When George W. Bush says "Islam is peace," and Tony Blair insists the war now begun "has nothing to do with Islam," some of us scratch our heads and try, brows furrowed, to reconcile their soothing words with our frightening vision: the dirty war on Western civilization waged by evil forces in the name of Islam.
The experts tell us militant Islamic fundamentalists, or "Islamists," represent a narrow, if murderous, fringe. They number no more than 10, maybe 15, percent of all Muslims. That estimate works out to somewhere between 100 million and 150 million people. Which is a lot of murderous fringe.
Meanwhile, where is that peaceable majority overflowing Islamdom? Are they filling the streets in unity with America's effort to eradicate Islamist terrorism, "marginal" though its supporters may be? Hardly. Only last week, UPI reported that Pakistan's Tahirul Qadri had become "the first prominent Muslim scholar to condemn Osama bin Laden and the Taliban so strongly in public." Even if the wire service missed a bin Laden-condemning cleric here or there, the singularity of Qadri's achievement is striking. Indeed, sampling some of the world's largest mosques, The New York Times recently found clerics from England to Pakistan denouncing America, saluting the Taliban, or even declaring solidarity with Osama bin Laden.
In Cairo, the paper reported, Friday prayers at the famous Al Azhar University mosque ended with a rousing chant of: "America is the enemy of Arabs and Muslims. Let us die in our war against America." In New Delhi's largest mosque, the imam urged "moral" support for Taliban jihad. In Nairobi, services progressed from attacking the United States to the parable: "Every Muslim is Osama bin Laden."
Every Muslim, of course, is not Osama bin Laden. But why don't more Muslims say so, quite loudly and very specifically? Muslim condolences after Sept. 11 very often came across as rather generic expressions of sympathy, equally as suitable for a natural disaster as for a terrorist act of war committed by co-religionists. Little sense of the magnitude of events is being communicated, and, thus, little recognition of the urgent need for civilized people of all faiths and nations to denounce this evil, vociferously and by name, and array themselves in warring solidarity against it.