BOSTON -- Even for those who do not follow such affairs closely, it is no secret that radical Islam has settled a rather large piece of real estate in cyberspace. Al Qaeda and a host of other terror groups have used websites as a tool for boasting, for bloody self-promotion and, with more serious implications, to send coded signals to cells, thus commencing terror attacks. Throw the word "martyr" into Google and you will find thousands of extremist sites celebrating the lives and times of suicide bombers.
With any luck, however, those days of murderous electronic mayhem may have reached the high water mark. In recent months, enterprising American Muslims have taken to this same electronic superhighway, so plagued and congested with hate, to argue for a more healthy approach to the interpretation and practice of Islam (i.e. doesn't champion the slaughter of all infidels).
One of these sites is maintained by the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism , a non-profit group founded by Kamal Nawash, a former Virginia State Senate candidate who once made the ill-advised decision to briefly defend Abdurahman Alamoudi against charges that he was cavorting with and receiving cash from Libyan jihadists, charges Alamoudi later pleaded guilty to in federal court. To his credit, Nawash has of late taken a much bolder stand against terrorism than most American Muslim organizations have been willing to.
The mission statement found on the FMCAT website condemns the "sympathetic support for terrorists by Muslim leaders and intellectuals" as "a dangerous trend" and further encourages Muslims and Arabs to "be proud of their faith and at the same time critical." It continues: "Muslims are the only ones who can resolve the problem of terror in Islam, and sadly until the founding of this Coalition, they were the only group who had not definitively spoken up against the use of terror."
Last week Nawash made worldwide headlines with an op-ed, entitled, "We are so Sorry for 9-11." In it Nawash scolds Muslims for lazily blaming every evil in the world on "an imaginary Jewish conspiracy" and issues a stinging indictment of even the moderate Muslim's passivity towards atrocity:
After numerous admissions of guilt by Bin Laden and numerous corroborating admissions by captured top level Al-Qaeda operatives, we wonder, does the Muslim leadership have the dignity and courage to apologize for 9-11? If not 9-11, will we apologize for the murder of school children in Russia? If not Russia, will we apologize for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain? If not Spain, will we apologize for suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other public places? If not suicide bombings, will we apologize for the barbaric beheadings of human beings? If not beheadings, will we apologize for the rape and murder of thousands of innocent people in Darfour? If not Darfour, will we apologize for the blowing up of two Russian planes by Muslim women? What will we apologize for? What will it take for Muslims to realize that those who commit mass murder in the name of Islam are not just a few fringe elements?
Muslim Wake Up!, another, more established moderate Muslim website, has posted more than 800 articles posted and receives more than 90,000 hits per month. The site's founders, Ahmed Nassef and Jawad Ali, claim this makes it the most popular Internet stop for North American Muslims, although that seems an exceedingly difficult claim to prove. Still it is clear that the site's message of a "free exchange of ideas, in an atmosphere that is filled with compassion and free of intimidation, authoritarianism, and dogmatism" is reaching a significant number of people.
And there is an element of bravery here. One of the most recent essays on the site is an account by Inas Younis of how as a young Afghani teenager she subscribed to the primitive interpretation of Islam held by the rebels who would eventually found the Taliban theocracy. Younis lays out in detail how she came to believe what the Taliban said and also the humiliation and degradation of living as a woman under Islamic fundamentalist rule. Today, as a 30 year old woman no longer under their spell, she lashes out in anger at those who oppressed her in the name of piety.
"If the things we cannot explain and do not understand are the means by which we seek to reinforce our belief in God's presence, if accepting religious law submissively without question, laws and fatwas which are not grounded in intellect but on vague interpretations of revelation, are the greatest reinforcement we have of the validity of any religious claim, then the measure of faith in God becomes contingent on the degree to which one is willing to forgo logic," Younis writes.
Another article by Asra Nomani questions the increasing trend in American mosques of treating women as substandard.
"Nothing in the Quran restricts a woman's access to a mosque," Nomani writes. "Muslim women, with men supporting them, should obey the Qur'anic command to fight the zulm, or 'oppression,' that denies women fundamental rights, their civil rights -- especially in America with its strong tradition of fighting for fundamental freedoms."
STRONG STUFF, BUT Muslim Wake Up! is not without its critics. Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, in particular, is not so enamored of a group that has a section on its website called, "Hug a Jew," but only showcases Jews who are anti-Israel. "All Nassef is doing by hugging his right-thinking Jewish friends is letting us all know that Islamic totalitarianism is not the only source of the Muslim world's rejection of the Jewish people's right to freedom and self-determination," she writes.
It's true that neither of these sites is particularly sensitive to Israel's plight. But nevertheless they are willing unequivocally to condemn terrorist acts against the Jewish state, as well as take to task the corrupt authoritarian governments that surround it. All civilized people condemn the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, but when the killing stops, no matter how one feels about the situation, a political problem remains. Now that the Bush Administration, the Israeli government, and most nations of the world have agreed on the eventuality of a Palestinian state, it is inevitable that there will be serious and complicated disagreements about how to proceed. Palestinians and Israelis will have opposing interests in many areas. The goal here, and one that moderate Muslim voices will certainly help foster, is to end these murderous rampages sanctioned by sick-minded Imams so that the world can set about making happen what they have all agreed on in principle.
To be clear, radical Islam is a curse on the world, killing innocent civilians on every continent. Hopefully, the core message of websites like Muslim Wake Up and the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism -- that violence and oppression in the name of Islam is unacceptable by any standard -- will eventually capture many minds that otherwise would go on to become martyrs and madmen.
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