The Myth of Muslim Condemnation of Terror

10/10/2007 01:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The amount of disinformation about Muslims is disconcerting. One popular smear is that Muslims are in an alliance with the left to take over the West; it is an allegation that far right loves to use.

The other, equally popular and equally absurd, idea is that Muslims do not condemn terrorism. This too makes its way into culture from the right (though judging by comments to my last post, its diffused to some members of the left). Though it is subtler, and argues from insinuation, it is no less pernicious. The implication is that every Muslim in the world who doesn't engage in terrorism is nevertheless a latent supporter, or enabler, of terrorism because he doesn't make loud proclamations against it.

First, there is something dirty with the premise of this idea because it makes terrorism a problem of the entire Muslim collective. Perhaps those individuals who make this argument were in a coma during the 20th century when most of us realized that to treat all the people of any one religion, ideology, or race, as a collective is not only bigoted, but downright dangerous.

Second, heaping an expectation on Muslims - to call out "their" criminals - is absurd when no similar expectation is placed on any other religious, ethnic, or ideological group. Is it appropriate for a white man to tell "the hispanics" to make proclamations against the drug trade? Why should a hispanic who has never even touched drugs speak out against drug lords? His abstention from engaging in the drug trade is condemnation enough. The same goes for Muslims and terrorism. If you want a Muslim to condemn terrorism, realize that he has done so by not engaging in it. Life becomes quite insufferable for Muslims if before speaking about any subject a Muslim is required to first "demonstrate" that he is not "on the side of the enemy." This has had a huge chilling effect on artistic and intellectual production by Muslim youth. I know because I was silent from 2001 to 2006, saving all my writings on my hard-drive, not caring to share them with society at large.

Third, in our digital age, it is an act of egregious ignorance for a human being to actually verbalize the words: "Do Muslims condemn terror?" Here is a suggestion from a lowly immigrant: try this thing called "googling." Start with using the search terms "Muslims condemn terror." This was the first hit for me, how about you?

Finally, the reality is that condemnations of terrorism have been pouring in for years. The reasons that so many Americans are still ignorant about them are because they have willfully chosen not to pay attention. Having traveled internationally quite a few times since 2001, I can confidently say that our media has one of the lowest IQs about Islam anywhere in the world. It is - and should be - downright shameful that when I speak to British audiences, I am able to have intelligent discussions about complicated points of Islamic history; meanwhile, now six years since 9/11 and in the US I am still clarifying the simple point that Muslims soundly oppose terrorism. With awareness about Muslims at such a shameful nadir, it should be no surprise that our beloved President was able to convince us that Saddam was behind 9/11 and take us to war against "Islamofascism."

Naturally, media ignorance has diffused to the public. In the US we don't have an idea who the Muslim leaders around the world are, much less how to access their opinion on terror. Bereft of such information we have latched onto a simple slogan fed to us by the far right, namely, why don't we see parades and public demonstrations?

Did we ever stop and think that asking Muslims to get together in a big public setting, unarmed, with women and children in tow, making loud gesticulations against suicide bombers and cold hearted murderers (who in their cowardice are not against cloaking themselves in veils), might be a rather stupid thing to demand? Did Americans forget how empty our streets were after 9/11 or how desolate Bethesda, Maryland, was during the days of DC sniper? Now try living in a society where suicide bombers are in every city and township and regularly attack group events like the Friday congregational prayers. In the US we have not had a suicide bombing since 9/11. Yet in Pakistan, 65 people - Muslims all of them - died in an attack by extremists yesterday. During the week before, there were two other suicide bombings. Is it reasonable to keep demanding that Muslims keep thronging out into the street at the whim of far away American masters? Then, when despite all these dangers, Muslims do gather to speak out against violence in their countries, it goes ignored by our media.

Instead of taking to the streets, Muslims have relied upon their religious elders to make stark declarations against violence. Part of it has to do with the fact that the peaceful and not-extremist Muslims in the world today value religious authority a lot more than extremists and terrorists who value mob rule and mayhem.

On September 12, 2001, one of the most learned Islamic scholars in the UK said the terrorists are "not Muslim." A month later he called terrorism a "heresy" against Islam in a pre-eminent British paper. A Pakistani Islamic scholar whose followers are active in 81 countries called Bin Laden a "false prophet" and "coward" barely a week after 9/11. Another major Islamic scholar issued a pamphlet (in many languages) attacking the Islamic legal arguments that the terrorists used so that future recruits might not be so easily led astray. One of the eldest traditionalist scholar in Sunni Islam issued a fatwa against the extremist group Al Muhajiroun. Muslims in Spain issued a fatwa against Bin Laden. President Bush was informed enough to bring an American-Muslim Imam to the White House who decried terrorists; yet average liberals who so delight in demeaning Bush probably still don't know that Imam's name. (Since 2001, that Imam has gone further and condemned antisemitism and holocaust denial as well). In 2005 there was a massive consensus reached at the international level that forbade Muslims from engaging in something called takfir - which attacks the jihadist ability to recruit. Muslim scholars have gone so far as to engage in "Koranic duels" with jihadists. Just the other day Bin Laden's former mentor condemned him for his violence. Nevermind the fact that before 9/11 it was a Muslim who warned our State department about monitoring certain mosques, or that it was a Muslim who tipped off the British authorities and helped prevent the 20 airliner hijacking in 2006. In the event someone wants more resources, try this and this.

Many times people demand that Muslims must "do more" than just merely condemn. Well, when Muslim religious leaders, lodged in Muslim communities, give lectures to Muslims on these subjects and write public opinion pieces, they are doing precisely that. They are educating Muslims. Their work has had positive result. A song that condemns extremism is at the top of the charts in Pakistan, and a Middle Eastern news station for Muslims has produced an anti-extremist film, which has been quite a hit. Now the question is will a Western producer bring the film here?

Of course, there are many who, even after being informed of such things, like to weasel their way out so they can continue badgering Muslims. In America, this is done by pointing the finger at the organization called CAIR, Council for Islamic Relations, and asking why CAIR doesn't openly condemn Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet the fact is that CAIR is a political, lobbying group, with no theological or religious imperative. Anytime it appears to act like a religious organization, it gets severely rebuked by Muslims. It does not speak for all Muslims (though like all lobbying groups it pretends to). It doesn't speak for the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who are not its members. In fact, its membership is down since 2001. Just as it is patently idiotic to point a finger at an American Jew and accuse him not condemning genocide because the Anti-Defamation League, one of the largest Jewish organizations, does not condemn the Armenian Holocaust, it is idiotic to point to a Muslim and accuse him of silence or complicity based on CAIR's political agenda. This is not a difficult distinction to make -- yet when it comes to Muslims, having selective myopia is acceptable. A recent trend among Americans has been to turn Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim in Congress, into some sort of Muslim Pope. It was my understanding that we separated religion from state. Are Christian Congressmen the leaders of the American Christian community? Again, there seems to be one standard for Muslims and another for other religious groups.

Anyway, I reiterate my first point. There is something wrong with the basic premise of the idea that Muslims must condemn terrorism, because at the end of the day there is no such thing as The Muslim Collective. If we as a society are going to make collective demands on a group, then we are implying that collective punishment is appropriate as well. So while learning about all the Muslims who have condemned terrorism is nice; its nicer if we started to move beyond that point.

Until we remain aware of our ignorance, we cannot ever get to ripping out the heart of extremism, nor can we realize the things we ourselves have done to help Muslim extremists. We need to be having more sophisticated discussions about Islam and Muslims, involving things like the Quran, the distinction between jihadism and islamism (political Islam), and the future of Islamic theocracy. The entire world is talking about such things, and we, the only ones who regularly take arms against Muslims or purport to bring them democracy, are not.

In conclusion, my request is for readers to send this article to anyone who may benefit from it so that we can advance the discourse. Feel free to email me: