THE BLOG
10/03/2014 09:24 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

The Muslims' Date With Destiny

Of all the debates raging at the moment, this is the most absurd.

I will summarize.

A growing number of spiritual authorities, from Cairo to Riyadh to Jakarta, have decided, finally, to condemn the crimes of a form of militant Islam of which they had long been far too indulgent.

In London, a movement is growing in which thousands of people are proclaiming, on the Web, their refusal to stand by as murder and serial decapitation are done in their name, accompanied by appeals to holy war issuing from Iraq.

The movement extends to France, where the imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi -- and now other imams including Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris -- have found the words to express the horror they feel at the assassination of Hervé Gourdel in the mountains of the Kabyle region of Algeria and are inviting their followers to take to the streets to voice their anger and disgust.

But we also have a band of narrow-minded individuals who, instead of applauding, with pride, this sign of national unity in the face of the worst -- instead of admiring, above all, the courage of these demonstrators, who know that holding up the portrait of a "dirty Frenchman" makes them traitors, apostates, and dead men walking in the eyes of the Islamic State, can think of nothing better to say than that the demonstrators are being "manipulated," "blamed," and "forced to apologize for something that has nothing to do with them."

"In declaring their solidarity," one French commentator observed, "have in fact only responded to a summons and confirmed the suspicion in which they had been held."

I will overlook the contempt shown by these commentators.

I will not dwell on the fact that there are still editorialists on the left who cannot see their fellow citizens of Arab, Berber, and, more broadly, Muslim descent as other than eternal victims, acted upon by history but never making it, incapable of finding their own voice, alienated.

And I will not comment on the sense of humor of those who, on a decidedly ill-conceived website, have dared to compare readers of the Koran who reject the murderous interpretation made of it by the followers of Al-Baghdadi to wearers of prosthetic limbs attempting to distance themselves (sic) from Oscar Pistorius, Martians dissociating themselves from Jacques Cheminade (head of the Lyndon LaRouche movement in France), or women severing themselves from reality TV star Nabilla Benattia.

The truth is that no one has proposed severing from anybody else.

The truth is that, except within the Front National, no one has said that France's Muslims are "suspects" who must establish their bona fides.

But the truth is also that Islam itself -- the Islam invoked by the killers of Mosul no less than by the imams of Lyon or Paris, the Islam from which Daesh has, like it or not, fashioned a bloody standard -- has become a forum for debate, nay, a battlefield, and that Muslims are the first referees of that battle.

Islam against Islam.

A war for possession of the holy names of Islam.

An ideological struggle within Islam between those for whom jihad is a spiritual discipline and those who understand it as a call to murder and holy war.

Consider for a moment the young Muslims in France whom the improvised preachers have invited to join the thousand of their fellow citizens who have already left for Syria and Iraq.

Imagine them tempted by the coalescing jihadist group that they see forming in their town or on Facebook pages that convey the message that being a Muslim means hunting Jews, Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites.

Those young men urgently need real imams, real scholars, to tell them no, that's not what the Koran says.

They need to see other groups, like the one that gathered last Friday in front of Paris' Great Mosque, and hear them proclaim that Islam is a religion of brotherhood and peace.

It is imperative that in opposition to the idea of Islam promulgated by the new sect of assassins -- whose followers, for the time being, continue to grow -- another idea should take root and gather speed. That idea must be supported by powerful voices, and, strong with the authority of those voices, debunk and demolish the contrary idea and push its advocates back into limbo.

To say this is not to insult Muslims but to glorify them.

It is not to mistrust them but to express confidence in their vitality and their ability to stand up for French democracy.

It is not to fall into communitarianism but rather to engage, or to reengage, in politics -- real politics, the kind that pulls apart as well as pulls together, the kind that draws boundaries within ideological formations that our teachers told us should always be subjected to close scrutiny in order to distinguish the two eternal camps of inhumanity and coexistence.

The time has come to treat not just the symptoms but the cause of the illness within Islam that Abdelwahab Meddeb has diagnosed over the past two decades.

This chain of tragedies, this climate of suspended apocalypse, this planetary cyclone within which whirl, among other things, key texts of Islam -- perhaps all of this will be, for those who hold those texts as articles of deep faith, the starting point of a long, heroic march at the end of which the world's third great monotheistic religion will, as the other two have had to do, break with the dark part of itself.

May the Muslims of France not miss their date with destiny.

May the irresponsible commentators who urge them to stay home not succeed in disarming them on the eve of the battle that has been awaiting them for so long.

We are all in this fight. But they are on the front line -- they have to win.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy