Learning from Muslim States

American diplomacy toward Muslim nations will never be the same.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush has strictly applied a new friend-or-foe yardstick to these nations, starting with Pakistan.

That nation's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, quickly jumped in to help the US as a front-line state to force Taliban rulers in neighboring Afghanistan to hand over "prime suspect" Osama bin Laden. Mr. Musharraf, despite much disapproval at home, stands to gain favor with Washington in his struggle against India and massive poverty.

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Other predominantly Muslim states, from Morocco to Indonesia, are also being forced to decide whether to join the antiterrorist, US-led coalition, and how much to crack down on their own militants. Many leaders in these nations have tried to suppress violence waged in the name of Islam. Now they are being asked to join the United States in a global campaign to stamp out terrorist networks.

But these nations also know that curbing domestic terrorists has been much easier than dealing with the growth of fundamentalist Islam among their people, which terrorists feed on and which challenges secular rule. In Egypt, for instance, a campaign against terrorists has largely succeeded, but President Hosni Mubarak now faces strong political pressures from conservative Muslims.

Islam is not the enemy in this anti-terror campaign, but both the US and Muslim leaders must learn how to separate religion from violent acts - and how to deal with any abuse of a religion that causes harm. That won't be easy, but it's a necessary first step.

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