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One Muslim...s Message to His People

Ali S. Wyne

Our leaders are failing us. Whether or not we wish to confront it, the reality in much of the Muslim world is that of stagnant standards of living, limited freedoms, and needless bloodshed. If they do not intend to advance our best interests, then we must assume leadership ourselves.

I am a proud Muslim. However, I am disillusioned with the behavior of a small but disproportionately influential number of our people, who advocate and commit violence in the name of Islam.

The Holy Qu’ran, which I admire for its simplicity and humanity, expressly forbids such behavior. For this reason, I have nothing but contempt for religious leaders who are more interested in self-aggrandizement than they are in disseminating truthful interpretations of our holy text. I challenge them to tell me, in good conscience, that they are upholding Islam by telling their disciples to seek glory in their own destruction and that of others.

I am as fierce and persistent a critic of American foreign policy and Israeli conduct as you are likely to find. However, I find it increasingly difficult to support the behavior of Muslims who express their grievances through violence, notwithstanding my natural sympathies for them and their causes.

Pope Benedict XVI recently delivered an address in which he invoked a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam as “evil and inhumane.” Although I, too, took offense to his remark, I was stunned to learn that almost immediately after he issued it, a group of Muslims murdered an Italian nun in response. Why did so few leaders in the Muslim community condemn this act of revenge? Although I had tried to legitimate Muslims’ reaction to the printing of objectionable cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, I could not attempt to justify this particular event. Are Muslims going to respond to each criticism of Islam with an exhibition of arson, looting, and murder?

Since September 11, 2001, questions like these have grown more unsettling.

Why is it that suicide bombers are almost invariably Muslim, as are the individuals who plot to destroy commercial airliners?

Why is it that the Muslim world’s economy, with some exceptions, continues to stagnate, and that indices of human development therein are often comparable to those in sub-Saharan Africa?

Why is it that freedoms for women and political activists therein are among the most restricted in the world?

Why is it that Muslim governments so rarely condemn the violence that Muslims perpetrate, even against fellow Muslims?

In the seventh and eighth centuries, our ancestors were among the most progressive leaders of the civilized world. How and why is it that our present legacy is so different from theirs?

These outcomes are not the product of Western policies — of which, again, I am a fierce critic. Centuries of nearly uninterrupted decline cannot be solely ascribed to others’ actions.

Our leaders, of course, are as aware of this fact as any outside observer. But what incentive do they have to convey this truth? A government can far more easily institute and maintain repressive policies if it steeps its people in falsehoods, and keeps them distracted. Indeed, whatever rhetorical flourishes they may offer to the contrary, most leaders in the Muslim world care little that their people are desperate and miserable.

Indeed, however many of the arguments of “terrorism experts” may be distorted or inaccurate, they are grounded in some truths that no exercise in denial can obviate. When Islamic civilization enjoyed its greatest influence as a progressive and pluralistic community, the world’s most famous Muslims were intellectuals, whose work paved the way for Western inquiry into a myriad of disciplines. Today, the world’s most famous Muslims are terrorists, who have betrayed the religion that they claim to honor, and the people whom they purport to defend.

Rather than encourage young people to work hard and find employment, terrorist organizations exploit their suffering, drawing their recruits from the ranks of the poor and disaffected (Youth unemployment in many Muslim countries often approaches or exceeds 50 percent). Osama bin Laden and his supporters should ask: what good has al-Qa’ida’s mission achieved for Muslims? The world over, people increasingly view us with suspicion, fear, and repulsion.

Similarly, Muslim leaders should ask themselves: what good have their policies achieved for Muslims? While the rest of the world moves forward, we struggle, and blame others for our plight. We do so not because we suffer from some intrinsic tendency to defer responsibility, but because our leaders, to whom we look for guidance, encourage our denial.

Accordingly, I have nothing but contempt for Arab rulers who invoke the suffering of Palestinians to distract their citizenries. Palestinians deserve the full support, political and otherwise, of the global community, not the hollow words of individuals who have never before cared for, or acted to serve, Palestinians’ interests.

Whether they are monarchs who take refuge in the splendor of their palaces, or imams who achieve sanctity by the deceit of their words, it is time to bring to light these individuals’ abuses of power, and to inspire today’s Muslims to oppose their directives. I am calling for a revolution that is born not of the sword, but of the pen and of the heart. To young Muslims who wish to honor the legacy of their ancestors, and assume their place in global civil society, I say:

Resist the impulse to blame others for the condition of our people.

Work hard to improve it.

And, most importantly, strive to become the honest and sincere leaders who will one day offer hope and true leadership to Muslims.

If you disagree with my conclusions, I hope that you will ask yourself the same questions that I have asked myself, and recognize that we share the same goal: achieving the renaissance of Islamic society.

This outcome will never prevail, however, unless we accept reality, with all of the pain and ignominy that it carries. Illusions and complacency are the most oppressive barriers to our freedom.

Removing them will doubtless be arduous. But if we succeed in this endeavor, Insha’Allah, our people will rise.