April 8, 2007
by Emmet C. Tuohy
Since the beginning of the "war on terror," Americans have paid far too much attention to the word "Islam" and not enough to the word "radical." In many minds, the "war on terror" is synonymous with a "war on Islam."
Contrary to perceived opinion in America today, radicalism is not and has never been the norm within Islam. Instead, it is a modern phenomenon with its roots not in the Quran but in Marxism and in other modern political ideologies.
Taking advantage of real political grievances throughout the Muslim world, radicals have built support and seized -- often literally -- government offices, political parties, newspapers and mosques to pervert the name of a great faith. As a result, many non-Muslims now attribute the misdeeds of radicals to all Muslims.
Extremism has grown out of the Muslim world's alienation with the modern world and relative deprivation. The 20th century was not kind to Muslims worldwide; many countries in the Muslim world became the poorest on earth. But it was not always so.
Islamic civilization enjoyed an unparalleled position of primacy in its scientific, literary and cultural achievements, among others, for more than seven centuries.
With the economic and political rise of the West, Muslims began to feel disenchanted. Radical Islam made steady inroads in the Middle East by providing excellent social services to the poor. Much of Hezbollah's and Hamas' popularity is a direct result of their social services and not the desirability of their politics.
In Europe, radical Islam has gained ground among second- and third-generation Muslims who, unlike American Muslims, are not well integrated into their host societies. They often find themselves unemployed and living in segregated ghettos. The disenchanted populations are easy targets for radicals.
Since Muslims have come under increased scrutiny since Sept. 11, there is an urgent need for Muslims and non-Muslims to reclaim what was a great, tolerant and peaceful religion.
According to a Washington Post-ABC poll from 2006, a majority of Americans believe that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence. The poll also found that 46 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam.
In light of the growing hostility toward Muslims, imams must reach out to non-Muslim communities. A public awareness campaign is sorely needed from New York to Nebraska to educate ordinary Americans about Islam. That will help reclaim true Islam and stop the hatred and prejudice against Muslims in America.
Such efforts have been successful elsewhere. For example, at the Khadijah Mosque in Singapore, the imams often denounce terrorism. A banner outside the mosque boldly proclaims, "Islam is a religion of peace. Islam condemns terrorism." This mosque often holds events between Muslim and non-Muslims to increase understanding.
Second, if we are to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, communities must meet the social needs that radical groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas currently fill in the Middle Eastern countries.
The radicalism that we are seeing today -- from New York to Madrid to London -- under the guise of Islam is not true Islam. As Muslims and non-Muslims struggle to achieve victory in this battle against terrorism, it is imperative that we know the name of the enemy -- and it is radicalism, not Islam.
This article was co-authored by Emmet Tuohy and Melinda Haring
Emmet Tuohy is the Assistant Director of the Center on Eurasian Policy at Hudson Institute.
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