September 9, 2004
Massacre Draws Self-Criticism in Muslim Press
By JOHN KIFNER
EIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 8 - The brutal school siege in Russia, with hundreds of children dead and wounded, has touched off an unusual round of self-criticism and introspection in the Muslim and Arab world.
"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims," Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the widely watched satellite television station Al Arabiya said in one of the most striking of these commentaries.
Writing in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat, Mr. Rashed said it was "shameful and degrading" that not only were the Beslan hijackers Muslims, but so were the killers of Nepalese workers in Iraq; the attackers of residential towers in Riyadh and Khobar, Saudi Arabia; the women believed to have blown up two Russian airplanes last week; and Osama bin Laden himself.
"The majority of those who manned the suicide bombings against buses, vehicles, schools, houses and buildings, all over the world, were Muslim," he wrote. "What a pathetic record. What an abominable 'achievement.' Does this tell us anything about ourselves, our societies and our culture?"
Mr. Rashed, like several other commentators, singled out Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a senior Egyptian cleric living in Qatar who broadcasts an influential program on Al Jazeera television and who has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, calling for the killing of American and foreign "occupiers" in Iraq, military and civilian. "Let us contemplate the incident of this religious sheik allowing, nay even calling for, the murder of civilians," he wrote. "How can we believe him when he tells us that Islam is the religion of mercy and peace while he is turning it into a religion of blood and slaughter?"
Mr. Rashed recalled that in the past, leftists and nationalists in the Arab world were considered a "menace" for their adoption of violence, and the mosque was a haven of "peace and reconciliation" by contrast. "Then came the neo-Muslims," he said. "An innocent and benevolent religion, whose verses prohibit the felling of trees in the absence of urgent necessity, that calls murder the most heinous of crimes, that says explicitly that if you kill one person you have killed humanity as a whole, has been turned into a global message of hate and a universal war cry."
A columnist for the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyassa, Faisal al-Qina'I, also took aim at Sheik Qaradawi. "It is saddening," he wrote, "to read and hear from those who are supposed to be Muslim clerics, like Yusuf al-Qaradawi and others of his kind, that instead of defending true Islam, they encourage these cruel actions and permit decapitation, hostage taking and murder."
In Jordan, a group of Muslim religious figures, meeting with the religious affairs minister, Ahmed Heleil, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the seizing of the school and subsequent massacre "was dedicated to distorting the pure image of Islam.'' "This terrorist act contradicts the principles of our true Muslim religion and its noble values," the statement said.
Writing in the Jordanian daily Ad Dustour, columnist Bater Wardam noted the propensity in the Arab world to "place responsibility for the crimes of Arabic and Muslim terrorist organizations on the Mossad, the Zionists and the American intelligence, but we all know that this is not the case.'' "They came from our midst," he wrote of those who had kidnapped and killed civilians in Iraq, blown up commuter trains in Spain, turned airliners into bombs and shot the children in Ossetia. "They are Arabs and Muslims who pray, fast, grow beards, demand the wearing of veils and call for the defense of Islamic causes,'' he said. "Therefore we must all raise our voices, disown them and oppose all these crimes."
In Beirut, Rami G. Khouri editor of the Daily Star, wrote that while most Arabs "identified strongly and willingly" with armed Palestinian or Lebanese guerrillas fighting Israeli occupation, "all of us today are dehumanized and brutalized by the images of Arabs kidnapping and beheading foreign hostages." Calling for a global strategy to reduce terror, he traced what he called "this ugly trek" in the Arab world to "the home-grown sense of indignity, humiliation, denial and degradation that has increasingly plagued many of our young men and women."
A Palestinian columnist, Hassan al-Batal, wrote in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al Ayyam that the "day of horror in the school" should be designated an international day for the condemnation of terrorism. "There are no mitigating circumstances for the inhuman horror and the height of barbarism," he said of the school attack. In Egypt, the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram called the events "an ugly crime against humanity."
In Saudi Arabia, newspapers tightly controlled by the government - which finds itself under attack from Islamic fundamentalists - were even more scathing. Under the headline "Butchers in the Name of Allah," a columnist in the government daily Okaz, Khaled Hamed al-Suleiman, wrote that "the propagandists of jihad succeeded in the span of a few years in distorting the image of Islam.'' "They turned today's Islam into something having to do with decapitations, the slashing of throats, abducting innocent civilians and exploding people,'' he said. "They have fixed the image of Muslims in the eyes of the world as barbarians and savages who are not good for anything except slaughtering people."
"The time has come for Muslims to be the first to come out against
those interested in abducting Islam in the same way they abducted innocent
children,'' he added. "This is the true jihad these days, and
this is our obligation, as believing Muslims, toward our monotheistic