A Glimmer of Hope

Every day the death toll in the name of radical Islam mounts.  In Turkey, three Christian missionaries were found dead recently after being brutally tortured for three hours and then decapitated.  In Iraq, women were blown up while worshipping in a mosque.  In Afghanistan, teachers have been taken out of their classrooms and disemboweled for the "sin" of teaching Afghan girls.  In northern Nigeria, Muslim students beat a Christian teacher to death for accidentally tearing a portion of a Koran she had taken from a female student during an examination.  
 
But these are not isolated or random acts of terror.  Barely a day goes by without an attempt by Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah or Hamas to kill Israeli Jews.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust while planning a second and warns President Bush and the American people to convert to Islam or face certain death.  Meanwhile, all over the Middle East, and around the world, Islamofascist Imams
indoctrinate young Muslim children into a culture of death and tell them Allah will only be satisfied if they kill the "infidels"– all of them. 
 
Optimists in the United States and Europe caution us not to condemn an entire religion for the murderous acts of a few.  The pessimists respond: "But where are the moderate Islamic voices condemning the violence being committed in the name of their faith?"  Even here in the U.S., so-called mainstream Muslim groups spend more time pushing the
idea that they are being victimized by U.S. anti-terror efforts than they do renouncing the world-wide violence being committed in the name of their religion.  Internationally, Muslim leaders denounce Israel and the U.S. while ignoring this inconvenient fact:  More Muslims have died at the hands of their co-religionists than from U.S. or Israeli bombs. 
 
If there is a voice for pluralism, peace and tolerance in Islam, the "pessimists" wonder aloud, where is it?
 
I may have heard it recently in Kiev, Ukraine, where Christian, Jewish and Muslim government, religious and civic leaders gathered in an attempt to find common ground.  The unique gathering, dubbed the Summit on Peace and Tolerance, was the brainchild of Irwin Katsof and was a joint project of the World Conference for Christians, Jews and Muslims; the Global Foundation for Democracy; and the Ukrainian Interfaith Association. I was invited to speak at the event, whose attendees included Tom Ridge, the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, former Romanian Prime Minister Petre Roman and National Religious Broadcasters President Dr. Frank Wright, among other prominent leaders. 
 
There were many thoughtful presentations, and some positive relationships were built.  But the participant who in my view stole the show was former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first female elected to lead a Muslim nation.  In a powerful statement, the former prime minister, her head demurely covered by a loose-fitting scarf, told the assembly that she was angry and broken hearted by the evil acts being committed in the name of her faith. "This is not the Islam I was raised to believe in," she told the hushed audience.  She then went on to explain why she believed respect and equality for women,
tolerance and freedom were values required by Islam.
 
Bhutto has been in exile from her native land for over a decade.  She hinted that she was now prepared to return to Pakistan to save her nation from the murderers who support Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  She seemed well aware that by going back she would be risking her life.
 
Does the Pakistan that elected her twice still exist?  I have my doubts. But I hope and pray she succeeds.  And I hope her example inspires other Muslims-men and women-to stand up to and against the violent extremism that pervades much of the Muslim world.  If moderate Muslims truly want to prevent Islam from becoming synonymous with mindless violence, bigotry and murder, they will have to let their voices be heard-and soon.  
 
Reasonable people can disagree about whether the impulse to violence in Islam is embraced by a small minority or a majority of Muslims.  But history demonstrates that when a minority is wholly dedicated to violence, it can bully a timid majority into acquiescence.  It was seen in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, for instance, and it’s palpable today in much of the Muslim world. 
 
What’s needed, then, is for moderate Muslims to summon the courage and resolve to speak up and take a stand against extremism within their ranks.   
 
There are, fortunately, signs that Bhutto is not alone.  A million Turks marched recently to protest the growing Islamist movement in that country.  And, late last year, several  thousand Muslims in Kismayo, Somalia publicly protested the arrival of an al Qaeda-backed Islamic militia there.  In Iraq, Sunni tribal leaders are fighting back against
al Qaeda, because they are tired of the death-delivering extremists. Here in the United States, meanwhile, groups such as The American Islamic Forum for Democracy, led by American Muslim M. Zuhdi Jasser, are competing with groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which all too often appears sympathetic to the extremists.
 
Even at a time when religious fanaticism continues its violent march across the Muslim world, Bhutto’s example, as well as that of many other courageous Muslims, provides a glimmer of hope that the scourge of Islamic extremism will one day subside.


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