- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

Revolted by the grisly seizure of a Russian schoolhouse by Islamic terrorists, Arab and Muslim leaders have become increasingly critical of terrorism committed in the name of their faith.

Long criticized for failing to speak out against the militant extremists in their ranks, Muslim clerics, politicians and intellectuals around the world have condemned the terrorist strike in Beslan, Russia, in which more than 170 children were among the victims.

“The sense of outrage is very strong, especially when the terrorists claim to be acting in the name of your religion,” said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

“Muslims, in general, have some sympathy for the plight of the Chechens, but the size of this attack and the targeting of children is against everything Islam stands for,” he said.

Both the Arab League and the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference condemned the Beslan attack. Sheik Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a leading religious authority among Sunni Muslims worldwide, said the attack could not be justified.

“Terrorists are taking Islam as a cover, and it is a deceptive cover,” Sheik Tantawi told the Turkish newspaper Zaman. “Those who carry out the kidnappings are criminals, not Muslims.”

The negative reaction has not been unanimous.

Many Muslims still argue that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin brought the Beslan tragedy upon itself by its brutal campaign in Chechnya.

At least 338 hostages died in the early September taking of the school in southern Russia, which the government has blamed on Islamic militants from Chechnya.

Azizuddin El-Kaissouni, writing on an Islamic Web site, Islam Online, said reports that Mr. Putin has accepted advice from Israeli anti-terrorist experts have only fueled resentment over what Muslims call “genocide” in Chechnya.

“It is tragic that it takes the deaths of 300 innocents to make the world pay attention to the death of 200,000 innocents,” he wrote. “The international media’s fickle, cynical coverage has made the Chechens’ cries worth noting only if they come drenched in Russian blood.”

But, editorials in state-owned press outlets across the Arab world condemned the Beslan hostage seizure in distinct contrast to the often-muted tone adopted toward anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli terrorism in the region.

Egypt’s official government daily Al-Ahram called Beslan “an ugly crime against humanity.”

“It is impossible that those who carried out the operation had a legitimate problem or that they acted out of religious belief,” the paper said.

Several commentators focused more on the fact that the bloodshed in Beslan reflected badly on Islam than on the human tragedy.

Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the influential Arabic daily published in London, said in a widely noted editorial that the violent tactics of Islamist extremists — from Iraq and Indonesia to Russia and Sudan — were tarnishing all believers.

“Obviously, not all Muslims are terrorists; but, regrettably, the majority of the terrorists in the world are Muslims,” he wrote.

“What a terrible record. Does this not say something about us, about our society and our culture?”

Writing in the Saudi government daily Okaz, columnist Khaled Hamad al-Suleiman said violent Islamic extremists “succeeded in the span of a few years in distorting the image of Islam, while the enemies of Islam did not succeed in doing this in the course of hundreds of years.”

“The time has come for Muslims to be the first to come out against those interested in abducting Islam in the same way they abducted innocent children,” he said.

Sa’ad bin Tefla, former Kuwaiti information minister, argued in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat late last week that moderate Muslim silence in the face of Osama bin Laden’s global terror campaign helped prepare the ground for incidents such as Beslan.

“With our equivocal stance on bin Laden, we from the very start left the world with the impression that we are all bin Laden,” he said.

In Indonesia, polls in the world’s largest Muslim country say militant Islamic parties have been hurt badly in the run-up to next week’s elections by a series of terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 9 car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed 11 bystanders.

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