Rudolph Giuliani, at the Republican Convention praising George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks, declared: “We stood face to face with those people and forces who hijacked not just airplanes but a religion and turned it into a creed of terrorism dedicated to eradicating us and our way of life.”
The next day in Israel, suicide bombers from the terrorist group Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, killed sixteen people and wounded eighty by blowing up two buses. In its Charter, Hamas makes it clear that its struggle is religious: “For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad.”
That same day came another suicide bombing, outside a crowded subway station in Moscow. A female terrorist killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 50. The Chechen jihadist groups that were likely responsible for the downing of two Russian jets last week probably had a hand in this as well.
Meanwhile, a jihadist group in Iraq announced that it had beheaded twelve Nepalese cooks and cleaners, in part for the crime of being Buddhist: “We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalis who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians … believing in Buddha as their God.”
How does Giuliani know that these groups in Israel, Russia, and Iraq, and many other like them around the world, have “hijacked” Islam? How does he know that they don’t in fact represent the true values of Islam, as they claim to do?
Now, I don’t want to spoil the party at Madison Square Garden, but Giuliani’s reference to a hijacked religion highlights the vulnerabilities of the American response to Islamic terror. In fact, Islam is not monolithic: no one — not even Rudy — can declare that something is “true Islam” and something else isn’t, and have his decision accepted by the Islamic world. Therefore it is not enough for Giuliani and others to tell Americans that terrorists don’t represent “true Islam.” True moderate Muslims need to convince other Muslims that the terrorists are heretics. But instead, the radicals wear the mantle of Islamic purity virtually unchallenged.
If they haven’t hijacked the religion, but have a legitimate claim to represent at least a broad tradition within Islam, it does no good — and in fact will do serious harm — to ignore or sugarcoat that fact. If Islamic teachings really sanction violence against unbelievers, that needs to be addressed by all, Muslim and non-Muslim, who claim to oppose terrorist activity. Only that will lead to concrete measures to deal with the situation.
And the U.S. government is taking concrete measures. Officials announced Monday that they were giving $157 million to Indonesia to improve the quality of education in that nation’s schools. Asked where this money was going, the American ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, replied: “Pesantrens, madrassas, public schools, private schools. It has been drafted with the advice and input of the ministry of education and religious affairs.” Aside from the Constitutional issues raised by American aid to Islamic schools, the key question is: who will monitor what these schools teach about violent jihad? No word from Boyce on that.
During a visit to an Islamic school, Boyce was recently greeted by a band of girls, all wearing veils and banging out the rock classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Last week Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University and one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, gave some insight into what kind of stairway they may have had in mind: he defended suicide bombing on Lebanese television, saying, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute: “Anyone who blows himself up amongst the enemy that wants to kill him and he can find no means of defending himself except blowing himself up amongst these soldiers who are occupying his land and destroying his home, and so he blows himself up amongst these aggressive soldiers, is a Shahid, Shahid, Shahid.” (A shahid is a martyr.) Of course, many other Islamic teachers have already declared that everyone in Israel is a soldier.
But with Rudolph Giuliani’s view of the hijacking of a great religion still dominating public discourse about Islam, no one of influence is yet coming to grips with any of this.