politics, history and the war on terror
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Voices of Freedom in Unexpected Places  

I am often asked the question "why should I believe Muslims practice a religion of peace in light of their actions on 9/11, in Iraq and elsewhere" or "I want to believe Muslims want freedom as we do, but I do not see evidence of this".

While it is easy to be discouraged by the paucity of Arab and Muslim voices in opposition to Islamic terrorism and in support of freedom and reform throughout the Middle East, we must attempt to understand the reasons for silence. The majority of Muslims do not live in democratic societies, and fear reprisals from either their government (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria) or violent jihadis (such as the murder of pro-American Shiite cleric Khoei and other clerics in Iraq after the fall of Saddam). Muslims and their families who have stood up to dictators and Islamist have paid an awful price. We as Americans take for granted the freedoms and protections our Constitution and liberal society provide, and are not accustomed to the fear of retaliation and violence that exists in other nations.

But there are reasons to have hope, as voices for moderation and democracy in the Muslim community do exist. The al-Sunnah Foundation of America contains some interesting dialog among moderate Muslims. At this site, you will find a policy review of a Jewish-Muslim debate on sharing Jerusalem and a refutation of Wahhabism, the radical, violent Islamist ideology espoused by al Qaeda. Within Saudi Arabia, some have the courage to speak out against Wahhabism and for reform in the Kingdom. In Iraq, General Latif, the commander of the Fallujah Brigade, which is assisting US Marines with providing security in the violent city, speaks out in defense of American soldiers and again against Saddam Hussien and the resistance in Iraq.

"They were brought here by the acts of one coward who was hunted out of a rathole - Saddam - who disgraced us all," Latif said. "Let us tell our children that these men (U.S. troops) came here to protect us.

"As President Bush said, they did not come here to occupy our land but to get rid of Saddam. We can help them leave by helping them do their job, or we can make them stay ten years and more by keeping fighting."

Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, recognizes the threat all freedom loving people face and sees hope in the Muslim community, a willingness to fight radical Islam. His entire speech is worth reading as he provides some thoughtful and controversial opinions on the War on Terror.

We were fortunate that in Singapore the Muslim community and Islamic leaders trusted the Government sufficiently to be willing to offer their help. They understood that unless they acted, all Muslims could have been tarred by a few. I recently traveled to Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain and also met a number of other Middle Eastern leaders in Singapore. I found them determined to fight the ideology that feeds the Islamic terrorists through educational reform and other means. They understand the problem. I am encouraged by these signs and am trying to initiate a dialogue between Asia and the Middle East to share experiences and forge understanding. India and Southeast Asia together have more Muslims than in the Middle East. It is possible Asian Muslims can make a contribution to the ideological fight.

Iran has a strong pro-democracy movement with many differing views, including Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who believes Islam and democracy can coexist, as it does in Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia. Numerous demonstrations occur yearly in Iran in protest of the religious rule of clerics that subvert democracy and desired freedoms. Iranian opposition groups are strong supporters of democracy and freedom from religious rule.

"There can be no change in Iran unless the present theocratic-based Constitution of the regime is radically changed into a real democracy", says Mr. Mohammad Mohsen Sazegara, a veteran Iranian political dissident.

We must be careful not to characterize all Muslims as supporters of tyranny and terror, as it is the Muslim community both at home and abroad that we depend on to promote sanity and reason to the followers of Islam. Just as we do not judge all Christians by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan or other Christian extremist groups, or all Jews by the actions of Jewish extremists, neither should we judge all Muslims on the actions of Islamist jihadis, al Qaeda, Arab dictators and Islamic theocrats. While the Muslim voice is often lost in the sea of Islamist hate speech, we must find ways to promote moderate and tolerant supporters of freedom. Americans and moderate Muslims are natural allies, as the real wrath of Islamist terrorist are Muslims who do not adhere to their narrow brand of Islam. The United States can act as a catalyst for change in the Middle East and elsewhere but must work in conjunction with Muslims who want to build a better life for themselves and their children.


Please view the following Middle East Blogs for opinions of every day Iraqis and Egyptians:

The Messopotamian
Healing Iraq
Iraq at a Glance
Iraq the Model
Land of the Pharohs

Posted by bill roggio @ 11:48 PM