By Amir Taheri, October 24, 2001
Amir Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor of the Paris-based
“This has nothing to do with Islam,” British P.M. Tony Blair recently told a
delegation of Muslims at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, referring to the Sept.
Mr. Blair was echoing a view, popular both in Europe and the U.S., that
it is impolite, not to say impolitic, to subject Islam to any criticism. Yet to claim
that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam amounts to a whitewash. It is not
only disingenuous but also a disservice to Muslims, who need to cast a critical
glance at the way their faith is taught, lived and practiced.
Even worse, the refusal to subject Islam to rational analysis is a recipe for
further fanaticism. Unless we believe those who claim that the Sept. 11 was
organized by Israel, we have to assume that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda
were responsible. And since there is no mechanism for excommunication in
Islam, bin Laden and his gang have every right to describe themselves as
Al Qaeda did not materialize out of thin air. Nor have they been operating in a
vacuum. Bin Laden belongs to a prominent Yemeni-Saudi family that makes
much of its Islamic credentials. He began his militant career in 1984 as a
fund-raiser for Afghans fighting the communist regime in Kabul in the name of
Islam. He had offices in a dozen Muslim countries, none of which regarded his
activities as un-Islamic.
In 1993 bin Laden was divested of his Saudi passport but was warmly
welcomed in Sudan where a fundamentalist regime is in power. Later, bin Laden
was the star of an international conference of Muslim fundamentalists organized
in Khartoum by the then-strongman Hassan al-Turabi. He was elected a member
of the Supreme Council, whose task is to promote a radical brand of Islam
throughout the world.
That gave him the right to call himself a “sheik” and issue religious
fatwas, or edicts. Again, since there is no clerical hierarchy in Islam, there was
no reason why bin Laden could not claim such authority.
Once bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan (under U.S. pressure), he was
welcomed in his ancestral homeland of Yemen, another Muslim country. From
there he went to Pakistan, the world’s second most populous Muslim nation,
where he was welcomed not only by the army but also by virtually all of
Pakistan’s Islamic parties, which continue to support him.
From Pakistan, bin Laden shifted to Afghanistan, where the Taliban had
established what they claimed to be “the only truly Islamic government.” The
Taliban continue to shelter bin Laden to this day, even in the face of U.S.
To say that bin Laden has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims,
therefore, requires a big leap of imagination.
There is more. All but one of the world’s remaining military regimes are in
With the exception of Turkey and Bangladesh, there are no real elections
in any Muslim country.
Of the current 30 active conflicts in the world no fewer than 28
concern Muslim governments and/or communities. Two-thirds of the world’s
political prisoners are held in Muslim countries, which also carry out 80% of all
executions each year.
Anyone familiar with textbooks in most Muslim countries would know the
twisted view of the world they propagate and the hatred they promote.
Anyone who follows the media in the Muslim world would know that the
verbal version of the Sept. 11 attacks is an almost daily fare. Go to the Internet
and check the editorials of virtually any Muslim paper on Sept. 10 and see what
they were saying about the West in general and the U.S. in particular.
Anyone listening to a sermon in virtually any mosque, including many in
the West, would be shocked by the vehemence of the anti-Western, especially
anti-American, sentiments expressed.
It is both dishonest and dangerous for Muslims to remain in a state of denial.
And yet a state of denial is what we have.
When Iran’s Khomeinists burned 600 people alive in a cinema, the
whitewashers said that it had nothing to do with Islam. When the same gang
took the American diplomats hostage in Tehran, again the whitewash party
insisted that had nothing to do with Islam. And when the suicide bombings
bloodied Beirut we were told that Islam had nothing to do with them.
The Muslim world today is full of bigotry, fanaticism, hypocrisy and plain
ignorance — all of which create a breeding ground for criminals like bin Laden.
The principal victims of these criminals are Muslims, who are prevented
from developing a modern political culture without which they cannot reform
their societies and rebuild their economies.
What I am saying is not meant as critique of Islam as a belief system; that’s an
issue for theologians. What is needed is a critique of Islam as an existential
reality. The Sept. 11 tragedies should trigger a rethink of the way Muslims live
Islam. We should start with condemning those attacks without “ifs” and “buts.”
Sadly, the way we Muslims live Islam today is a far cry from the way our
ancestors lived it in the golden age when Islam was a builder of civilization, not
a force for repression, terror and destruction.