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COMBATING TERRORISM


Interview with Dr. Alaa Al-Yousuf,
Bahraini economist and political activist

Question: How do you view the political and economic impact of the terrorist bombing in the US on Muslims?

Al-Yousuf: The victims of the crime that was perpetrated on Tuesday 11 September 2001, are many, but first and foremost are the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives. Much has already been said about the shocking scale and nature of this carnage. On Friday, 14 September, almost the whole world expressed its condemnation of the crime and its grief for the bereaved families of the victims. Those who abstained or, even worse, rejoiced, will have joined the terrorists, not in the murder, but in adding to the incalculable damage on the other victims of the atrocity, namely, Islam as a faith, Muslims and Arabs as peoples, and possibly the Palestinian cause.

The terrorists and their apologists managed to sully Islam as a faith both in the eyes of many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While it is the duty of every Muslim to behave in an exemplary manner to "exalt the name of Islam", those people, and others before them, have succeeded in putting the words Islam, Muslims, Koran, and Allah in the same sentence as the words Crime, Atrocity, Terrorism and Evil, in newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts around the world. Although the evidence about the terrorists is still scant, the mere fact that Islam is one of the prime suspects is enough to bring shame on many innocent Muslims. What, in my view, has made matters worse was the reaction of a minority of Muslims, both in the UK and the Middle East, to the atrocity. By rejoicing or abstaining from condemning the atrocity they have failed the basic moral test of telling right from wrong. It is the duty of every parent and teacher to teach children right from wrong. Islam, like other religions, reinforces this sense. It also teaches us "do not let your grievances against some people make you unjust, be just, it is closer to piety". The fact that Israel's policy towards the Palestinians, with American support, has been a crime does not justify crimes by Muslims. Two wrongs do not make a right. Muslims and Arabs living in the West could suffer reprisals, whether physical, verbal or in more subtle forms. It could now be even more difficult for Muslims to set up schools and mosques and campaign against possible discrimination. It will be even more difficult for Muslims to be treated sympathetically when claiming to be genuine refugees. In general, political opinion in the west towards Muslims and Arabs could harden and affect foreign and aid policies.

This could very well affect adversely the Palestinian cause. Rather than force the US government to change its policy towards Israel and the Palestinian, the atrocity could backfire. Israel is already busy taking advantage of this situation. Moreover, any Middle Eastern government that cracks down on its domestic opponents on the pretext that they are Muslim fundamentalists, could get away with it because governments and human rights NGOs in the west will not be able to muster enough popular support to counteract such policies. The global war against terrorism that is about to be waged could be used as a cover to punish peaceful Muslim communities in China, South Asia, Central Asia, and the Russian Federation. So-called "political Islam" could be targeted in countries as diverse as Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and the Gulf. The atrocity could be seen as evidence not just of "political Islam" condoning terrorism, but worse still, as evidence that "political Islam" has failed to teach its followers the basic difference between right and wrong, and that the ends justify the means. It will not be difficult to find plenty of evidence that could support this argument.

The only way to counteract such fears is for Muslim public figures, e.g. leaders of countries, parties, communities, and prayer congregations, as well as opinion makers, to take a lead in raising popular awareness of the moral teachings of Islam as they relate practically to this tragedy. Those who hold other views should be allowed to express them peacefully and freely. This is an important lesson in establishing a political culture based on moral principles and debate rather than hatred and injustice. I am delighted to see that many wise and enlightened leaders in many Muslim countries have said and done the right things and I hope that their wisdom and resolve will not desert them in the trying moments that we are likely to witness in the days to come. This would include condemning any criminal actions against innocent people taken by the US and its allies in seeking to eradicate global terrorism.