A growing list of lone-wolf terrorists includes Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who shot and killed two Israelis at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport; Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who shot two soldiers who were on a smoke break outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas; Major Nidal Hasan who carried out the most deadly shooting spree on a U.S. military base in history; wannabe car bomber Faisal Shazad, whose explosive device malfunctioned in New York City’s Times Square; and “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who, thanks to courage and quick thinking by passengers on his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, succeeded only in damaging his own crotch.
Imagine you are a young American Muslim wondering what to make of all this. You might go to the web sites of some of the well-funded and well-connected organizations that claim to speak on behalf of Muslims in America. And there you would find … next to nothing. For example, on the website of ASMA, (the American Society for Muslim Advancement) led by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam who has vowed to build an Islamic center at Ground Zero in New York City, I find no mention of Merah. What is highlighted instead is the dubious assertion that “Islamophobia is America's real enemy.” I also find not a word about Toulouse on the CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), ICNA (the Islamic Circle of North America) and MSA (Muslim Students Association) websites.
The leaders of these organizations will indignantly object that they should not be held accountable for terrorists who happen to be Muslims. That’s right but it misses the point: Surely, America’s Muslim leaders have an obligation to warn against the hateful, homicidal and genocidal ideology that drives terrorists such as Merah, an ideology that, its proponents insist, is simply Islam in its purest form. And if three French Muslim paratroopers had been murdered by a Jew or a Christian, do you think they’d have nothing to say about it?
In France, Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, said: “These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion.” But he then used the occasion to object to the term “Islamism,” saying its use “feeds the confusion between Islam and terrorism and brings suffering to millions of Muslims who feel it important to defend the dignity of their faith and their religion.” In fact, the term is meant to distinguish Islamic supremacists from Muslims who have no interest in forcing non-Muslims to submit to Islamic law. Similarly, former French Justice Minister Rashida Dati told a radio audience that using the word "jihadist" to describe Merah risked "stigmatizing our [Muslim] French compatriots." Isn’t it terrorists who claim to be “soldiers of Allah” who stigmatize Muslims?
Most of the Muslims of Toulouse surely do not regard Merah as a hero. But he was not the only extremist in town. There is a jihadi network known as the Toulouse Group. And Merah’s older brother, Abdelkader, has been linked to Salafis – ultra-fundamentalist Muslims – and he has now been indicted as an accomplice. And someone arranged for him to travel abroad – including to Afghanistan and Pakistan where he may have received terrorist training.
If one understands this context, one also must grasp that it is not Islamophobia that impels those charged with preventing terrorism to keep an eye on what is going on within Muslim communities. Yet Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Feisal, recently condemned such intelligence gathering by New York City police officers, calling it an “aggressive policy of spying on American citizens.” In the same article, Khan asserted that American Muslims want to be “full and equal partners in the fight against extremism.”
Would that not require, at a minimum, some candid commentary from her and the Imam when such extremism leads Muslims such as Merah to massacre patriotic French Muslims along with Jewish children? Should they not be drawing lessons for the Islamic communities whose interests they claim to champion and the more diverse communities they seek to influence? Are they afraid to do so? Or is there another explanation for their conspicuous silence?