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Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam

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    The Wall Street Journal Friday, December 30, 2005 Commentary Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam By Abdurrahman Wahid JAKARTA -- News organizations report that Osama
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2005
      The Wall Street Journal
      Friday, December 30, 2005


      Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam

      By Abdurrahman Wahid

      JAKARTA -- News organizations report that Osama bin Laden has obtained a
      religious edict from a misguided Saudi cleric, justifying the use of nuclear
      weapons against America and the infliction of mass casualties. It requires
      great emotional strength to confront the potential ramifications of this
      fact. Yet can anyone doubt that those who joyfully incinerate the occupants
      of office buildings, commuter trains, hotels and nightclubs would leap at
      the chance to magnify their damage a thousandfold?

      Imagine the impact of a single nuclear bomb detonated in New York, London,
      Paris, Sydney or L.A.! What about two or three? The entire edifice of modern
      civilization is built on economic and technological foundations that
      terrorists hope to collapse with nuclear attacks like so many fishing huts
      in the wake of a tsunami.

      Just two small, well-placed bombs devastated Bali's tourist economy in 2002
      and sent much of its population back to the rice fields and out to sea, to
      fill their empty bellies. What would be the effect of a global economic
      crisis in the wake of attacks far more devastating than those of Bali or

      It is time for people of goodwill from every faith and nation to recognize
      that a terrible danger threatens humanity. We cannot afford to continue
      "business as usual" in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must
      set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the
      danger that lies before us.

      * * *

      An extreme and perverse ideology in the minds of fanatics is what directly
      threatens us (specifically, Wahhabi/Salafi ideology -- a minority
      fundamentalist religious cult fueled by petrodollars). Yet underlying,
      enabling and exacerbating this threat of religious extremism is a global
      crisis of misunderstanding.

      All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches one to be lenient
      towards others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are
      tolerated by Islam as a religion. The essence of Islam is encapsulated in
      the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion." That
      is the essence of tolerance. Religious fanatics -- either purposely or out
      of ignorance -- pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and
      bloodshed. They justify their brutality with slogans such as "Islam is above
      everything else." They seek to intimidate and subdue anyone who does not
      share their extremist views, regardless of nationality or religion. While a
      few are quick to shed blood themselves, countless millions of others
      sympathize with their violent actions, or join in the complicity of silence.

      This crisis of misunderstanding -- of Islam by Muslims themselves -- is
      compounded by the failure of governments, people of other faiths, and the
      majority of well-intentioned Muslims to resist, isolate and discredit this
      dangerous ideology. The crisis thus afflicts Muslims and non-Muslims alike,
      with tragic consequences. Failure to understand the true nature of Islam
      permits the continued radicalization of Muslims world-wide, while blinding
      the rest of humanity to a solution which hides in plain sight.

      The most effective way to overcome Islamist extremism is to explain what
      Islam truly is to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Without that explanation,
      people will tend to accept the unrefuted extremist view -- further
      radicalizing Muslims, and turning the rest of the world against Islam

      Accomplishing this task will be neither quick nor easy. In recent decades,
      Wahhabi/Salafi ideology has made substantial inroads throughout the Muslim
      world. Islamic fundamentalism has become a well-financed, multifaceted
      global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing
      world, and even among immigrant Muslim communities in the West. To
      neutralize the virulent ideology that underlies fundamentalist terrorism and
      threatens the very foundations of modern civilization, we must identify its
      advocates, understand their goals and strategies, evaluate their strengths
      and weaknesses, and effectively counter their every move. What we are
      talking about is nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam.

      * * *

      The Sunni (as opposed to Shiite) fundamentalists' goals generally include:
      claiming to restore the perfection of the early Islam practiced by Muhammad
      and his companions, who are known in Arabic as al-Salaf al-Salih, "the
      Righteous Ancestors"; establishing a utopian society based on these Salafi
      principles, by imposing their interpretation of Islamic law on all members
      of society; annihilating local variants of Islam in the name of authenticity
      and purity; transforming Islam from a personal faith into an authoritarian
      political system; establishing a pan-Islamic caliphate governed according to
      the strict tenets of Salafi Islam, and often conceived as stretching from
      Morocco to Indonesia and the Philippines; and, ultimately, bringing the
      entire world under the sway of their extremist ideology.

      Fundamentalist strategy is often simple as well as brilliant. Extremists are
      quick to drape themselves in the mantle of Islam and declare their opponents
      kafir, or infidels, and thus smooth the way for slaughtering
      nonfundamentalist Muslims. Their theology rests upon a simplistic, literal
      and highly selective reading of the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic traditions),
      through which they seek to entrap the world-wide Muslim community in the
      confines of their narrow ideological grasp. Expansionist by nature, most
      fundamentalist groups constantly probe for weakness and an opportunity to
      strike, at any time or place, to further their authoritarian goals.

      The armed ghazis (Islamic warriors) raiding from New York to Jakarta,
      Istanbul, Baghdad, London and Madrid are only the tip of the iceberg,
      forerunners of a vast and growing population that shares their radical views
      and ultimate objectives. The formidable strengths of this world-wide
      fundamentalist movement include:

      1) An aggressive program with clear ideological and political goals; 2)
      immense funding from oil-rich Wahhabi sponsors; 3) the ability to distribute
      funds in impoverished areas to buy loyalty and power; 4) a claim to and aura
      of religious authenticity and Arab prestige; 5) an appeal to Islamic
      identity, pride and history; 6) an ability to blend into the much larger
      traditionalist masses and blur the distinction between moderate Islam and
      their brand of religious extremism; 7) full-time commitment by its
      agents/leadership; 8) networks of Islamic schools that propagate extremism;
      9) the absence of organized opposition in the Islamic world; 10) a global
      network of fundamentalist imams who guide their flocks to extremism; 11) a
      well-oiled "machine" established to translate, publish and distribute
      Wahhabi/Salafi propaganda and disseminate its ideology throughout the world;
      12) scholarships for locals to study in Saudi Arabia and return with degrees
      and indoctrination, to serve as future leaders; 13) the ability to cross
      national and cultural borders in the name of religion; 14) Internet
      communication; and 15) the reluctance of many national governments to
      supervise or control this entire process.

      We must employ effective strategies to counter each of these fundamentalist
      strengths. This can be accomplished only by bringing the combined weight of
      the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims, and the non-Muslim world, to bear
      in a coordinated global campaign whose goal is to resolve the crisis of
      misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world.

      An effective counterstrategy must be based upon a realistic assessment of
      our own strengths and weaknesses in the face of religious extremism and
      terror. Disunity, of course, has proved fatal to countless human societies
      faced with a similar existential threat. A lack of seriousness in
      confronting the imminent danger is likewise often fatal. Those who seek to
      promote a peaceful and tolerant understanding of Islam must overcome the
      paralyzing effects of inertia, and harness a number of actual or potential
      strengths, which can play a key role in neutralizing fundamentalist
      ideology. These strengths not only are assets in the struggle with religious
      extremism, but in their mirror form they point to the weakness at the heart
      of fundamentalist ideology. They are:

      1) Human dignity, which demands freedom of conscience and rejects the forced
      imposition of religious views; 2) the ability to mobilize immense resources
      to bring to bear on this problem, once it is identified and a global
      commitment is made to solve it; 3) the ability to leverage resources by
      supporting individuals and organizations that truly embrace a peaceful and
      tolerant Islam; 4) nearly 1,400 years of Islamic traditions and
      spirituality, which are inimical to fundamentalist ideology; 5) appeals to
      local and national -- as well as Islamic -- culture/traditions/pride; 6) the
      power of the feminine spirit, and the fact that half of humanity consists of
      women, who have an inherent stake in the outcome of this struggle; 7)
      traditional and Sufi leadership and masses, who are not yet radicalized
      (strong numeric advantage: 85% to 90% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims);
      8) the ability to harness networks of Islamic schools to propagate a
      peaceful and tolerant Islam; 9) the natural tendency of like-minded people
      to work together when alerted to a common danger; 10) the ability to form a
      global network of like-minded individuals, organizations and opinion leaders
      to promote moderate and progressive ideas throughout the Muslim world; 11)
      the existence of a counterideology, in the form of traditional, Sufi and
      modern Islamic teachings, and the ability to translate such works into key
      languages; 12) the benefits of modernity, for all its flaws, and the
      widespread appeal of popular culture; 13) the ability to cross national and
      cultural borders in the name of religion; 14) Internet communications, to
      disseminate progressive views -- linking and inspiring like-minded
      individuals and organizations throughout the world; 15) the nation-state;
      and 16) the universal human desire for freedom, justice and a better life
      for oneself and loved ones.

      Though potentially decisive, most of these advantages remain latent or
      diffuse, and require mobilization to be effective in confronting
      fundamentalist ideology. In addition, no effort to defeat religious
      extremism can succeed without ultimately cutting off the flow of
      petrodollars used to finance that extremism, from Leeds to Jakarta.

      Only by recognizing the problem, putting an end to the bickering within and
      between nation-states, and adopting a coherent long-term plan (executed with
      international leadership and commitment) can we begin to apply the brakes to
      the rampant spread of extremist ideas and hope to resolve the world's crisis
      of misunderstanding before the global economy and modern civilization itself
      begin to crumble in the face of truly devastating attacks.

      Muslims themselves can and must propagate an understanding of the "right"
      Islam, and thereby discredit extremist ideology. Yet to accomplish this task
      requires the understanding and support of like-minded individuals,
      organizations and governments throughout the world. Our goal must be to
      illuminate the hearts and minds of humanity, and offer a compelling
      alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of
      hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.

      Mr. Wahid, former president of Indonesia, is patron and senior advisor to
      the LibForAll Foundation (www.libforall.org), an Indonesian and U.S.-based
      nonprofit that works to reduce religious extremism and discredit the use of

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