Terror Trials Will Pose Tough Questions about Islam

Article excerpt

If Islam is a religion of peace, why do so many Westerners find it scary?

The coming trials of 11 Muslim men in the United States for several separate acts of mass murder will sharply refocus attention on Islamic theology. It will also present the Muslim world with a "moment of truth."

How the Ummah, the global Muslim community, reacts will be a crucial test of how the American public judges the mantra "Islam is a religion of peace."

Political correctness aside, the jury is still out in the court of American public opinion.

Some time in the coming year, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees are to be tried in a civilian criminal court in New York for plotting the 9/11 terror attacks and for the mass murder of nearly 3,000 people. Five others will be tried before a military tribunal on separate charges including the attack on the warship USS Cole that killed 17 sailors.

In a separate court martial, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan will face charges of murdering 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, reportedly because, as a Muslim, he found it morally repugnant to participate in wars against the Ummah in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why is Islam so scary to Westerners?

The trials will raise tough questions about Islam itself, a faith with 1.5 billion adherents.

For example, if Islam is a religion of peace, why do so many Westerners find it scary? Violent Muslim reaction to perceived insults is a major reason. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was killed for making a documentary critical of Islam. A year later, more than 200 people died in riots and bombings after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Intimidation now runs deep: Yale University Press this year refused to reprint the cartoons in a scholarly book about the incident for fear of inciting violence.

The second question these trials will raise is about Muslim loyalty. To whom do American Muslims show their primary allegiance: to the teachings of the Holy Koran or to our secular government? Mr. Hasan is not the first Muslim in the military to kill fellow soldiers because of divided loyalties. In 2003, Sgt. Hasan Akbar murdered two US soldiers with a grenade. He was presumably fueled by religious resentment.

Concern over divided loyalty has long dogged minorities in America. Half a century ago, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was publicly asked if he owed his primary loyalty to the US Constitution or to the pope in Rome.

More recently, another American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, a Jew, was sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel. Mr. Pollard now sits in federal prison because he was more loyal to Israel than to his native America. …