Are we owed an apology?

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Aug 19, 2002 12:00 AM
The charges by the Rev. Franklin Graham are not only justified, they are unanswerable. Time magazine reports that the bowdlerizers at the University of North Carolina have got out a special edition of the Koran (political correctness: the Qur'an). The book, handed out to incoming freshmen, is designed to communicate the teachings of the Prophet. This edition is exorcised of any sentiments such as might have impelled the knights of 9/11 to plunge themselves and their steeds into live Americans, innocent of any infidelity to Islam, this side of not adhering to it. By the law of averages, there were certainly some Islamic victims in the Twin Towers. Abiders of the faith were not blocked at the door that morning.

Dr. Graham, like his father, Billy, takes his religion seriously. Doing that is an effrontery in a Comstockean age. Religions are acceptable only when shorn of anything that pricks, like hellfire. It is Dr. Graham's point that if we assume, for the sake of ecumenical bonhomie, that the terrorists were not really representing Islam, that they were extremists torturing the word of the Prophet -- OK. That is exactly what we should be told by men of Islam in authority. And that should be easy to do, inasmuch as the high priests of the Islamic world are also its secular leaders: The Muslim religion does not condone the separation of church and state.

What Dr. Graham is being so widely criticized for saying is that the people in charge in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and other Muslim countries should handle the al-Qaida problem less detachedly than they have done. There were expressions of regret, on Sept. 12, from the leaders of the Islamic world, but none of them repentant.

The pope, a couple of years ago, apologized for 500-year-old distortions of Christianity at the expense of the Jews, and his words were heeded and appreciated. There weren't any Christians around, when Pope John Paul spoke, who in the name of the Christian faith were out there killing non-Christians. Permissible limits of evangelization had long since been coalesced in a fast-moving world. The 19th century -- yesterday! -- was when slaves were bought and sold, women were without suffrage, and Catholics and Jews were forbidden in Great Britain, the august mother of democracy, to vote. All that is viewed today as a very long time ago, moral ice ages past. But are such evolutions in moral thought universal?

The trouble Dr. Graham is pointing to is the awesomely wide acceptance of the Sept. 11 actors as martyrs. Their names are hallowed because they professed themselves engaged in acts of faith. If theirs is held to be the true faith by 19-year-old zealots, then to whom do we turn to discredit the religious credentials the killers invoked?

If a band of Americans, proclaiming their devotion to the faith, assaulted a Muslim center, we would not need to wait very long for disavowals by Christian leaders. When John Brown carried his faith to unreasonable lengths, we hanged him. What we are waiting for, says Dr. Graham, is an apology from Muslim leaders. Why shouldn't we have that -- an explicit disavowal, as contrary to acceptable teachings of the Koran, of the acts of the terrorists?

What we have is denunciations of Dr. Graham for admitting the hypothetical possibility that the Sept. 11 actors were credible Muslims. Dr. Faiz Rehman, who is communications director for the American Muslim Council, says that Dr. Graham "is sounding like a broken record." But the silence of the sovereign Muslim community is sounding like unbroken muteness. If the position of the American Muslim Council is that it is humiliating even to speculate that the killers had a root in Islam, they should tell us what it is they plan to do about those in the Muslim world who applaud the terrorists' acts and their mission.

You and I -- because we are so intelligent(!) and so balanced morally(!), know that what happened on Sept. 11 can only be dismissed as a perversion. A perversion of something. But our concern is that our blissful sophistication in such matters isn't shared as widely as it ought to be. When we conquered Hitler, we denied the Germans the right to buy a copy of "Mein Kampf." Should we ask the Muslim leaders to circulate only the University of North Carolina edition of the Qur'an?