Where are the Arab voices of reason? [Archives:2001/41/Focus]

October 8 2001

Karen Dabrowska
On August 2nd, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. On January 17th, 1991, the Gulf war started and the country was subjected to 2,000 bombing raids a day, which turned it from one of the most progressive and prosperous states in the Middle East to a third world backwater. Almost five months elapsed between the invasion and the war, but the Arab and Muslim world made little attempt to convince Saddam Hussein of the error of his ways.
Throughout the six decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arabs have always paid lip service to the Palestinian cause. Tragically, the fiery rhetoric has not been matched with concerted efforts to aid the Palestinian people. Thousands of Palestinians are still languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, and severe restrictions are placed on those residing in Gulf states.
A settlement which could have brought about the just peace of which the Palestinians dream was brokered, not by an Arab country, but by the West, and signed in Oslo.
When the Taliban regime dynamited the giant statues of Buddah, the Muslim world looked on horrified. But where was their rapid intervention force which could have prevented this destruction of a cultural heritage – the property, not of Afghanistan but of all mankind?
Osama Bin Laden did not suddenly appear like a genie from a magic lamp. He spent years consolidating his network, recruiting his ‘disciples’ and fomenting a deadly cocktail of extremist ideology and sophisticated technology. His recruits were given a free hand to set up their camps, spread their version of Islam, and plan their operations.
America is certainly not blameless for the explosions that rocked New York and Washington. It is possible that the policy makers who support Israel regardless of how many UN resolutions it violates, and withdraw their representatives from international conferences like the UN Conference on Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, were unaware of how much hatred their policies caused. Maybe now the death of 5,000 – 6,000 children a month in Iraq, caused largely by sanctions which America has no intention of lifting, will be seen in a different light.
What happened to the Arab lobby in America? Thousands of Arabs are living in the USA, and President Bush warned that retaliation against them is unacceptable. They have been accepted and integrated into their host society. But what kind of guest, even if he is given permanent residence and accepted as a member of the family, fails to warn his host of impending disaster? Were the Arab Americans blissfully ignorant that the foreign policy of the USA was steering the American ship onto the rocks of revenge and indiscriminate acts of terrorism, for which thousands of innocent people would pay with their lives?
The Arab and Muslim voices of reason have been overshadowed by the war cries of the fanatics.
In London, the ranting of Abu Hamza, the despicable cleric who may have had a hand in the killing of Western tourists in Abyan, Yemen, have received greater media attention than the reasoned statements of FAIR (Forum Against Islamaphobia & Racism), the Principal of the Muslim College, Dr Zaki Badawi, and the British Muslim Council.

Iraqi Islamist, Dr Mowaffak Al Rubaie, suggested that Muslims call for the following urgent actions to be taken:
1. The Organization of Islamic Conference must meet immediately to confront the problem of terrorism lurking in our Muslim societies.
2. The Organization of Islamic Conference should establish clear principles of action and retribution against terrorism that originates in the OIC countries.
3. Help establish an International Tribunal drawn from leading jurists in the world, including Islamic countries with powers to prosecute and apprehend terrorists.
4. The Muslim world should form a strike force composed of elements from the armed forces of a number of Islamic countries led by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia.
5. The strike force should be used to locate and bring to the International Tribunal, terrorist and criminal organizations that use Islam as a cover for appalling acts of violence.
“Terrorism is a global problem. Where it originates in the Muslim world or is led by those who claim an allegiance to Islam, it becomes an Islamic problem first and foremost. The Muslim world must confront this issue head on and not rely on other forces to fight terrorism. Muslims themselves must seize the initiative in destroying terrorism when it originates in their own ranks.
Muslims are at a crossroads now. Either they seize control over their own destiny; or they allow others to set the agenda for what constitutes a “civilized Muslim,” Al Rubaie said.
For years, Shi’a Muslim publications such as Dialogue and Discourse have been promoting tolerance and understanding. In the words of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “The vast majority of Muslims are decent, upright people who share our horror at what happened.”
But the majority of these decent Muslims live under the hegemony of regimes which do not promote freedom and the free flow of information. Repression breeds frustration and anger coupled with a steady flow of recruits to fundamentalist and extremist organizations.
In the words of Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain: “Certainly, people can’t help looking at the bombing of Iraq and feeling a sense of quiet fury, but what happened in America is absolutely unacceptable. If you have a grievance, the way to deal with it is to get involved in a democratic process”.
Sadly this is not an option for the majority of the world’s one billion Muslims.
If Arab and Muslim states fail to respond to the will of the masses and act through diplomatic and peaceful channels to bring an end to the suffering of the Palestinians, the Iraqis and the numerous repressed Muslim minorities throughout the world, the extremists will continue to wage war against the West.