Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Islamists vs. Muslims 

On the same general topic as the last post, here's an article by Thomas Friedman in the NYT (link requires registration) about reconciliation between Muslims and a synagogue bombed by Islamists in Turkey. (Thanks to Donald Sensing for the link.)
Let's start with Turkey — the only Muslim, free-market democracy in Europe. I happened to be in Istanbul when the street outside one of the two synagogues that were suicide-bombed on Nov. 15 was reopened. Three things struck me: First, the chief rabbi of Turkey appeared at the ceremony, hand in hand with the top Muslim cleric of Istanbul and the local mayor, while crowds in the street threw red carnations on them. Second, the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who comes from an Islamist party, paid a visit to the chief rabbi — the first time a Turkish prime minister had ever called on the chief rabbi. Third, and most revealing, was the statement made by the father of one of the Turkish suicide bombers who hit the synagogues.

"We are a respectful family who love our nation, flag and the Koran," the grieving father, Sefik Elaltuntas, told the Zaman newspaper. "But we cannot understand why this child had done the thing he had done . . . First, let us meet with the chief rabbi of our Jewish brothers. Let me hug him. Let me kiss his hands and flowing robe. Let me apologize in the name of my son and offer my condolences for the deaths. . . . We will be damned if we do not reconcile with them."

Good stuff. But it does raise the question of how much of the terrorist expression of Islam is inherent in the religion itself, and how much is accretion. The moderates and the radicals both say they're the true Islam, and it seems like observers outside Islam just pick whichever Islam they want to be the real Islam and call it that, like Bush saying that Islam was a religion of peace. That obviously serves his political purposes, but what are his actual credentials for making such a statement?

Certainly I think that the west, in prosecuting this war, ought to do everything it can to court moderate Muslims as allies. That's good policy because they will make very effective allies since they will put to lie the idea that the war is about Muslims vs. the World, and also because they truly are the enemies of our enemies, and thus there is common cause. But whether that equates to allying ourselves to the "true Muslims" is an entirely separate question.

And frankly, I believe, an irrelevant question. That's a question for Muslims to decide, just as we Christians ought to have no concern over what branch of Christianity the Buddhists or the agnostics like the best. When one deals with a religious group, one must deal with the religion as it is lived and expressed by the adherents. One does not have to deal with a theory about how that religion ought to be expressed, unless one is a college professor. One deals with the religion as one finds it. And so if Islam drives some to be peaceful freedom-loving citizens, then we can work with that. But if Islam drives others to walk into children-packed pizza parlors with nail bombs strapped to their chests, then that version at least of that religion is repugnant, and deserves to be castigated and its adherents destroyed.

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