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.
What accounts for this weakness? And what is a reflexively tolerant, post-multicultural Westerner to make of it? Our dauntless leaders may repeat that the Islamist threat has nothing do with Islam, but, frankly, their mantra is getting a little ridiculous. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Amir Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, recently declared that "to claim the attacks had nothing to do with Islam amounts to a whitewash." It's also, he wrote, a "disservice to Muslims, who need to cast a critical glance at the way their faith is taught, lived and practiced."
Taheri, frank as he was, did not offer how-to specifics. But with reporters mining Islam for information previously limited to specialists, it's clear how important this call for Islamic reform really is. As the horrors of our Taliban enemy have become common knowledge, we also learn, for example, that a similar strain of Islam, Wahabbism, is practiced and exported by our so-called ally Saudi Arabia. Examining a textbook for one of five compulsory religion classes for Saudi 10th-graders, The New York Times quoted a lesson regarding whom "good Muslims" should befriend. "After examining a number of scriptures which warn of the dangers of having Christian and Jewish friends, the lesson concludes: `It is compulsory for the Muslims to be loyal to each other and to consider infidels their enemy.'"
This comes straight from the Quran. "O believers," the Quran says (Sura 5, Verse 50), "do not hold Jews and Christians as your allies. They are the allies of one another; and anyone who makes them his friends is surely one of them." As historian Paul Johnson noted in National Review, such "canonical commands" -- along with "slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them" (Sura 9, Verse 5) -- "cannot be explained away or softened by modern theological exegesis, because there is no such science in Islam." Johnson goes on to explain that contrary to the evolving nature of both Christianity and Judaism, Islam has never undergone any update, reformation or enlightenment since its inception in the seventh century. "Islam," he wrote, "remains a religion of the Dark Ages. The seventh-century Quran is still taught as the immutable word of God, any teaching of which is literally true. In other words, mainstream Islam is essentially akin to the most extreme form of Biblical fundamentalism."
This stagnation is a key to the problem. The solution, however, is beyond the grasp of non-Muslims. This most critical, internal challenge falls to those Muslims around the world who desire to live and worship in peace.