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Muslims Must Not Be Apologists For Terror

by Ebrahim Moosa

While many respectable Muslim organizations the world over have condemned the reprehensible carnage at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, there is a growing number of groups and individuals who equivocate in their rebuke of violence. In doing so, they become apologists for violence and terror.

There is something deeply disturbing about employing explanation and understanding as a fig-leaf for justification and as a pretext to spread feeble diatribes about just desserts. Even more disturbing is the fact that intelligent and right-thinking people sit through sermons and speeches where such dehumanizing pseudo-religious drivel is preached without demurral or protest. Never has Walter Benjamin’s famous statement rung more true when he said that every document of civilization is also a document of barbarity.

The most preposterous aspect of the rhetoric of especially Muslim apologists of terror is that they advance their claims in the name of justice. To allow them to become the guardians of justice is to bring it into disrepute. These pulpit impostors and armchair generals know little of humanity, are bereft of compassion and have perverted justice for their own ends.

No human being deserves to die. Our moral sensibilities are tested even in the most conclusive convictions leading to the death penalty, let alone when acts of determined destruction and terror are unleashed on innocents at the New York World Trade Center. No Iraqi children deserve to die as a result of unyielding sanctions meant to punish a draconian political authority. Nor do Palestinians and Israelis deserve to die in spine-chilling slaughter if their respective leaders cannot make peace.

It may be better that Muslims condemn acts of terror unequivocally without launching into explanations about the algebra of grievances. To venture into such complex levels of sociological commentary without the requisite skill and empathy is to treat human life as dispensable. For Muslims to make such claims is to bring into disrepute to the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad, whose person is fondly recalled in Islamic teachings as a "mercy unto humanity." And surely every Muslim is entitled to retrieve the reputation and integrity of her or his faith from such misrepresentation.

The truth is that such large numbers of Muslims have become so dehumanized that they parade indecency as grandiloquent virtue. It is difficult to configure who lacks more compassion: the terrorists who perished with their victims or their many apologists who make a linkage between tragedy and just desserts, sometimes without even disguising their joy at others’ misery.

If just desserts is claimed to be a universal law, then can one not ask what wrongs 700,000 Rwandans did in order to deserve death by genocide? What wrongs did tens of thousands of Muslim Bosnians do to suffer massacres? What did millions of Afghans, Palestinians and Iraqis do to deserve such unrelenting suffering? There can be no intelligible answer to such questions. The only antidote to such dehumanizing logic is to erect an absolute barrier between all shades of terror and just causes and to vigilantly guard against their confusion.

Those reticent to condemn violence in the pursuit of political ends, other than in self-defense, risk being tarnished with the same logic propounded by Osama bin Laden who advocates the indiscriminate murder of his enemies. Paradoxically one has more respect for bin Laden’s perverse candor compared to the dishonest and hypocritical posture of his apologists who incite jihad from the armchairs of their plush comfort zones. For it is not the poor refugee in Peshawar nor the dispossessed in Gaza nor the malnourished children in Baghdad who necessarily and passionately subscribe to such learned discourses of violence. It is their more self-righteous and well-heeled advocates in the world capitals who do so. In furtherance of their own selfish ends, they do the already wretched of the Earth an even greater disservice without any of hope of alleviating their plight.

For some time now critical voices within the worldwide Muslim community have either been silenced or have been deemed as traitors and sell-outs by vigilantes, authoritarian states and religious orthodoxies alike. At a time when Islam as a civilization stands at risk of being dehumanized from within and brutalized from without, it would be too treacherous a complicity to remain silent any longer. My only regret is that it took so long for us to awaken.


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