In the Name of Islam
By Daniel C. Peterson and William J. Hamblin

Quite understandably, the appalling photographs of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison have embarrassed and angered many in America and beyond.  However, the cold-blooded, videotaped murder of Nick Berg by Islamic extremists has refocused attention on the nature of the enemy now literally threatening the West.  An aberrant form of Islam has created a nihilistic cult of coercion and death in the name of one of the world’s greatest religious traditions.

Obsession with martyrdom via suicide, the intentional individual and mass murder of civilian noncombatants-these are neither traditional expressions of Muslim piety nor venerable instruments of Islamic statecraft.  This is not the Islam of the poet Rumi, the theologian al-Ghazali, the philosopher Avicenna, or the scientist and historian al-Biruni.  This is not the civilization that gave us algebra and Omar Khayyam and the Taj Mahal.  Instead, such practices as wiring Palestinian children with explosive devices, and sending innocent Iranian pre-teens  (draped pathetically with symbolic “keys to Paradise” around their necks) to clear minefields with their bodies, are horrors that great heroes of Islamic history like Saladin and the Prophet Muhammad himself would have repudiated as cowardly and immoral.  (Muhammad is known, among other things, for his love of children.)  Societies willing, even eager, to sacrifice their children seem, to put it mildly, profoundly dysfunctional and self-destructive.

It is essential that murderous thugs like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and terrorist CEOs like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri be brought to justice.  Terrorism cannot be stopped by mere platitudes and negotiations, or by ineffectual ruminations about its “root causes.”  Islamist terrorism is implacable in its demands.  It is perceived Western immorality-by which is meant not only materialistic greed, Hollywood excesses, pornography and promiscuity, and high divorce rates, but such things as freedom for women and religious liberty-that infuriates Islamist zealots.  It is not so much what we do as what we are.  While much truly merits condemnation in the contemporary West, we can never negotiate enough away to appease those who hate the very foundation of our free and diverse Judaeo-Christian culture.

In the long term, however, the battle against radical Islamism must be won within Islam itself, by Muslims themselves.  In a very real sense, the primary victim of Islamist extremism is Islam and Muslims.  Outsiders can hope and encourage, and occasionally help, but non-Muslims cannot do what only Muslims can do.

That is one of the reasons that perceived Muslim silence about the atrocities of 11 September and numerous other such acts has been so profoundly depressing for outsiders who wish Islam and Muslims well.  Many have wondered whether their Muslim neighbors (locally and worldwide) actually tacitly endorse the actions of al-Qa’ida and related groups.  Where is the outrage?  Where, frankly, are the apologies?  In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, Muslim spokesmen often seemed more concerned about possible slights to girls wearing Islamic head scarves than about the fact that nineteen men claiming to act in the name of God and their common faith had just murdered 3000 innocent civilians in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC.

Change in the Air

Perhaps the situation is changing, though.  Spurred into action by the murder of Nick Berg, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the most prominent Islamic civil rights and advocacy group in the United States, has finally launched an online petition drive designed to disassociate the faith of Islam from the violent acts of extremists claiming to act in the name of the God of Islam.  The petition, titled “Not in the Name of Islam,” declares:  “We, the undersigned, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror and murder in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also devastating the image of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and disassociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. Islam must not be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside both the boundaries of their faith and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.” 

“CAIR’s petition drive,” the group’s Website explains, “comes following the videotaped beheading of an American civilian in Iraq that shocked television viewers worldwide. ‘We hope this effort will demonstrate once and for all that Muslims in America and throughout the Islamic world reject violence committed in the name of Islam,’ said CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad. ‘People of all faiths must do whatever they can to help end the downward spiral of mutual hostility and hatred that is engulfing our world.'”

Such an effort, though unfortunately long overdue, is most welcome. A forthright condemnation, by devout Muslims, of extremist violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, is both the right thing to do and absolutely essential to preserve the good name of Islam against those within the Muslim community who seem determined to destroy it.  Muslims need to sign it in great numbers, and it needs to be heard loud and strong by people in America and the West generally.  As Edmund Burke observed, “all that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

The CAIR website can be accessed at:

The petition drive is discussed on the CAIR Website at: