Monday, June 05, 2006

So, They Aren't Really Muslims, Eh?

This weekend, seventeen Muslim men (most of them in their teens or early 20's) were arrested by the RCMP on anti-terrorism charges in Toronto, Mississauga, and Kingston, Ontario. This particular arrest struck close to my home in that at least four of them had gone to school with my children and one of the older suspects lived not far from my home. This fact, while shocking, is really not that surprising though. One of the young men, my oldest son told me, had been nicknamed "The Terrorist" by some of his classmates back in high school. Another had written in his graduation yearbook last year, "La ilaha illallah... do you really believe in it? You do? Then prove it... Before us there were many... after us there will be none... we are the ones... Allahu Akbar..."

And yet again, Muslim leaders in the Greater Toronto Area are going out of their way to try to convince the populace (and maybe themselves) that violence is not Islamic and that these men, if guilty, are not really Muslims.

How tiresome to hear to say the same old, well-worn excuses and rhetoric being bandied about that we have been hearing since 9/11.

Last summer, following the London bombings, I wrote an article that received considerable attention in which I stated that it is worth remembering that Islam is not a monolithic religion; it is a house with many rooms. As I noted then, claiming that terrorists who engage in their actions with the words "Allahu Akbar" are not real Muslims may provide comfort to politicians, media pundits and a degree of protection to the many moderate Muslims who live in the West who abhor these attacks done in the name of their god. And it may help to maintain civil peace in societies like Britain, Europe, Canada and America with large ethnic Muslim populations. But refusing to acknowledge that these are real Muslims who plan and commit such atrocities is both dishonest and dangerous and serves no one's interest ultimately.

At the time when I originally wrote these words, I suggested that progress will only be made with open acknowledgement by so-called moderate Muslims that this present terrorism is a problem within Islam and their acceptance of responsibility to effectively deal with it, both publicly and privately. I still believe this. I still contend that Islamic religious leaders in the West need to be seen to be actively cooperating with local police and security services and encouraging their congregants to do likewise. To their credit, Muslims in the West often know and appreciate their rights in a free society. Now they must also join all Canadians in accepting the responsibility to maintain such a society. This also includes an active isolation and exclusion of militant elements within their own midst that promote violence and hatred as a means to an end and the public repudiation of teachers of such hatred and violence, identifying them by name. Such civil responsibility must also include refusing to allow mosques to be used as recruiting grounds for militants and counselling parents not to send their children to schools abroad which are known to promote militant Islam. Until the Muslim community in the West begins to do more to actively uproot militancy from their own midst both publicly and privately, the claim that these terrorists are not "real" Muslims will never and should never be taken seriously.

Perhaps most importantly, I still contend that Muslims living in the West must learn to stop making exceptions to and excuses for violence. As David Frum put it in his National Post editorial of July 12, 2005 "It's hard to take a principled stand against al-Qaeda if you privately support Hamas and Hezbollah (in their actions against Israel)." And to cry out the recruitment of young Muslims into militancy would not take place if the West had not stirred Muslim resentment by invading Afghanistan and Iraq is short-sighted rhetoric. Forgotten is the fact that al-Qaeda actively recruited, conceived, strategized, and set in motion the events of 9/11 at a time when the United States and its Western allies were actively protecting Muslims in Kuwait, Kosova, and Bosnia. It was during the Clinton administration that al-Qaeda blew up two American embassies in Africa, first attempted to bomb the World Trade Centre in New York, and began to support militant organizations like Laskar Jihad and similar groups in Indonesia.

To be certain, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has contributed to the galvanization of more Muslims against the West and helped convince them of the truth of Osama bin Laden's vision for the world. But we must not forget that the roots of militant Islam go back much further than the beginning of these wars. Al-Qaeda, itself, was founded in the 1980's with the expressed purpose of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy (a goal that remains unchanged). Al-Qaeda has always been quick to invent some excuse or historical injury to justify its barbarism. Today it is Iraq. Yesterday it was Palestine. And if all else fails, bin Laden refers to Andalusia and the loss of Muslim control in Spain to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Rest assured that in the future, as conditions change, new excuses will arise and new causes will be invoked to justify the unjustifiable.

And if present attitudes prevail, many Muslims living in the West and their sympathizers, will parrot these new excuses and causes, attempting to shift (or at least share) the blame, justifying acts of terrorism or, at the very least, deflecting criticism. Western Muslims (and their supporters) cannot continue to hold to this modus operandi and ever expect their fellow citizens to accept their claim that Islam is a religion of peace.

Theological analysis of Islam aside, I still argue, as I did last July, that no one should be prepared to consider the claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance until certain conditions are met:
1. When Western Muslims are prepared to fully embrace living in inclusive, democratic countries governed by the rule of law.
2. When Western Muslims support attempts to transform their former homelands into societies where freedom of religious belief is as welcome there as here.
3. When Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others can openly worship in Saudi Arabia and Muslims can be invited to consider the claims of Christ without fear of imprisonment, torture, and execution.
4. When Muslims can convert to another religion in a Muslim society with the same ease that religious minorities can become Muslims.
5. When Muslim moderates actively work to create Muslim societies around the world where religious minorities can feel safe from violence and retaliation for perceived anti-Islamic actions by fellow religionists, in the same way that they expect protection in the West from acts of vigilante retaliation for the acts of al-Qaeda.
6. When Muslim moderates in Muslim nations actively work to end the discriminatory practice of "dhimmitude" that disguises oppression for protection of religious minorities in Muslim societies.
7. When Muslim moderates in Muslim nations act to make effective legal changes that recognize equal rights under law for all citizens, regardless of gender or religion.

Last July, I expressed my doubt that such conditions would ever be met. I continue to hold to this scepticism for the exactly the same reason; while Islam is a house with many rooms, the entire building rests upon a historical and theological foundation of religious intolerance and discrimination. This places moderate Muslims in a dilemma. While they abhor the violence and the terror done in the name of Islam, they know that they share too much in common with the perpetrators to address the real issues that could put an end to militancy in Islam. How do you begin without dismantling the house entirely?


Clint said...

Outstanding post, Glenn.

Your outline of the logical responses which moderate Muslims should have in nations like Canada is perceptive and clear.

Keep up the good work with VOM Canada.

I heard you speak at Blackie Bible Church in Southern Alberta a while back.

Clint said...

I just noticed that you are offering a class at Toronto Baptist Seminary.

I am delighted that you will be ministering to the TBS students.

Recently I returned to Alberta after 3 years of teaching at TBS. Its mission is dear to my heart.


Glenn Penner said...

Thanks, Clint, for your kind words. That was a while back when I was in Blackie. I remember it well; beautiful drive in an ugly rental car/truck/thing (a Pontiac Aztek) :-)