosques throughout the world, including London itself…
“The London attack is not the work of a small group of people. It is the bitter fruit of a religion that has been hijacked by a minority of extremists, while the majority looks on in concern and amazement. Until we hear the voices of the Muslims condemning attacks of this kind with no words [of qualification] such as ‘but’ and ‘if,’ the suicide bombers and the murderers will have an excuse to think that they enjoy the support of all Muslims. The real battle against this enemy of mankind will begin when the ‘silent majority’ in the Islamic world makes its voice heard against the murderers, and against those who brainwash them, believe them, and fund them.”(12)
The War on Terrorism Requires Extensive Intellectual, Political and Educational Activity
Iraqi commentator and human rights activist Dr. Kazem Habib pointed out a number of directions for the war on terror: “…The calls issued by the conferences and associations, and by the sheikhs and Muslim political forces, cannot stop the terror operations and bloodshed in various places of the world. Where there are extremist Muslims, there is no point in talking about how murdering a man who has committed no crime is forbidden by Islam – because most of the religious schools, the large majority of the imams in the world’s mosques, and most of the preachers on the Arab TV channels educate to violence and spread hatred and animosity towards people of other religions and other streams of thought. They do not acknowledge the other; they do not show tolerance towards non-Muslims. Moreover, they disseminate hatred against Muslims who do not walk in their own path, treating them as unbelievers – distinguishing between murdering a Muslim and murdering a non-Muslim, and preaching that it is permitted to murder a non-Muslim but forbidden to murder a Muslim…
“Most of the Arab and non-Arab imams in the mosques in Europe are educating today to hatred of the West and of the other religions, because they see the people of the West as unbelievers who are of no use whatsoever to Islam… and also see them as ‘parasites’ that must be gotten rid of, or converted to Islam – that is, to transform Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam… In the Muslim world, the education in the religious and public schools is no different from what is taking place in the mosques in Europe, only much worse. Every year, these schools produce a large group of terrorists that fans out across the globe…”
In order to fight terror, Dr. Habib proposes an international program for fighting backwardness and poverty in the world, as well as a struggle against totalitarian and tyrannical regimes in Arab and Muslim countries. He proposes to refrain from negotiating with the forces of political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood movement, because they seek to obtain the same goals as the forces of international terrorism, only their methods are different. He demands an accounting from governments that permit the dissemination of hatred of the other in their educational institutions, and he urges that practical solutions be found for the problems in various regions in the world -particularly the Middle East – as without them, extremist solutions will emerge and will lead to more bloodshed.
According to Dr. Habib, “the war on terror … requires intensive and ongoing intellectual, political, and educational activities, in order to fight the extremist and terrorist Islamic Salafi thought and the Salafi da’wa that calls to establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime …”(13)
*A. Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI’s Reform Project
(1) A few months after the submission of the request, signed by some 4,000 Arab and Kurdish intellectuals, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and U.N. Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel responded with a letter to the initiators of the request, Arab reformists Dr. Jawad Hashem, Dr. Shaker Al-Naboulsi, and Lafif Lakhdar. He explained that the establishment of a court depended on a U.N. Security Council resolution or on international agreement. He added that a copy of their request had been distributed to all Security Council members. http://www.metransparent.com , July 2, 2005.
(2) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 12, 2005. The translation is based both on the Arabic original and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s own translation into English.
(3) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 9, 2005.
(4) Al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2005.
(5) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 18, 2005.
(6) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 18, 2005
(7) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 11, 2005.
(8) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 25, 2005.
(9) Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 19, 2005.
(10) http://www.metransparent.com , July 13, 2005.
(11) http://www.elaph.com , July 8, 2005.
(12) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 8, 2005.
(13) http://www.rezgar.com , July 16, 2005.