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Islamic Extremism Shocks and Rocks the World

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Imam Feisal Rauf, Founder of the Cordoba Initiative believes that "moderates of all faith traditions must coalesce, build coalitions ... to combat ... the extremists of all faith traditions. This is the most powerful way to go forward."

Why are the Arab streets inflamed? Is it the infamous video or something deeper?

The violent protests in Cairo and in Benghazi were painted with an anti-American brush, and attributed to the vile anti-Islamic video produced in California. But could it be that the 9/11 anniversary -- etched in our psyches -- precipitated the violent demonstrations, spreading to 20 Arab cities. Political pundits on the right and left surprisingly agree: Ross Douthat, an NYT columnist, negates the notion that the blasphemous video instigated the violent outbursts. Rather, he writes: <"The unrest in the Islamic world is more about power politics than blasphemy." Douthat nails the issue, I believe, when he attributes the violence to a duel between secularists and fundamentalists. This was evident in President Morsi's anti-American actions in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and riots. Morsi first stabilized his support base so that the Salafists, a religiously more conservative faction, could not score a victory over him. The protests are provoked by internal power politics -- even though the press coverage frequently focuses on the anti-American spirit of violent Arab demonstrations.

Before we go further, I would like to pay my respects to ambassador Christopher Stevens and his family for an unfathomable, profound and senseless loss of a quintessential diplomat. I cherish the stories about this "unsung hero" who loved being with the people on the ground, listening to them, speaking in Arabic and always being the last to speak at meetings. It's a great loss for the U.S., for Libya -- which he loved -- and the world at a critical juncture today.

"Why do they hate us" is what Eltahawy is frequently asked by Egyptians and Americans. Mona Eltahawy, a journalist and brave activist straddled between New York and Cairo over the last decade, and was also on the front lines of the Egyptian revolution. She now returns to Cairo to continue the fight and advance the political revolution and support social change. When my fellow Americans ask me that tired question -- ""Why do they hate us?" -- my initial response is usually: "It's not about you." When a fellow Egyptian wants to talk about hating the U.S., I flip that response on its head and tell her: "It's not about America; it's about you." The truth is somewhere in the middle, but too many people are willing to use it as a football in an endless match of political manipulation.

"For a slightly subtler response, I tell my fellow Americans that "they" don't hate them for their freedom but, rather because successive U.S. governments all too willingly and knowingly supported dictators who denied their populations any kind of freedom. As a U.S. citizen, I cherish the [first] amendment."

Fareed Zakaria on his TV program Global Public Square on Sept. 16 framed the out of control street protests on 9/11/12 in a broader quantitative context, reminding viewers that while hundreds were engaged in the violent protests, tens of thousands vigilantly participated by night and day in the Arab revolutions. Libya is not anti-American, though it is easy to paint these demonstrations as an "us against them duel" which exacerbates tensions.

Interestingly, there was a consensus among the four commentators on Global Public Square last Sunday, which featured Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, author Bernard-Henri Levy and professor of Islamic studies Tarik Ramadan. They and Fareed Zakaria all believe that the violence was not spurred by an anti-American fervor but by deeper divisive politics between rivaling political factions fighting for dominance. Comments ranged from Wolfowitz saying, "this isn't the Muslim world against the West" and Levy saying "this is a political fight between Democrats and fanatics." As a Muslim woman, I appreciated Tarik Ramadan's comments when he said, "This is not Islamic, in fact it is anti-Islamic."

Having Muslim public intellectuals and scholars speak to the edicts or non edicts of the faith is essential. I also think it is important to include enlightened religious voices of imams in tumultuous times when violence and mayhem dominate the streets. I thought the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia made an excellent statement in response to the Libyan/Egyptian riots when he said: "It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction."

We can take a page from history and note that the trajectories of Eastern Europe's revolutions in the '60s. They highlight how long it can take for political demonstrations to mature into functional democracies -- with a protracted one step forward, two step backward dance over several decades and as Brzezinski warned: "Don't confuse populism with democracy."

Further, I believe that it is equally important to have enlightened clergy, the problem solving types at the table, such as Imam Feisal Rauf, who says of Libya: "The real battle is not between Muslims and the West, but between the moderates and extremists in all faiths. The extremist brand of Islam has become dominant and political factors, among them communism and secularism. What we need today is a concerted effort to say: We understand the history, but our faith is based on the higher values of loving God and neighbor."

Imam Feisal continues: "The real battlefront is not between America and Islam or Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Jews, but between -- all of the moderate justice-loving people, the good people, devout people against all the extremists, because we have extremists in all -- in all religious, and even atheists as well. ... when an extremist commits an act, it fuels this kind of a [violent] response. And you have this vicious circle."

I also want to point out to those who claim to -- that all this is done in the name of Islam, that Islam is very explicit. The Quran states explicitly that "no soul shall be responsible for the sins or the crimes of another. And while this film is indeed offensive, and those who have done this have done this deliberately to offend Muslims, we should not kill innocent people."

Imam Feisal goes on to say that "the majority of Arabs and Muslims in the world are grateful, as you know ... the Libyan people are grateful to America for having gotten rid of Moammar Gadhafi, having gotten rid of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt." The imam also attests to how he feels "as an American and an American Muslim seeing our embassy and our flag being desecrated is just the wrong message."

Finally, Imam Feisal notes: "Moreover, many Muslims feel that they can practice their religion more freely in the United States than in many of their homelands." I love how forthright Imam Feisal is about important but prickly issues.

Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin's blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife. Khadijah is the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.