This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune. Bennoune grew up in Algeria and is a professor of international law at the University of California Davis School of Law. Islamophobia is real and thriving around the world, but nowhere more than in the United States. Some Americans misunderstand the founding principles of Islam as well as the difference between fundamentalist extremists and moderate, peaceful followers.
In fact, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, 52 percent of respondents said the U.S. does not respect Muslim societies. It should come as no surprise that this sentiment may very well be perpetrated by a loud group of conservatives who time and time again prove they have zero understanding of Islam. Some are turning this into a witch hunt, even accusing other Republicans of helping the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrate our government. And of course they even insist that President Obama himself is a Muslim conspiring to spread Islam here in the United States.
Bennoune advocates for the fact that being Muslim is not a problem, but sacred like any other religion. She addresses the violence that peaceful Muslims face every day for rejecting extremism and even speaking out against it. Muslims across the world, and especially those here in the U.S., are a group we should understand and empathize with, rather than isolating as “others.”
You can purchase the book here.
Many groups in Muslim majority societies regularly denounce terrorism, even when doing so is dangerous and receives minimal international publicity. In the West, it is sometimes assumed that Muslims generally condone terrorism. The Right often presumes this because it views Muslim culture as inherently violent. The Left at times imagines this because it interprets fundamentalist terrorism as simply a reflection of legitimate grievances.
In fact, many people of Muslim heritage—though not yet enough—are ardent opponents of fundamentalist violence, and for very good reason. Statistically, they are much more likely to be victims of terrorism than its perpetrators. Terrorism directed against Jews, Hindus, Christians, atheists, or anyone else is equally appalling, and Muslim fundamentalists have also killed many across these categories. But those most commonly on the receiving end in recent years have been people of Muslim heritage killed by Muslim fundamentalists. During Ramadan 2012 alone, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for 131 attacks in Iraq, killing four hundred. A 2009 study of Arabic media sources by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found that only 15 percent of Al Qaeda’s casualties between 2004 and 2008 were Westerners. Between 2006 and 2008, fully 98 percent of Al Qaeda’s victims were of Muslim heritage.
I think of the celebrated Arab American filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, who made films about Libya’s independence struggle and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (as well as the moneymaking Halloween movies). He perished at a wedding along with his daughter and fifty-five others, including relatives of the bride and groom, during a 2005 bombing by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Pakistani religious scholar Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, of the Barelvi school, chaired a meeting of Islamic religious scholars that denounced suicide terror in 2009. “Those who commit suicide attacks for attaining paradise will go to hell, as they kill many innocent people,” he reportedly said. Later that year, on June 12, he was himself targeted by just such a paradise-seeking Taliban bomber and killed after Friday prayers.
My childhood neighbor in Algiers, Chadly Hamza, was one of those truly kind people you gravitate toward as a kid. A consultant for the UN Development Programme who also worked to create study-abroad programs for young Algerians, he was murdered by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, with thirty-three others, in a December 2007 suicide bombing of a UN building in Algiers. The last time I heard from Hamza, as my dad called him, in 2005, he told me he had made a conscious choice to stay in Algeria to try to improve conditions, “rather than just being a consumer of development wherever I could have emigrated.”
All these people of Muslim heritage fell to the fundamentalists, an immeasurable loss to their families, their countries, and the world. That is why so many know that this jihad has got to stop.