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Opinion

How well are American Muslims challenging extremists?

If only 1/10th of 1 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are terrorists, that is 1.6 million killers acting in Allah's name. Moderate Muslims and non-Muslims are natural and necessary allies in this existential struggle for tolerance and freedom.

By Joseph A. Bosco / November 10, 2010



Washington

President Obama, visiting Indonesia, noted that the world's largest Muslim country is a model of tolerance and moderation. But here at home, controversies over the so-called ground zero mosque and the Florida pastor who threatened to burn the Quran have spurred a new exchange of recriminations: Muslims tolerate extremism; non-Muslims suffer from Islamophobia.

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American Muslims are uniquely positioned to lead an honest conversation and bridge the growing divide – if they will accept the challenge. Tarnishing all Muslims as terrorists is unjust and counterproductive – but so is accusing sincerely concerned Americans of doing that.

Non-Muslims may not fully grasp the theological and political distinctions between Islam and Islamism, but they legitimately ask their Muslim fellow citizens just what the connection is between Islam and those who murder in its name.

Peaceful, law-abiding citizens

Non-Muslim Americans know that most Muslims in this country live the same peaceful, law-abiding lives, enjoy the same rights, and deserve the same respect as other citizens.

But all Americans – Muslims included – deserve candor, lest we become, in Attorney General Eric Holder's misapplied term, "a nation of cowards."

At the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in 2002, Jordan's King Abdullah stated:

"[Americans] hear the hatred spewed by groups mistakenly called Islamic fundamentalists. In fact ... they are religious totalitarians, in a long line of extremists of various faiths who seek power by intimidation, violence, and thuggery."

President George W. Bush made the same point in earlier and later speeches. President Obama has also said America is not at war with Islam.

Nevertheless, the king worried about a growing Western perception grounded in fact – that while most Muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims. There is reason to worry: If only 1/10th of 1 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are terrorists, that is 1.6 million killers acting in Allah's name.

The other 99.9 percent face a real challenge in delegitimizing these would-be holy warriors. How have moderate Muslims met that challenge so far?

Since 9/11, Muslim leaders have made several statements condemning terrorism. But there's been little follow-through. They spend more time pointing out alleged Islamophobia than working to undermine violent jihadists.

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