|IN THE NAME OF ISLAM|
The July 2005 suicide bombings in London's transit system and attacks in a resort town in Egypt have stoked the debate within the Muslim community about why so many perpetrators of terrorist attacks are Muslims and what ordinary believers in Islam can do to keep people from killing in the name of their religion. Four Muslim thinkers answer your questions.
Brennan Roorda of Oak Ridge, Tenn. asks:
How can we stop terrorism, preferably at its source? What do you think is the source, or the root cause of terrorism?
Imam Shaker Elsayed responds:
Terrorism is, unfortunately, a multifaceted dirty river of violence and hatred that is mostly fed by many sources. It used to be drug dealing and drug trafficking. Now it is un-redressed political grievances, occupation, government violence, and oppression against its own people or against others, torturing prisoners, fighting political oppositions by oppressive military tribunal, the list is long. I think that terrorism is a social and political phenomenon that would not be treated fully, without addressing these issues. Although I fully understand the views of those who would say, if anyone uses violence, their grievances should de-legitimized. I understand, but, respectfully disagree. I would de-legitimize their methods and tactics, but not their grievances.
Georgetown graduate student Shadi Hamid responds:
This is of course the million-dollar question. There is no one root cause. Rather, here are several different factors, many of which are interrelated. In response to another viewer's question, I discussed the causal relationship between lack of democracy and terrorism. When people don't have peaceful means to express their grievances, they often express themselves in violent, dangerous ways. Here in America, when we get angry, we go to protests. We write articles in our local newspaper. We vote out bad leaders. The vast majority of Arabs can do none of these things.
In addition to that, there is also what Thomas Friedman calls the "poverty of dignity." Until the 17th century, the Islamic empire had been the world's civilizational leader, in much the same way the West is today. To understand the Muslim plight (and the roots of Muslim anger and frustration) is to understand how a proud, resourceful people who had once provided the inspiration for the European Renaissance so quickly descended into the worst kind of intellectual, political and religious stagnation. Americans often forget that, 10 centuries ago, the Arab world was at the pinnacle of its greatness. Baghdad, now reduced to rubble, was once a city of wonder and riches. It was the leading center of intellectual and scientific thought, attracting scholars from across the globe.
Muslims look back at the glory of their past, and then look at their present situation, defined by false promises, shattered dreams and lost potential. Where they were once the movers of history, they are now at its mercy. And this, I think, is where much of the anger germinates. This is where America comes in. We must assist the Arab people in restoring their sense of dignity. This can only come through a democratic process which empowers Muslims to make their own decisions and finally take ownership over their lives, instead of being powerless subjects in the face of brutal dictators. So, looking at it this way, we support democracy not simply because it is right, but also because getting rid of Arab dictators is the only way to secure our country's safety in the long run.
Salim Mansur responds:
The terrorists, their network, their bases of operations, need to be
flushed out and destroyed, and states that harbour and assist them need
to be under watch and it be made known to them without ambiguity that
they will be dealt with accordingly. This is a war of a new sort somewhat,
with deadly weapons involved now and potential of it getting worse is
real. Somewhat like Britain's relentless engagement with the IRA, or
Italy's with the Red Brigades from some three decades ago, Muslim terrorists
have to be eliminated by military action. This is essential for the
safety of open societies like the U.S., and even more essential for
Muslim societies if they are going to eventually move into the 21st
In the case of terrorism there is no root cause; this whole argument or discussion about root cause(s) in dealing with Muslim terrorists is simply a strategy of appeasing those who are hell-bent in their war against freedom, democracy and open societies.