Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Islam, Terrorism Muslims Are under Threat, Too

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Islam, Terrorism Muslims Are under Threat, Too

Article excerpt

Donald Trump has promised to change the presidential vocabulary for talking about the relationship between terrorism and Islam. President Barack Obama chooses words that decouple the two, avoiding terms like "Islamic terrorism" and even insisting that the violent radicals of the Islamic State aren't Islamic at all. Mr. Trump wants to highlight the connection.

They're both misguided. Neither approach can win hearts or minds.

Mr. Trump's saying that the United States is under attack from radical Islam is foolish because, as Mr. Obama has said, if we "imply that we are at war with the entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them." But Mr. Obama's approach is just as likely to backfire.

Insisting that Islamic State fighters aren't good Muslims can help them rally sympathizers, because telling a Muslim he or she is a nonbeliever is a profound affront. Omar bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, wrote in "Growing Up bin Laden" that "there is no bigger insult for a Muslim" than to say that the person is not a true believer.

Rana Nejem, founding director of the Middle East cultural intelligence firm Yarnu, told me that such a statement would be particularly offensive coming from an American head of state because it would confirm a widespread perception in the Arab world that foreign powers try to control them.

"To be told by non-Muslims what is and is not Islamic is insulting, to say the least," she said.

Saying that the Islamic State isn't Islamic is also dangerous because it encourages attacks. According to the Prophet Muhammad, if a man accuses another man of being a nonbeliever, "then one of them is right." If the accuser is incorrect, he is guilty of apostasy, a crime punishable by death.

Of course, there's a reason Mr. Obama tried this approach. As columnist Eli Lake has explained, "The long war against radical Islamic terrorists requires at least the tacit support of many radical Muslims."

It would be easier to get these other radicals to disavow the Islamic State if they saw the Islamic State as non-Islamic.

For example, Omar bin Laden wrote that, after his father masterminded the deadly 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, ordered the elder bin Laden to leave Afghanistan. According to Omar bin Laden, who says he was present at the meeting, his father - who had already been kicked out of Saudi Arabia and Sudan - negotiated permission from the Taliban leader to stay for 18 more months by telling him, "Sheik, if you give in to the pressure of infidel governments, your decision will be against Islam. …

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