Enlisting the Muslim Community in Counterterrorism

Article excerpt

Nine days after the July 7 London public transport bombings that killed fifty-five people, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for an alliance between government authorities and the country's Muslims that would root out the terrorists in Britain.

Calling al-Qaeda's philosophy an "evil ideology," he declared in a speech in London at a Labor Party policy conference, "Within Britain, we must join up with our Muslim community to take on the extremists. Worldwide, we should confront [terrorism] everywhere it exists. We must pull this up by the roots." In his speech, he recognized that the battle is fundamentally one of ideas and that hearts and minds are the territory that must be won. Religious extremist ideology, he intimated, must not be allowed to turn any more young Muslim men into hate-saturated fanatics.

Blair is edging toward exactly the sort of policy that is the only possible long-term solution to Islamic terrorism in the West. Patriotic, good-hearted Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Muslim communities in various Western countries, must be enlisted to sniff out the extremists and hatemongers--and especially those who step over the line and plan criminal acts of "war" against their host nations.

To successfully enlist Muslims in such a cause, however, a couple of things have to be realized.

1) The Muslim community is a minority community that has suffered considerable misunderstanding, contempt, and even persecution in the various Western countries in which they reside. Therefore, it is necessary to approach the community with a respectful, embracing attitude. Most Muslims are persons of color and, as such, the white majority has a sad track record of tending to look askance upon them. The bias has intensified due to the fact that a great many Muslims, especially women, are in the habit of dressing in a modest fashion, wearing headscarves, long dresses, and long sleeves. The reaction of the non-Muslim majority has often been sneering disdain and intolerance.

2) The average Muslim tends to be far more overtly religious than the average British or American Christian--not to mention the average religiously minimalist continental European. Prayer five times a day is mandatory for the serious Muslim, as is attendance at Friday mosque services and donating to charitable causes. Therefore, Western leaders' appeal to their respective Islamic communities is most effectively undertaken using respectful religious terminology. For example, to make a point to the Muslim community, it would be entirely appropriate for, say, Blair or President George W. Bush, to quote the Qur'an, citing sura and verse, or to refer to a saying of the Prophet Mohammed, following his name with the traditional Muslim phrase, "Peace be unto him. …