What 9/11 and 7/7 have in common
Muslim leaders' gesture of solidarity
Why it makes sense to say "Islamic terrorist"
Condemn terrorism in the language of Islam
Islam's internal debate
Does a "clash of civilizations cause terrorism?"
There are moral absolutes
We can't afford to lose the Muslim majority
In the aftermath of the London terror attacks, how should religious leaders and people of faith in general should respond to purveyors of hate in their midst?
Bishop John Chane: The way the city of London responded to the horror of those bombings is in many ways a unique way of responding, which I think the United States was unable to do when it was attacked on 9/11. And the way it was done [in the U.K.] was to very clearly condemn it, but to recognize that we ought not to condemn a religion because of the crime of several people who have used religion in an inappropriate way-using very poor theology to do so. We must recognize this phenomenon as something that is very much a part of our culture in the 21st century. But it does not reflect on the integrity of the religion that those people claim to be empowered by.
Judea Pearl: I don't recall the U.S. condemning a religion. It could be some individuals, like Lt. Gen. Boykin, who made a nasty remark here and there, but I think that President Bush was very careful to distinguish between a war against terrorism and a war against Islam. He may not have been successful in convincing all the people that this is the nature of the war [he was waging], but at least he tried.
I am really wondering, John, what made you characterize the failure of America in that way?
John Chane: Going back to where I lived at that time-I was dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, California what I remember very clearly in that particular community was a very strong response against Islam as a religion by a number of people. I was surprised they responded in that way. Part of it, I think, was their ignorance about what Islam is. That ignorance precipitated the responses that occurred throughout this country. We still have codes that tend to stereotype folks who don't look like Americans and who speak a different language.
Akbar Ahmed: This is a very interesting discussion, because it is telling us two things. Number one, the similarities here in the United States and in the United Kingdom in terms of these terrible attacks, 9/11 and 7/7.
And second, the dissimilarities: John's point is well taken. The entire British government--the entire hierarchy--went into overdrive to differentiate Islam, the religion, from this terrible act of terrorism. To the point that [when CNN anchor] Wolf Blitzer in the usual style of the American media, said "Islamic terrorism" to the British ambassador here in Washington, and the British ambassador corrected him. He said, it is terrorism, so don't label-please don't smear-an entire religion. The Muslim leadership responded very positively to the sensitivity of the British administration and media. So that you had unambiguous, unequivocal solidarity of the Muslim population with the British people. This is a very important point because this gave the message loud and clear to the British by the Muslims that we are with you, we are part of this culture, part of this tradition, of this land, and these terrorists are few in number, and we will fight them together.
The contrast [with the United States] is that Muslims are, number one, invisible in the media since 9/11, and generally smeared and attacked. Judea is right that President Bush did go to the mosque, he made attempts as an individual, but on the whole America was totally unprepared and therefore caught off-guard.
Confronting evil head-on
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Chane: From a Christian perspective, what it means for me is to be very, very clear about speaking out publicly and with great voice, in response to those persons who claim to be Christians and who identify themselves as Christian leaders, who use that pulpit to articulate a theology that is condemning of Islam, and which continues to portray Islam as a religion of terror. I don't think, since 9/11 and to this day, we have found a consensus in the Christian community that speaks out very loudly when people within our own religious community identify terrorism with Islam.
Akbar Ahmed: I want to put on record for your readers that Bishop John Chane did something quite unprecedented in the annals of religious interaction-even by the standards of the British, who have been very active in interfaith dialogue. On February 20, he had an evensong service dedicated in honor of a Muslim scholar-I was the honored scholar. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. A message of friendship, understanding, and compassion was sent out. It was an incredible ceremony with people who were so moved they had tears in their eyes. About 700 people turned up. Our friend Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig [of the Washington Hebrew Congregation] was also there, and the three of us spoke from the pulpit. And that really shifted the theological ground of this whole debate [over tolerance]. We were in our own traditions and cultures, with our own religious integrity intact, and yet we were interpreting our own traditions to reach out to each other in peace, understanding, and friendship.
When Shahid Malik speaks of the voices of evil, he's speaking of people who, by definition, are intolerant. What does it mean to confront that evil head-on?
Judea Pearl: I don't know if I can represent the Jewish religion on that. Allow me to present my common sense instead; I hope they will coincide. Let me react to concatenating the words "Islamic terrorist." The phrase has been used a lot, and has been criticized a lot. Let me take the position here that it is not as ill-intended as it sounds.
Why? When people hear about any crime, the first reaction of the audience is to seek motivation. If there is a bombing, even a hold-up, one wants to know if it is for money, out of jealousy, or whatever. It's the first, natural interest of the audience. So if we have an act of terror, people want to know whether it was political, religious, or some other ground. And when you say "Islamic terrorist," one conveys the information that here are people who, by their own admission, were motivated by religious forces to do what they did. And audiences are interested in that. Law enforcement authorities are also interested in it, because if they are dealing with that kind of motivation, it requires a different kind of reaction than dealing with [a crime motivated by] family dispute.
It's very natural to say "Islamic terrorist." Actually, it should perhaps be "fanatic terrorist," or something like that. But the motivation ought to be conveyed, and it's very natural that we allow the motivation to be part of the description in the context of the news.
In reacting to the word "evil," my friend Akbar knows that my mantra for the past three years [since the kidnapping and murder of Judea Pearl's son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, by terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan] has been that all the condemnations that we have heard from Muslim leaders [against terrorism and violence in the name of Islam] have been cast in secular vocabulary. And it's very clear that they mean nothing to the perpetrators or to the people who sent them. They do not understand the logic of secular language or the logic of rational reasoning. They are motivated, by their own admission, by religious metaphors. And therefore, condemnations need to be cast in religious terminology.
So for the past three years, in various outlets, I have been calling on Muslim leaders to condemn terrorist acts in Muslim-certified vocabulary. And they do have these instruments: fatwah, takfir [denying the basic principles of the faith], fasad [corruption, permitting that which forbidden or forbidding that which is required by God], heresy, apostasy-and we haven't heard that. With one exception. It happened on March 13, 2005, when the Muslim council of Spain issued a fatwah against Bin Laden. And it generated some vibrations in the grand mosques of Egypt and the Middle East, but not what one would expect.
A fatwah against terror
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On Sunday, in the Times of London, I have an op-ed, which calls for the Muslim community in England to issue a fatwah against Bin Laden, with the idea that the perpetrators of the bombings in London will understand that they are hereby excommunicated religiously.
Akbar Ahmed: Judea has raised an important issue about legitimacy. The problem is that we are translating from one culture into another. In Muslim culture, there is no such thing as [universal] excommunication. So a fatwah, or no fatwah, does not mean anything to anyone outside that particular sectarian boundary. A Shi'a fatwah means nothing to the Sunnis. A second problem is this: The condemnation of Osama bin Laden has been issued. All the important sheikhs did condemn him as they condemned what happened on 9/11. It wasn't heard here [in the U.S. media]; people said it wasn't reported. But there was no question, it was completely unequivocal, there was condemnation. As far as the London bombings are concerned, I've been following the media, all the major organizations-including the Muslim Council of Britain-have loudly, unequivocally condemned what happened.
The business of all the imams issuing fatwahs, again has some limited value. I think, Judea, you are simply giving them far more importance than they have in real life.
Judea Pearl: Here is the quote from our friend Sir Iqbal Sacranie [Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain]. He said that nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers. Further, he added, that the criminals needed to be distanced from the Islamic faith. And now is the turn of the Muslim clerics in Britain to issue a religiously formulated excommunication or condemnation. They can call him fasad or a heretic, but there are formal methods within Islam that are available for such condemnation.
Why do I insist on the religious formulation? Not so much for the perpetrator, because he has already made his decision and chosen his mission in life. But for the thousands of potential recruits, who are currently on the verge of joining or not joining that culture [of terrorism]. It's very important for them to know that here are the leaders of their religion, at least in Britain, who condemn it in the language in which they have been educated, that this is a sin against God. Not only against man, or against a political institution, but against God. And God is going to be punishing them, and Osama bin Laden will be going to hell and not to paradise. This difference is very important, I believe, to the people who are on the verge of that decision.
Akbar Ahmed: Judea, the Muslim Council of Britain represents all the major Islamic organizations of Britain, all the major Islamic centers-that is exactly what you need. Not some obscure imam in Britain issuing a fatwah, because the Muslim community, the young men, are going to be looking to the major organizations like the Muslim Council of Britain. That is why I am pleased that the Muslim Council of Britain has taken a very clear, unambiguous reaction to this [attack on 7/7].
Judea Pearl: Indeed, very clear, and empowering, especially to us, who are concerned about possible backlash. Absolutely.
A Muslim Solution for Terror?
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Bishop John Chane: From the Christian perspective, that has already begun, although it might seem very quiet to some. It's an issue that takes time to begin to accomplish-to train people, to teach new generations.
What is the mechanism for this teaching?
Bishop John Chane: Initially, it is that religious leaders and theologians need to be clear in speaking out on behalf of those faith traditions against the kind of behavior which is terroristic and which is a condemnation of the goodness of God and the unconditional love of God that all three Abrahamic traditions share.
Why do religions seem to embrace or allow for these supersessionist or triumphalist forms, in which one revelation supercedes the one that came before, and one truth trumps all others and seems to allow for these kinds of intolerance?
Bishop John Chane: It's now up to the interreligious communities to step up to the plate and do the kind of work they know they have to do. And it is being done. But I think that people need to understand that it doesn't happen overnight.
Akbar Ahmed: I have been involved in looking at Muslim society and trying to make some sense of what's going on for at least two decades, long before 9/11. After 9/11, there is so much interest in Islam, and people are coming up with instant kinds of reactions and analyses. The fact of the matter is that Islam has been, for the last two centuries, involved in a very convoluted and intense internal debate between the inclusivists and the exclusivists.
The inclusivists are based in Islam, chapter and verse. They argue the most popular names of God are rahman and raheem, merciful and compassionate. There are verses in the Qur'an that say let there be no compulsion in religion. There are other verses that say know each other, appreciate the different nations and tribes we have made. And look at each other with wonder. So there are verses that strongly argue for inclusivism. And there are other verses, like in other sacred texts, that could be interpreted to call for confrontation, to mean conflict, which are being used by the exclusivists.
Over the past two centuries, we've seen a period of colonization, when Muslim lands were thrown off balance, scholars marginalized, societies turned upside down. And for the past 50 years, we have seen a process of some kind of independence from Western colonial powers-some kind of independence as there are still neo-colonial influences at work.
At the start of the 21st century, look at the Muslim world: 57 states, the vast majority ruled by military dictators or corrupt politicians-sometimes allied with the West, hoping to get oil or for some other sort of realpolitik. So the result is that a lot of the ordinary Muslims-1.3 billion people-are really frustrated and angry and sometimes they're violent.
So when people talk about "Islamic terrorism,"-Islamic this, Islamic-what they really mean is Muslim this or Muslim that, because Islam is not telling them to behave like this. It's not the religion. These are people responding in anger, in irrationality and emotion to a political situation or one based in their ethnicity or of tribalism. It's their interpretation of the life they're leading today. So 9/11 is simply one of the posts on this journey, and I'm afraid 7/7 is not going to be the last. Until we begin to look at the root causes in the Muslim world-which is the primary job of the leaders of the Muslim world-nothing very much is going to change, because the problem needs to be identified and then tackled.
Judea Pearl on Daniel Pearl's values
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What kind of safeguards would those be? Can you give examples?
Judea Pearl: As a secularist, I must say that the safeguards come from rules and principles that are higher than the religion. Look at the American example. We are a pluralistic society. Being pluralistic means that whenever I have a conflict, between the principle that I learned from Jefferson and the principle that my priest or my rabbi teaches me, I'm going to prefer Jefferson. Because Jefferson represents for me the universal principle by which I and the rest of society are willing to abide.
So are you agreeing with those who say we would have a safer and more peaceful world if we weren't separated by religious particularisms?
Judea Pearl: No, I didn't say that. It's a matter of priority. We look at the principles that we learn in school as the highest platforms for morality. And we look at the priest and the rabbi with sort of a smile. And we treat what they say as a very nice metaphor that reinforces Jeffersonian morality, not the other way around.
Even for my son, Daniel, American values constituted the superstratum of values. And religion was poetry. But this is a secularist viewpoint. I'm sure that John [Chane] will object to it. Even though I take this viewpoint, I say that we need religion, because we need poetry. And without poetry you don't see yourself in the universe, and you don't have the metaphors and the building blocks with which to reinforce the principles by which you conduct your life.
Bishop John Chane: Judea has made a very fine point, and it really defines, at least from the perspective of this country, the gift of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that continue to at least create a separation between the role of religion and the role of the state, which we continue to struggle with in these times.
In the introduction to "After Terror: Promoting Dialogue Among Civilizations," Prof. Ahmed points out that most of the essayists in the book reject historian Samuel Huntington's notion of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. Is that skepticism about the validity of Huntington's argument still valid, given the ongoing terror threat?
Akbar Ahmed: We weren't actually saying that we would like all the contributors to reject Huntington as such. What we were really saying is, Let us explore alternative paradigms. Remember where the book begins. I was in class [at American University] on 9/11, and just a few miles away you had the plane flying into the Pentagon. I was teaching these wonderful American kids. And from that experience grew my desire as a Muslim scholar to try to create some other way of looking at the world. The idea of the clash of civilizations was a very dominant one. It's a very strong one, and it's a very valid one-there is a great deal of truth in it.
But I'm not prepared to say that that is the only way. So I began to explore the idea of dialogue of civilizations. I began to talk about it. My friend, Prof. Brian Forst [professor of Justice, Law and Society at American University's School of Public Affairs] and I developed the idea of the book and asked the other distinguished scholars to join us. We were very fair and wished to hear diverse voices. We have the entire gamut from Professor Bernard Lewis to President Khatami of Iran.
As to American values: I want to point out to your readers that while on the surface this may look unlikely, the Islamic ideal and the American ideal have much in common, although they are coming from different traditions.
As an anthropologist, let me point out what is common: The idea of respect for the family. The idea of respect and welcoming the stranger, the immigrant communities. The idea of living as a balanced and healty community. The idea of respect for justice, for education, for science, for an open mind. All these are very much a part of the Islamic ideal. It will be a great surprise to many Americans to know that the number one poet of the United States of America is none other than Mowlana Rumi [the 13th-cen. mystical Muslim poet]. For the past 10 years, his books have sold more than any other poet, more than Frost, more than Whitman.
You're talking about a community of people already open to crossing religious and cultural boundaries to read the wisdom of other traditions. But that's a different climate than the one we're trying to understand, the one that produces suicide bombers. Who are the people who are willing to kill themselves and others, and what are the religious components in their motivations?
Bishop John Chane: That's a great question. I'm not sure if you're familiar with a book written by Phillip Jenkins, "The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity," which came out in 2003. It is an analysis of the growth of [evangelical] Christianity and Islam, and to some extent Judaism, in what would be called the "Southern Church," or what we often refer to as the Third World. The growth of these two monotheistic religions in the Third World is a growth of fundamentalism and also extreme emotion, which gets melded into the religious convert. Jenkins' point is that if there is not a way to undercut what is a very clear fundamental and rudimentary reading of sacred texts, then we really are going to be looking at what might be considered a third crusade. A civilized effort to disarm such fundamental and extremely narrow, self-serving interpretations of the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam must become a significant priority for all three Abrahamic faiths.
Suicide bombers now apparently have a foothold in the West. They are already in the Middle East, and in some parts of Asia. What is the theology that drives this phenomenon?
Bishop John Chane: I was in southern Lebanon not too long ago and spent some time with refugees from Palestine who have no state, no home. And I met with a parent who had five children, three of them sons. And he said to me, "I have nothing to leave my family. I have nothing." I was talking to him about the horror of suicide bombers, and he said, "I would be proud for one of my sons to give his life for the cause, because there is nothing else for him to give his people other than his life at this point." It just stopped me in my tracks.
Throughout history, there have been people in dire straits, and they have not resorted to murdering innocent civilians. This seems to be a latter 20th-century and 21st-century phenomenon. What is going on now that brings people to think of themselves as martyrs not when they sacrifice their own lives for a principle or a religious faith, but when they're willing to take other people's lives?
Akbar Ahmed: You have this very tragic and very dramatic, and very unfortunate example of my friend Judea's son in Karachi.
And I see in that-and I've told Judea-a collapse on several levels. It was a moral collapse, it was an administrative collapse, it was a political collapse. It is a process. It has been happening for at least the last two decades. So you are seeing several kinds of collapses in Muslim society.
Islam itself categorically prohibits suicide. So I'm puzzled as an anthropologist how the suicide bomber has evolved in the Muslim world, starting from the Arabs then coming over into Pakistan, and now to Britian. I'm not only alarmed, I'm worried. Because I'm seeing a trend here. I'm seeing how they are being encouraged to interpret religion itself in this negative way that it encourages them to blow themselves up.
And it 's not just in Islam. We have the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [mostly Hindu armed rebel group, which also has support from Tamil Christians, fighting against the government for a separate Tamil homeland since 1972] in Sri Lanka. Almost 60,000 have died there in suicide killings, despite the strong local pacifist tradition. It is a social phenomenon. We are now faced with the situation that it has happened in the U.K. God forbid, it could happen in the U.S.A., if you have some youngsters, stupid enough, violent enough, confused enough, irrational enough, to be pushed over the edge.
So if we are aware that this could happen, let us not make the mistake of looking at it as we have been so far, in terms of security and terrorism analysis but in terms of ethnicity, culture, anthropology.
Judea Pearl: What Akbar says supports my claim that it is not religion to blame, but a combination of religion and culture. The suicide bombing is an example of how different cultures value life relative to other values, like for instance ethnic loyalty, family loyalty, and the idea of honor. In Judaism, for instance, life stands on the top of the ladder, more than loyalty to any collective.
Rami Khouri, a Lebanese journalist with Beirut's Daily Star, has written about distinctions between the two cultures-the Western culture and the Middle Eastern culture. And one of them was that loyalties-to clan and to country-are valued higher than individual life. And the same for individual freedom. It is not such a big deal, compared to what the collective expects from you. So you surrender your individual freedom to the expectation of the collective.
This is part of [Muslim] culture. I don't think the value of individual freedom is discussed in the Qur'an. I don't know how Islamic scholars deal with that. In the West, by comparison, the idea of individual freedom has been so deeply entrenched, from the time of the Renaissance.
Akbar Ahmed: We have a philosophic problem, living in the 21st century. Here I must bring up the dreaded word "globalization." The assumption that the Western frame of reference is the only frame is not only incorrect, but is causing a lot of the friction in the world today. You have an Indian way of living; you have a Chinese way of living; you have an Islamic way. There are different world civilizations.
The juggernaut of globalization seems to be on a collision course with local civilizations. Some of it leads to friction, some of it leads to unhappiness, some of it leads to violence. We have to remember that right now in the world we have a situation where, to quote [Britain's chief rabbi] Jonathan Sacks, we have 358 individuals who own as more financial assets than half the world's population.
Bishop John Chane: The assumption is that two-thirds of the world's population is living on less than two dollars a day.
Akbar Ahmed: This is also causing a lot of desperation in the world.
How would you counsel people who are afraid of Muslim individuals and angry about Islam, as to how they should regard that faith and and its followers?
Akbar Ahmed: I would request them to follow a three-step program, to try to avoid any kind of conflict or confrontation. This is based on my experience here in the United States, with these two remarkable gentlemen who I'm talking to in this dialogue we are having. And it applies to everyone, including Muslims. The first step is, they must start a process of dialogue. Simple dialogue. Start talking to each other. I've been in front of audiences who say, "We've never talked to a Muslim before. We've never been in the same room as a Muslim." That has to really break down and it can if you have a personal dialogue
But dialogue by itself is incomplete. It is simply an exchange of words. It must lead to effort on both sides toward understanding. That's the second step. Understanding means to make an effort: Read a book, an article; learn about each other; visit a synagogue; go to a church; go to a mosque.
And third, if this process is successful, then I hope you are able to create friendship. And when you have friendship, then really everything changes. Even the most difficult problems begin to take a different shape when you have friends talking, as opposed to the first step, dialogue, where often it's a rehearsal of old prejudices, or putting out the old positions and grievances. One of the reasons the Palestinian/Israeli problem just doesn't seem to be getting unlocked or moving very fast is because both sides are meeting in dialogue, but there is very little friendship on both sides. If there is friendship-if the example of Judea Pearl is followed, where he has reached out in a very magnificent way, I would say even a heroic way-it creates an atmosphere where you can then say "Well, OK, maybe I was wrong. Let's look at it this way." Judea says "I'm secular." I always tease him that I find him more spiritual than some of the religious figures I know. Because what he did [dedicating himself to greater intercultural and interfaith understanding after the murder of his son] was really extraordinary.
This is what we've got to do, because we are living in the age of globalization, which means societies are interpenetrated, juxtaposed with each other. We have to be inclusivist in the way we look at the world. At the heart of the Abrahamic faiths, there is hope, there's optimism, and above all there is acceptance. And that is what is so marvelous and valid about the Abrahamic faiths.
But the terrorist next door is not ever going to be willing to enter into dialogue with those whose values or religion he hates. How do we extrapolate from what you three people are doing to how we untie this Gordian knot?
Judea Pearl: I think I'm the only contributor to the book, "After Terror," who makes the point that there are absolute partitions between good and evil, moral and immoral. And regardless of the source of this absolute, if we don't submit ourselves to such absolutes, we find ourselves in a moral morass.
So the key is to acknowledge that there is real evil in the world.
Judea Pearl: Which means that not every culture ought to be included in our inclusivity. We pride ourselves on being inclusive. But I do not want to include Al Qaeda in my spectrum of included members. Those who deny the basic principle of inclusiveness ought not to be embraced by my inclusiveness.
Akbar Ahmed: I think that Judea is quite right. Obviously, when you're talking about inclusivity you're not talking about people like Al Qaeda who want to blow you up. My concern always, and this is sometimes a difficult point to communicate to people who see Muslims as a monolith who all look alike, is the risk of alienating the majority. If we lose the majority, we lose the bigger game. When we alienate the majority, we strengthen Al Qaeda. So I think sometimes we are ignorant, sometimes we are plain, downright stupid. Because the longer you push in that direction, from a couple of thousand people who want to do harmful things to America, who are the "evil people," we have increased that base to maybe hundreds of thousands, and that has been quite unnecessary.
Judea Pearl: I absolutely agree. And when I say I do not want to include some people in my spectrum, of course I did not mean the Muslim world. I'm talking about people who categorically deny the principle of inclusiveness, and people who deny my basic values as a human being. We have to break the symmetry of "You deny my humanity, so I deny yours." There are absolute principles that civilized society has adopted, and we ought to enforce them. They stand above all sorts of considerations such as "You did me harm, and I do you harm." I'm talking here about the idea of targeting innocent people for the purpose of transmitting a grievance to some perceived wrongdoers. Civilized society has proclaimed that idea to be a taboo. And that taboo has been violated by certain groups. And we should not regard that violation as just another form of culture.
Akbar Ahmed: I read verses from the Qur'an in the National Cathedral last Sunday during the service for the London victims, and one of the verses was exactly what Judea says: That the good and the evil cannot be one.
The verse also says repel evil with the good.
Akbar Ahmed: You talk to ordinary Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia, they will talk about Palestine, they will talk about Kashmir, about Chechnya, and that adds to the sense of irrational anger that right now is like an electric current throughout the Muslim world. And then it is difficult for people like me to talk of compassionate Islam, and friendship and balance, because they're no longer responding as "normal" Muslims and therefore not listening.
I have to shift the argument to include them, so that the majority is not lost. That is always my concern. If we lose the majority, then for me as a Muslim, it is going to be a very dramatic internal collapse of the Muslim world. Because then the argument for an inclusivist, tolerant, compassionate Islam, reflecting Islam's great days, will really have suffered a setback.