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.
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To be sure, Muslims have been at pains to describe the terrorists as a fringe element that has "hijacked" Islam. And the US government has agreed, repeatedly accusing Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups of "perverting" a peaceful and tolerant religion. Yet Muslim extremists have come from diverse national, cultural, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds. So non-Muslims may be forgiven for asking: Is there something in Islam that makes it more susceptible to extremist interpretation than other religions?Skip to next paragraph
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A war on terrorists, not Muslims
Some Islamic leaders argue that suicide bombers and terrorists have deviated from the Quran and are not Muslims. It is not for non-Muslims to decide who is a genuine Muslim, so another question compels an answer from responsible Muslims: If those who attack us are not Muslims, why is a war on terrorists viewed, even by many moderate Muslims, as "a war against Islam"?
Why are the terrorists called inauthentic Muslims when they kill in the name of Islam, but seen as persecuted Muslims when we respond? How have we become not the victims of terrorism but rather its enabler, and, according to the imam proposing the disputed Islamic center near ground zero, an "accessory" to their crimes?
That cognitive dissonance breeds suspicion among non-Muslims that too many Muslims are, in President Bush's words, not "with us" but "with the terrorists." And it awards Osama bin Laden and his followers a double victory that facilitates their goal of creating a war between civilizations.
The anti-Muslim charge is particularly hurtful given the sacrifices Americans have made to protect Muslims under siege from non-Muslims or other Muslims – in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Are too many American Muslims in an identity crisis? Do they identify more with "bad Muslims" than with "good infidels?"
Don't give Al Qaeda legitimacy
Moderate Muslims need to ask themselves whether their conditional words and their eloquent silence have inadvertently provided moral or rhetorical support to the terrorists. To say we condemn the violence but we have to consider the US policies that lead to such terrible behavior is to give Al Qaeda all the legitimacy it needs.
It is not Christians, Jews, or other non-Muslims who are waging war against moderate Islam – it is the same radical Muslims who carry out violent jihad against the West. That makes moderate Muslims and non-Muslims natural and necessary allies in this existential struggle for tolerance and freedom. Unflinching honesty is our friend.
Joseph A. Bosco, a national security consultant, worked on Muslim outreach and strategic communications in the office of the secretary of Defense in various assignments from 2002 to 2010 and served on several interagency committees on US-Muslim relations.