Main Article Content
Response to Ariel Cohen: In his answer to question 1, Ariel Cohen offers a
pretty good definition of a moderate Muslim, one that I can subscribe to as
far as it goes. The problem comes more with his definition of radical. If all
armed resistance to foreign occupation is to be condemned – which over the
course of history has widespread acceptance as a legitimate action – then of
course large numbers of Muslim activists fall into the category of radical.
Surely Cohen would not wish to suggest that those guerrilla activities that
have led to the founding of such countries as the United States, Israel,
Kenya, South Africa, and Algeria via anti-colonial struggles are all unacceptable
because they passed through a certain violent phase – including
elements of what might be terror. I agree with him, as do most Muslims,
that in principle, killing innocent civilians constitutes an act of terrorism.
But that holds true whether it takes place from suicide bombers at a distance
of five feet or from 5,000 feet when “legitimate government” bombs are
dropped on resistance forces and surrounding civilians.
Sadly, much of this debate these days really comes down to the specific
tragic events currently unfolding in Israel and Palestine, in which each
side seeks the moral high ground for its own version of the issue. If either
the Israelis or the Palestinians seek an exclusive monopoly on that moral
high ground, then we will lose all moral clarity and will simply be engaged
in propaganda exchanges.
The reality is that the current American dragnet of anti-terrorism, as
well as that of many other countries, sweeps excessively wide in quickly
marking individuals as “radical,” and hence “dangerous” or “linked to terrorism.”
Here in this forum, we cannot just sift the ideological purity of our
favorite radicals or moderates. I would only suggest that if we define politically
active Islamists like Tariq Ramadan as “dangerous” and beyond the
pale of acceptance for dialogue, then we are indeed defining ourselves out
of any serious dialogue with important and influential Islamist leadership.
Such narrowness of vision coupled with a lack of respect for human rights
in the investigation of Muslims is what has created the widespread impression
that the United States is engaged in a “war against Islam.” We cannot
afford to leave that impression ...