I will start with a short introduction before moving to what I want to say.
Practically every day, there is a conference on defending Islam, sponsored by the government of a Muslim country or an Islamic organization. Let me dispense with the diplomatic language here: defending Islam is a mistake.
Defending Islam means that it is facing an accusation. Terrorism is primarily responsible for this situation. It has given the known enemies of Islam ammunition, which is being used against all Muslims. The result is that Muslims meet together and arrange dialogue with this or that religion, or with all religions, then spend the time defending their religion.
The biggest mistake that a writer can make is attacking another religion when defending his own. I will not do this here. But I would like Muslim participants in religious dialogue conferences (something about which I have three decades of experience) to not try to defend Islam. I urge them to avoid participating in any session in which Koranic texts are put forward for the purposes of "interpretation" or "justification," or finding "sound" meanings for the words in question.
The proper way to deal with the matter is to respond by comparing texts. If I can address this matter quickly, I will say that it is sufficient to put forward the entire Koranic text, compared to the Torah, the holy book of the Jews, which Christians call the Old Testament in the Bible (the New Testament is the book of the Christians).
I respect all religions and will say only that Islam will not lose anything from any comparison. There are no massacres or genocide in the Koran. It does not contain laws whereby punishment is stoning or burning; it is empty of stories of repugnant or unacceptable practices, whether in the past or today.
It is not sufficient for Muslim participants in the coming religious conference in Madrid to know their religion. For they should be well versed in other religions. They should not defend themselves as if they are in the dock. Likewise, they should not resort to attacking as the best defense, as the military people say. The conference is not an arena of battle, but a space for dialogue aimed at bringing people together.
This introduction was a bit too long, as I expected. Going back to what I said, there is terror - there is no argument about this. It is waged by extremists who hurt Islam more than its enemies do. However, the reason for terror is not Islam at all. Focusing on it means losing the battle with the terrorists, as has been the case so far. Ever since the Bush administration declared war on terror after the 9/11 attacks, terror has continued unabated.
I condemn terror unequivocally and totally and reject all of the arguments for it. However, I insist that terror will not go away unless the reasons behind its growth and spread around the world are treated. Al-Qaeda would not have been able to deceive some Muslims without there being factors that it uses in this deception. A few days ago, The New York Times published a long report saying that al-Qaeda is growing stronger in Pakistan.
Terrorists are criminals. But their continuing crimes, from Washington and New York to East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, and even to Bali, do not hide the fact that Arabs and Muslims have been subjected to an open war for decades. Most of Palestine was occupied in 1948 and the rest has been occupied for 41 years. The people of Palestine are prevented from establishing a state on 22% of their land, or one-fifth of the original Mandate territory. The biggest catastrophe has been in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed and millions have been displaced, even though their country had no connection to any kind of foreign terror by al-Qaeda or others, or weapons of mass destruction. Only Israel has this right in the Middle East, thanks to American military and financial support, which enables it to continue its occupation.
I argue that Arabs and Muslims do not require incitement from al-Qaeda or anyone else. They are not moved by schoolbooks, which people focus on at an academy in Washington, or a school in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. Muslims look around them and find that their countries are being subjected to attacks or occupation. If one percent of Arabs opt for terror, this means 3 million people. If we are talking about one percent of the world's Muslims, this means 12 million people.
The likely terrorists will not disappear tomorrow, and they will not change their focus on Islam. But they will find another reason that convinces them that an open war is being waged against them.
Arab leaders rarely agree on anything. However, they all agree that the solution to all of the Middle East's problems begins with solving the Palestinian issue, which has triggered all of the other problems. This applies to the most extremist as well as to the most moderate of these leaders. George Bush heard this advice from the leaders of states classified by the Americans as moderates or allies, like Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Bush made the promise but did not hold to it. His administration continued on the path of war and we are seeing the results. Bush hides behind his finger, as we say, and talks about Islamofascism, blinding us to the real causes of terror.
I call on Muslim participants in international conferences to reject the folly of defending Islam against the accusation of terror. They should lob the accusation at the other side, based on the available texts; I can submit these to anyone who wishes. They should clarify the reasons for terror, without being embarrassed, since they have nothing to be embarrassed about. We have seen where fear leads.
* Published in the London-based DAR AL-HAYAT on July 14, 2008