Terrorism within Islam PBS Religion and Ethics News Weekly 9.10.04

Terrorism within Islam, PBS Religion and Ethics News Weekly, 9.10.04

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, three years after 9/11, a conversation about Muslims and terrorism. Shibley Telhami is a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. Khaled Abou El Fadl is a professor of law at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Welcome to you both. Professor El Fadl, Osama bin Ladin's top deputy warned this week of more attacks on the U.S. Since 9/11, in your judgment, have Islamic terrorist groups become stronger or weaker?

Dr. KHALED ABOU EL FADL (Professor of Law, University of California in Los Angeles, School of Law): Well, both. They have become stronger in the sense that they are able to recruit more people because of the invasion of Iraq and the prolonged military engagement. They have become weaker in the sense that they have lost a considerable amount of the sympathy of the common Muslim in the street.

ABERNETHY: Professor Telhami?

Dr. SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution): Let's talk about Al Qaeda specifically -- let's not lump them all together -- because they are not all motivated by the same agenda. But, in the case of Al Qaeda and its immediate allies, it's clear that -- I agree with Professor El Fadl -- in some ways it's weaker, in some ways it's stronger. I think in terms of public opinion and the ability to recruit and its long-term survivability, Al Qaeda could not have scripted the picture better than it has come out over the last three years. There is far more resentment of the U.S. today in the Middle East than there is of Al Qaeda itself. What they have tried to do over the past three years is to create more resentment of America than there is toward them, and that is the situation today. People are rooting against the U.S. more than they are rooting against Al Qaeda.

ABERNETHY: Professor El Fadl in Los Angeles, the Qur'an is very clear about not killing innocent people. Why has it been so difficult for some Islamic leaders to condemn terrorism?

Dr. EL FADL: Well, in many ways because they are human. The Qur'an is very clear about the prohibition against killing innocent people and against punishing people for the sins of others. The problem is that for many leaders, there is a sense that they are the victims of some injustice or another. There is a very strong sense of victimology, and when you have that sense of being aggrieved, people start finding creative ways to say well, I am actually not killing an innocent, I am killing someone who is guilty of something.

ABERNETHY: Professor Telhami, you have done some interesting polling lately, in six Arab countries I think, about leadership. Talk about that.

Dr. TELHAMI: Well, first, when you look at my surveys, they indicate a stronger Islamic identity in the public over the past three years. They see a threat to Islam and their identities as Muslims as increasing in the end. At the same time, when you ask them, "Whom among world leaders do you admire most?", the three most frequently mentioned names are secular people -- Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former president of Egypt, dead since 1970; Jacques Chirac, who prohibited the veil in France, he is number one in three of the six countries that I surveyed; Saddam Hussein is number one in one of the countries -- secular Arab leaders, who are not even affecting Arab politics today, except that they are seen to be defiant in the U.S., and that is the only thing in common among them.

ABERNETHY: And so ...

Dr. EL FADL: They way I understand this information -- the way I read it -- is the craving for individuals who stand up against the U.S. in one form or another and say no to the big power that the United States is.

ABERNETHY: So is there then a hunger also for moral leadership? And if so, what can the United States do to encourage the development of that?

Dr. TELHAMI: There is no question there is a hunger for moral leadership. In the end, the fight against terrorism, the argument against terrorism is moral. It is -- the ends don't justify the means under any circumstances. It is not about power. It is about moral argument. You can't make that argument unless you have a moral authority to make that argument. And there is a hunger for that kind of authority.

ABERNETHY: Professor El Fadl?

Dr. EL FADL: There is a hunger for also a sense of dignity -- a hunger for a leadership that enables people to feel a sense of honor and self-worth, and it [is] imperative that leadership that gives that sense of dignity would be a moral one as well as a powerful, empowering one.

ABERNETHY: Professor El Fadl at UCLA, many thanks, and many thanks to Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.

Scholar of the House is dedicated to providing a path to peace through education and understanding. Please join our cause!