Is Bin Laden a Heretic or Isn't He?

Brit fired for insulting bin Laden: Since 9/11 we have heard again and again that Islamic militants make up only a tiny minority of Muslims worldwide. Most Muslims, we’re told, strongly repudiate terrorism, knowing that it has nothing to do with true, peaceful Islam. Dr. Abdul Hakim Murad, a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge, put it in the strongest possible terms shortly after 9/11: Osama bin Laden’s fatwas declaring jihad against the United States, he said, amount to an “odd and extreme violation of the normal methods of Islamic scholarship.” Murad’s essay is entitled “Bin Laden’s violence is a heresy against Islam.”

One may then reasonably expect that most Muslims abhor bin Laden. But in Britain, a prison officer has just been fired for insulting him – on the grounds that his remarks may have hurt the feelings of three Muslim visitors to the prison.

Mind you, he didn’t say anything about Muslims in general or Islam. All he did was make a crack about Osama: “Two months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that were blamed on bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network, Rose threw some keys into a metal chute at the prison gatehouse. After someone commented on how hard he had thrown them, Rose said: ‘There’s a photo of Osama bin Laden there.'”

It turns out that there were “two Asian women wearing headscarves and an Asian man” nearby who may have heard what he said. Now, after twenty years of service, he is out of a job. The prison’s assistant governor, Andrew Rogers, said: “I took offence at the comment. If the visitors had heard the comment, they might have taken offence too.” Why Rogers took offense is unclear, but prison governor Jerry Knight said at a hearing on the affair that two weeks after 9/11, prison staffers were told to “have continued sensitivity” to the prison’s Muslim inmates.

Now wait a minute. I thought bin Laden was a heretic whose actions were abhorred by all mainstream Muslims. Now these mainstream Muslims’ feelings are so tender that when someone expresses his disdain for bin Laden, they feel slighted? Wouldn’t that imply an identification of these insulted Muslims with bin Laden – an identification that the whole world has been warned not to make again and again for over two years?

The outright lunacy of this recalls the furor over remarks made by Lt. Gen. William Boykin. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, whom Bill Clinton called “a remarkable voice for calm and clarity,” has recently declared that “the Boykin affair still simmers.” Boykin, you see, has according to Zogby “repeatedly made statements, in uniform, displaying anti-Muslim bias,” and he hasn’t been fired.

But what did Boykin really say? He said that a radical Muslim Somali warlord worshipped an idol. The warlord was boasting that Allah would keep American forces from capturing him. “Well,” said Boykin, “my God is bigger than his God. I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol.” This is supposed to insult Islam and all Muslims, but what exactly do moderate Muslims see as objectionable in this? Aren’t they supposed to hold a peaceful Islam and repudiate all violence done in the name of Allah? In that case, wouldn’t they agree – as Muslims – that this warlord was worshipping an idol, the Allah of violence, rather than the true, peaceful Allah?

They can’t have it both ways. Either bin Laden and the warlord are heretical Muslims or they aren’t. If they are, self-proclaimed moderate Muslims shouldn’t take umbrage when such men are disparaged.

The Qur’an made me do it: What would make a man whom the San Francisco Chronicle called a “middle-class university student from Jordan” decide to go to Iraq and become a soldier, even though he was never in the military before? He says it was the Qur’an, not Al-Qaeda: “There’s no way for Al-Qaeda to contact us, and we don’t need Al-Qaeda to bring us here,” said the former engineering student. “If you read the Qur’an closely, it says you must fight against infidels who occupy your country. This is clear. There is no choice.”

Yet moderate Muslim spokesman Jamal Badawi recently insisted that “a careful reading of the Qur’an leaves no doubt” that “Islam is a religion of peace and nonviolence.” Badawi should stop spending his time convincing non-Muslim Westerners of this – that’s easy. He should direct his efforts to convincing people like this Jordanian student.