Local Time

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Muslims also lose patience with terror

Waleed Aly

Remember Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot? These two French journalists are the forgotten hostages of the past fortnight.
They were held to ransom by the so-called "Islamic Army in Iraq", who demanded that the French Government repeal its controversial law banning headscarfs and other religious dress in public schools.
It is tragic that we have forgotten about them.
But vastly more tragic were the appalling events in Russia since. What can compare with the depraved inhumanity that left hundreds of hostages dead, half of them children?
Add the highly symbolic bombing of Australia's Jakarta embassy, and it is clear that, like nothing before, we have witnessed an incredibly horrific couple of weeks.
The hostage situations have rightly provoked angry reactions.
But perhaps most notably, some of the strongest howls of condemnation have come from scores of Arab and Islamic groups.
They called in unison for the French journalists' release, and have vehemently denounced the barbarians of Beslan.
If these sick terrorists were expecting to find support for their cause, they were monumentally mistaken.
The Muslim world is fast losing patience with those who purport to fight injustice through profoundly unjust means.
And not before time. With Jemaah Islamiyah claiming responsibility for Thursday's bombing, expect more Muslim anger.
Australian Islamic organisations also have made their disgust known, and, unfortunately, there is not much more they can do.
If huge demonstrations of public opposition to the invasion of Iraq could not stop leaders in a democracy from going to war, how can we expect ordinary Muslims, in another country, to be able to influence terrorists who answer to no one outside their cult?
Nevertheless, judging from past experience, Australian Muslims can start preparing for the inevitable vitriolic backlash. At times of heightened anger such as this, guilt by association is an unfortunate constant. But I feel no self-pity over this, and am not about to complain that the emergence of terrorism has made my life in Australia more difficult. I am not the victim here.
The parents who have to bury their own children and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives are the victims.
As a Muslim, a parent, a human, my thoughts are entirely with them.
So for those who feel the irresistible need to blame Muslims who had nothing to do with any of these crimes, who strongly denounced them, and indeed who are coping with their own grief, I can only say: blame us if you must.
But don't blame the Muslims of France who were emphatic in their protest against the kidnappers of the French journalists.
Among them were the very Muslim women who stand to suffer most under the French law that denies them their religious freedom.
It would have been easy, and in their interest, for them to stay silent and hope the French Government would buckle and repeal the law.
Or worse, they could have exploited the circumstances to push for legislative change. They refused such Faustian opportunism.
Instead, French Muslim leaders prayed for the release of the hostages (which now, thankfully, looks likely), while maintaining their strong opposition to the French Government's legislative stance.
They remain committed to getting that law changed, but using exclusively lawful means to achieve this is a non-negotiable pre-requisite for them.
And don't blame the brave Muslims of North Ossetia who, according to the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, offered themselves as hostages in exchange for the children in Beslan.
There can be no greater sacrifice for the innocent than to volunteer to risk your own life.
How many of us would have done the same?
And finally, don't blame the Muslims who were among the dead in Beslan and Jakarta, just as Muslims were three years ago in New York.
None are protected from the black scourge of terrorism.

Melbourne lawyer Waleed Aly is on the executive of the Islamic Council of Victoria.



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