Muslims should speak up and fight extremists, not the West

Posted in Broader Middle East | 18-Dec-07 | Author: Khalil Hachem

Lebanese soldiers smile while being transported in a military vehicle during clashes with al Qaeda-inspired militants of the Fatah al-Islam group on the outskirts of the Nahr al-bared refugee camp in north Lebanon July 24, 2007

The shooting has ended this week between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam, a militant group that was holed up for more than 100 days in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

While it is not clear if the army has purged all members of the group from the camp, Arabs and Muslims should learn an important lesson from the war because Fatah al-Islam is another face of a snake called al-Qaeda.

For years, most Muslims and Arabs have considered al-Qaeda, its affiliates and copycats a western problem, chiefly a thorn in the side of the United States.

But they have forgotten that venomous snakes can pretend to be amiable. They may kill their master’s enemy, but they can also turn on their keepers if they get the chance. Instead of killing the snake, some Arabs and Muslims have stood on the sideline and behind their pulpits, charming the multi-headed serpent with money and support.

The fact is, extremists are friends to no one. They wreak havoc on their people, countries and religion.

Fatah al-Islam is a Sunni group, headed by a Palestinian and has been receiving support from some Arab countries and groups. The several hundred members, who are believed to be inspired by al-Qaeda, came from different parts of the Muslim world to wage wars against Americans and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Lebanon.

Most of the Lebanese soldiers and civilians who died in the fighting in Northern Lebanon were Sunni Muslims and were killed by fellow Sunnis from Fatah al-Islam. This should serve as a reminder that extremists have allegiance to no one and will kill anybody who does not agree with their philosophy. They would also attack any place including mosques, schools, markets and funerals, as extremists from both Sunnis and Shia have done in Iraq.

Fatah al-Islam is one of several groups in the Middle East who are championing violence in the name of Islam. They are also a local threat, and it is Muslims and Arabs who should deal with them, not the United States or the West.

On a trip to a couple of Arab countries this year, I was dismayed to hear other Muslims praise Osama Bin Ladin, the man who has given Islam the biggest black eye in the religion’s recent history.

I was shocked to read Arabic newspapers in Jordan declaring Saddam Hussein a hero and depicting his execution as an attack on Islam. Where were those Arabs and Muslims when Saddam slaughtered hundred of thousands of Shias in the south? Oh, I forgot, some Sunnis do not consider Shia fellow Muslims.

But what about the Kurds – they are Sunni Muslims. Didn’t he gas them with chemical weapons?

And now in Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam killed fellow Muslims and brought death and misery to more than 40,000 Palestinian refugees near Tripoli, a Sunni port city in northern Lebanon. The war claimed more than 200 people, and the fighting could have ignited sectarian violence in an ailing country that is seething with political unrest and includes a dozen Palestinian refugee camps. Those camps are off limits to Lebanese authorities, and are a haven to extremists and outlaws.

When the fighting broke out a few months ago, Palestinian faction leaders quickly disassociated themselves from Fatah al-Islam, claiming they did not support the extremist group. Wait a second. You didn’t support it, but you sheltered its members and allow them to train and become lethal?

It is the same excuse that Sunni Iraqis use when they talk about the foreign insurgency in that war-torn country. They all say they don’t support it and don’t want to see their fellow Iraqi Shia killed. But they still give insurgents shelter and support.

On the other hand, Iraqi Shia have done their own share of sectarian killing as well, and most of their leaders have unfortunately shied away from condemning revenge killing of fellow Sunni Iraqi Muslims or perging Sunnis from Shia neighborhoods.

And Muslims in general have done little to discourage young men and women from volunteering to become suicide bombers. A Lebanese member of parliament, who is familiar with the situation in Iraq, told me recently that insurgents have a harder time finding vehicles for suicide missions than finding volunteers to blow themselves up. Suicide bombing of civilians is evil and contradicts Islamic teaching. It offers no glories or rewards in heaven as some people are lead to believe. Instead, it is a ticket to hell and has generated misery for the victims and bad publicity for Islam.

Muslim and Arab communities must break the long-standing silence over suicide bombing and extremists. Yes, it is unfair to ask Muslims to condemn acts of violence committed by fellow Muslims, something that other religious communities are not required to do when their crazies carry out terrible acts or when their governments invade or occupied other countries. But Muslims ought to do it for the sake of saving their own religion from extremists and fending off the bad publicity that Islam has endured. Also silence signifies approval of violence and could encourage new groups to form. What makes al-Qaeda and similar groups lethal is that they pray on young desperate minds.

And when the war broke out between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army, everyone in the Middle East acted surprised that such an organization existed and in a violent way. This is what happens when militants are allowed to infiltrate a community.

Fatah al-Islam is well-financed and is equipped with night-vision goggles and powerful weapons, a luxury the Lebanese Army could not afford. Where did they get the money to pay for the equipment and to recruit hundreds of fighters from different countries? And if the United States and other countries did not rush some military aid to the Lebanese Army, the militants would have killed more soldiers or worse.

The organization has been in the news for months and some members of the Lebanese government have been suspected of supporting and condoning its presence and activities in the country. But now that the snake is out of the box, the charmers are shifting the blame to others, something that Arabs and Muslims are good at.

When I travel around the Muslim world, I listen to Muslims blame their problems on the West and other invisible forces that are working to undermine their unity and prosperity. Denial. Denial. Denial.

If the West is trying to divide Muslims and rob them of their natural resources, why do Muslims listen to the West and kill each other?

And when I travel around the United States, I listen to Muslims complain about the American government harassing them and the media treating them unfairly. Yes, there are groups in this country, who have been working hard to vilify Islam and widen the gulf between Muslims and the West, and yes the media has often been unfair to Muslims.

But why give these groups and the media help?

If bin Laden had not attacked America, if Muslim men had not attacked trains in Spain and London, Muslim-bashers might have harder time finding materials. Only a few minutes after the FBI announced foiling an alleged plot to attack the JFK Airport in New York, N.Y. this year, Muslim bashers did not waste any time to attack Islam and Muslims. Mainstream media outlets peppered their stories with the commonly used phrases, such as Islamic terrorism and militant Islam. In one such a story, the phrases were used at least 10 times, every half an hour, all day.

Are the alleged perpetrators really thinking about the effects of their actions on the Muslim community and on Islam, the religion they claim they are defending?

Extremists are a tiny fraction among Muslims, but the silence of the majority is allowing the small minority to hijack this peaceful religion. If the Lebanese government allowed Fatah al-Islam to win, the problem would have moved to other countries and who knows where else. It could have also encouraged other militant groups to form. God knows we don’t need more.

Those who complain and fuss should stop whining and deal with the problem of extremism themselves. Starve the snake and it will go away.

Khalil E. Hachem is a journalist in Michigan.