As if in answer to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for an international conference on Islamic extremism Wednesday, another round of bombs have terrorized London. Though few appear to have been injured, no thanks to the terrorists, we cannot let the severity of terrorist acts dictate the appropriate response. International conferences might not be the answer, but Mr. Blair is right to call on the Muslim communities in the West to confront their own radicals.
Indeed, the rise of European — and to a lesser extent American — Islamofascism seems to discredit the argument that democracy is a deterrent to terrorism. If Muslims in democratic societies are inherently less radicalized than the fundamentalist or dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world, then why is Europe seething with radical Muslims? Why, for instance, are British Muslims bombing their own capital? To understand why, we must revisit a central component of the Bush Doctrine, which focuses on eradicating international terrorism.
Our efforts to take democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan would be in vain if not for the support of the native Muslim populations. The United States could have provided the structure for January’s elections in Iraq, for example, but it couldn’t have forced Iraqis to the polls. Similarly, the Bush administration hopes that once democracy takes hold in the Middle East, it will spread throughout the region. But the United States cannot force Arab or North African Muslims to embrace freedom and denounce terrorism.
Fortunately, recent political reforms — such as the elections in Iraq and pro-democracy movements in Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere — suggest that the theory is working, maybe. A recent Pew poll finds that support for suicide bombings in Lebanon has dropped from 73 percent in the summer of 2002 to 39 percent today. Though the trends aren’t all positive, it’s reasonable to believe that four years after September 11 the Arab world is beginning to show tentative instincts for positive change. Whether that continues, however, will depend on the commitment and courage of Arab Muslims.
Which brings us back to the central question: As young Muslims in the Arab world take up the call for reform, why have their counterparts in Europe regressed to hatred? The reasons are several and not at all simple, but one key reason lies within the organizations that claim to represent Muslims in the West. When terrorists strike a Western target, for example, the response from Muslim groups usually follows a standard script. First, they condemn the terror as a departure from true Islam; then, invariably they worry of a “backlash” against moderate Muslims by angry Westerners. Then, nothing. In the relative calm between attacks, these organizations, typically the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, have perfected the politics of victimhood. For all their bluster that bin Ladenism is a departure from the Koran, they seem relatively unconcerned about removing its taint from their ranks.
In one positive development, the case of the London bombers has caused Iqbal Sacranic, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, to ask: “The [Muslim] community across the country condemns such [terrorist] activities, but beyond that what have we been doing?”
A good question. Forstarters,Mr. Sacranic can begin by denouncing fellow Muslims like Hani Sibai, director of London’s Al-Magreze Center for Historical Studies, who said on July 8 that the London bombings were “a great victory for [al Qaeda]. It rubbed the noses of the world’s eight most powerful countries in the mud.” This is according to the translation of an Al-Jazeera television interview by the Middle East Media Research Institute. It’s no surprise that not a single Muslim organization in the West has criticized this Islamic scholar, who lives in London.
Nor have Muslim organizations been particularly concerned about “moderate” Qatar-based imam Sheik Yusuf al Qaradawi, whose visit to London next month has become a national controversy. Should the Muslim Council of Britain host a man who calls regularly for the destruction of the “usurper Jews, the vile crusaders [i.e., Christians] and infidels”? What about condemning Omar Bakri Mohammed, whom London Mayor Ken Livingstone calls “a leading progressive Muslim”, a man who blames Londoners for the July 7 attacks? It would be no small victory for moderate Islam if Mr. Sacranic supported a decision by the British government to disinvite Mr. al Qaradawi, as well as to denounce “progressives” like Mr. Bakri Mohammed.
Instead, Muslim leaders have allowed radicals to thrive in their communities, preaching hate and galvanizing the younger generations to murderous acts. That’s either because the leaders of these mosques and organizations at heart feel that way themselves or — and we hope this is the explanation — they are intimidated by these radical elements. As Iraqis, Lebanese and Iranians have shown, intimidation can be overcome, but first it requires leadership — a leadership that is sorely lacking in today’s Muslim communities in the West.