Must Muslims show contrition for terrorists' acts?

One gets tired of columnists who bombard us with rabid explosions showing flagrant historical and cultural ignorance. Tom Teepen, a columnist for Cox Newspapers, was the culprit du-jour when his paranoia carried him as far as to say that Muslims’ passivity [in denouncing terrorism] threatens to make Islam a pariah faith. Wow! He just cited a perfect example of Religious Correctness… not!

I’ve always felt that men of goodwill sympathize with their brothers’ sorrows. Not just those who practice one of the world’s great religions… or one of the lesser ones; or even those who identify with Spinoza’s philosophy, or abstain from having one. Not just those belonging to a specific group, but to the entire human race. Good people of any “brand,” silently or publicly, always feel, and want to soothe, their brethren’s pain… without the need for proclamations, edicts or fatwa.

Unfortunately, goodwill is not easy to come by for the human race. There always seem to be religious, political or ideological prejudices, and at times legitimate contentions, which stand in the way. And trying to unrealistically change external behavior, often for no other reason than appearance’s sake, serves hypocrisy and little else. Yet, many of our politicians and much of the mainstream media chant the same tune, calling for Muslims throughout the world to publicly condemn suicidal acts. After 9/11 there has been continuing criticism that the Muslim population, whether residing in the Middle East, Chicago, London or anywhere else, has not shown remorse… such criticism often taking punitive tones.

At times the criticism has been terse and direct… other times, condescending and sadly ill-conceived. Typical among the latter, and used by those who should know better- Tony Blair the latest in this fray- is the utilization of the term “Islamic extremists” as the descriptive name for the militant groups causing all this mayhem; be it Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah or just jihadists-at-large who have had it with the West, and what they judge from them to be tactics of control and deception. Call them terrorists or assassins, if you must, but adding “extremists” to the word Islamic doesn’t diminish the negative context assigned, by chance or choice, to Islam. At best, the use of that term is one of ignorance, or imprudence… or both.

Two days after the London suicide bombings I was having a lengthy discussion on the subject of suicide bombings with an American-Lebanese friend… not a Muslim, but a Catholic Maronite. A second-generation American, Steve S. (S stands for Selim, his father’s best friend) stays engaged with the Middle East community of a large Midwestern city… a socio-cultural tradition that dates back to his childhood days, something that stays alive with his biennial visits to the land of his ancestors, a land he has learned to love so well. An American true-blue in every respect, he is also proud of his ties to the Middle East , and to his brothers of the Muslim faith.

Steve’s grandfather was a Kamikaze victim in Okinawa … so suicide attacks have a personal meaning to him. But losing his grandfather in the Pacific that way does not bring him to the point of outright denunciation of any group whose objective is to repel an invader and take back their land. Not that he approves such actions, either.

“It’s not a question of fanaticism, martyrdom or ‘shock and awe’,” Steve tells me as he calms down from the emotional tenor in our discussion. To him there is a sole purpose for that behavior, for any act of terrorism by whatever name: to instill fear. And as a footnote, to set the record straight, we must add that self-immolation is not the exclusive domain of “extremist” Muslims. Man, all men, when confronted with utter despair, have often reacted in similar ways… whether Jewish Zealots, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Shintoists.

If columnists such as Friedman, Teepen and many others, would come to recognize that the war which is being fought has little to do with religion, even if those at power’s short end are Muslim, they would not be naively calling for Islam to voice outrage at some of these acts that sadly result in unacceptable human carnage. These are not random acts of violence, but the result of despair from those who feel they must resort to fear as their only weapon to level the battlefield… their only chance to win the war and drive the enemy out.

No, Mr. Teepen, it isn’t twisted theology that produces violence. It is man who produces violence, not through divine inspiration but primal instincts of survival. And that violence is only an intervening and not a causal link with Islam.

It’s obvious that we, in much of the West, just don’t get it when we ask for Islam’s voices to show outrage… and contrition. That… after we have done everything under the sun to radicalize them!

As any shrewd politician would quickly point out: It’s the occupation(s), stupid!