Save Islam's `Heretics'

THE year 1993 is recording a new campaign of terror and censorship, one that Western intellectuals have said little about.

The campaign is waged against Arab and Islamic writers and intellectuals by strict fundamentalists. From Algeria to Pakistan and from Turkey to Sudan, thousands of professors, poets, and journalists have been threatened and silenced, and in the past year 100 have been targeted by assassins.

In Turkey this summer, 35 writers were burned to death in their hotel by a mob that objected to the presence of Salman Rushdie's translator. In Algeria, four journalists and a professor were brutally killed; the assassins forced family members to watch. In Egypt, a professor is undergoing divorce proceedings brought by Islamists who say his wife, as a Muslim, may not be married to an ``apostate.'' In June, as the Saudi Arabian representative to the United Nations Human Rights Conference in Vienna gave a talk, Saudi professors who started that country's first human rights group were arrested and jailed.

The new terrorism reflects the struggle for the soul of Islam inside Islamic states. Most of those attacked are grappling with modern thought and its implications for Islamic culture. Some are critical of the treatment of women in Islamic states; others want to explore what an American-style ``separation of church and state'' democracy would mean in Islam. Some are secular or even atheist (not a crime); others want Islam to integrate with modern culture but retain its distinctiveness.

Yet for fundamentalists who want to use Western means but reject Western culture, this is heretical. They would eradicate any middle ground for dialogue about Islam and the modern world. Arab scholars coming to the United States for exchange this fall spend their time describing a new terror. Some feel imprisoned in their libraries. ``For lectures I didn't think twice about in the 1980s, I would be killed today,'' said one.

The right to disagree and question is central in the West; Western intellectuals have always demanded this for colleagues elsewhere. Yet there is a curious silence about these assassinations. They are clear-cut cases of wrong, terror, intolerance. Yet in the gummy relativism and correctness in the academy today, excuses are made. It is popular to criticize the Mubarak regime in Egypt for selling out to the secular West. But raise Islamist terrorism and one hears, ``They have a different culture,'' or ``Only extreme critics are attacked.'' More often one detects indifference.

For Islam and the West to get along in coming years there must be a lively middle ground of discussion. Islamic progressives who want to shape that ground are being killed. The West should wake up to this crime and its implications.

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