Muslims debate public reaction to terrorism

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Europe’s Muslims have remained largely silent in the face of terrorist attacks that have killed 254 people in Madrid, London and Amsterdam.

Europeans want to know why.

Why have so few of them publicly condemned the train and bus bombings in Madrid and London? Why have so few spoken out against the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, killed because his work was considered an insult to Islam?

Talk to Europe’s mainstream Muslims privately, however, and they have a lot to say.

Seek them out in the neighborhoods where they live and work, and they denounce, the vast majority unequivocally, attacks against civilians in both Europe and the United States.

“Van Gogh was a crazy man, but no one has the right to kill anyone who says bad things about the Quran,” said Mohammed Azahaf, a 23-year-old student who runs a youth center in Amsterdam. “If you kill one, it’s like killing the whole of mankind,” he said, quoting a line from the Muslim holy book.

Some feel shame

Why, then, the public silence?

For some of the more than five dozen Muslims interviewed for this story in Amsterdam, Paris and London, it’s a sense of shame, or even guilt, that innocent people have been killed in the name of Islam; they say those feelings make them seek to be invisible. For those with jobs, there is little time to protest or write letters to newspapers. For others, there is fear of being branded anti-Islam in their communities.

Dutch Muslim rapper Yassine SB, 20, wrote a song about his anger over Van Gogh’s murder but scrapped plans to perform it out of fear of being ostracized by the Islamic community. He also turned down requests by a popular Amsterdam radio station to sing a song against terrorism.

“If you sing that, it’s like you choose the Dutch, not Muslims,” said Yassine SB, who is popular among Dutch North African youths like himself for his songs against racism.

“People will say, ‘You are a traitor,’ ” he said.

In the Netherlands, Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali – who wrote the script for Van Gogh’s movie “Submission” – went into hiding after receiving death threats for her condemnations of Islam. And in the United States, Syrian-born psychologist Wafa Sultan’s calls for Islamic reform also earned her death threats.

But there is another reason for the silence – one that for many overrides all others.

Why, many Muslims ask, should they have to speak out against, or apologize for, the actions of radicals who do not represent them – people they do not even regard as true Muslims?

Many find the very idea of being asked or expected to denounce such acts “extremely offensive and insulting,” said Khurshid Drabu, a senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain.

“I’m British,” said Tuhina Ahmed, 24, a British-born Muslim in London whose family came from Gujarat in India. “I could have been blown up as well.”

Why, she asked, should she have to make a public statement to prove her objection to terrorism?

To many, the pressure to denounce acts of terror smacks of President Bush’s warning: “You are either with us or against us.”

“People and politicians say, where are the Muslim people, why aren’t they on the streets defending themselves? They say we should go into the streets and condemn what happened so they see us as good Muslims,” said Karima Ramani, a 20-year-old Dutch born to an Algerian father and Moroccan mother. “I don’t feel it’s my duty. I’m not responsible for the death of Van Gogh.”

Outcry on Internet

Yet the Internet is filled with blogs – mostly from Westerners but also by some Muslims – asking why Muslims are not expressing revulsion at the attacks. They see the silence as giving the terrorists strength.

“Isn’t silence, justification, fear and hesitation in condemning terrorism, a factor in the encouragement of these individuals to appear on numerous platforms and satellite channels and claim that they represent a religion in the absence of active influential groups and institutions?” asked a blog entry by Ahmed Al-Rabei, a Kuwaiti journalist who works for London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Isn’t it a tragic crime to label the millions of European Muslims as guilty because of the rhetoric of a few professional lunatics, while the rest remain silent and wallow in self-pity? We have to admit that Islam has been hijacked particularly in European countries.”

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