- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

In today’s Muslim world, where Islam has been taken hostage by religious extremists and suicide bombers are treated as heroes, the story of Jonathan Adams, a British teacher killed last month by a suicide bomber, is an anomaly. The bomb that exploded in front of the Doha Players Theatre in Qatar was meant to detonate when the 100 people who had gathered to see Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” exited the theater. But the suicide bomber panicked and detonated his device before the end of the play, killing Mr. Adams.

Jonathan Adams’ savage death is an anomaly because it occurred in Qatar — one of America’s strongest allies in the Middle East. This was the first act of terrorism against Westerners in Qatar and the reaction by the government of Qatar, ordinary Qataris and expatriates living in Qatar was very different from the responses to terrorist murders seen in other parts of the Muslim world. All too often Westerners have listened to governments offering limp apologies in the face of quiet support for the terrorist acts from the general population. And then the fearful Western expatriates enter a state of quasi-hibernation or simply leave the country.

Qatar, by contrast, was outraged by the death of Mr. Adams. Thousands of Qataris rallied against the suicide bombing and expressed their outrage by holding banners such as “Islam is against terrorism” or “We love Westerners.” The people of Qatar made it very clear that they are totally against these acts of violence. And unlike some of its neighbors, clerics in this energy-rich nation, publicly voiced their outrage. For example, the renowned Islamic scholar Yousef Al Qaradawi called on the citizens of Qatar to condemn such acts of violence. The active and vocal participation in the rally by Muslim clerics asking for unity to combat terrorism was truly unprecedented.

In a further show of solidarity against the terrorist bomber, an interfaith service was held to celebrate the life of Jonathan Adams. This too is unprecedented in the small nation of 250,000, where most of the population adheres to the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Instead of jubilation over the death of the suicide bomber, Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths gathered together to talk about the life of Mr. Adams and to show the world that victims of terrorism are all children of God, irrespective of their faith.

Finally, the government of Qatar has suggested that a street in Doha be named in honor of Mr. Adams. This is truly remarkable because in some other countries of the Middle East streets are named after suicide bombers and homage is paid to those who have murdered innocent civilians. In Qatar, the feeling is the exact opposite. Here it is understood that the victims, not the perpetrators, must be remembered. The implicit message from Qatar to the rest of the Muslim world is clear that the Westerners who come to the Middle East to live and work are friends and must be treated with love, respect and honor. In other words, Islam must and can coexist with the West because they both share the same goal, which is the creation of a dynamic, modern and tolerant society.

What explains the spontaneous outrage by thousands of Qataris against the perpetrators of this violence? The tone and tenor of life in Qatar is set by the amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. This young ruler believes that reform is possible in the Middle East and that religious tolerance and political pluralism can take root in the seemingly unfertile lands of Islam. According to Sheikh Hamad, the building blocks of this renaissance must be education reform and the creation of a “free zone” of political tolerance. Education reform will allow free thinking among the masses and hence lessen the chances of manipulation by Islamic extremists. A “free zone” of political tolerance will allow the free flow of ideas and exchanges between traditionalists and modernists, where change is effected through the ballot box, not by resorting to terrorism.

The lesson Washington must take away from the killing of Mr. Adams and the reaction by Qatar is clear that reform is a possibility but can only be achieved with assistance from visionary leaders truly dedicated to freedom. The amir of Qatar is one such ruler and one could argue it is time that the United States acknowledged his vision by inviting him to Washington to address a joint session of Congress, where he could elaborate upon his country’s transition to democratic pluralism.

S. Rob Sobhani is president of Caspian Energy Consulting and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

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