Mourning the victims of Mumbai
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Mourning the victims of Mumbai

Radical Islam expert: 'A global problem of a very large scale'

When we’re trying to gauge success in the “war against terror,” says Prof. Neil Kressel of William Paterson University in Wayne, “it’s not a matter of how Al Qaeda is doing but how are we doing against the worldwide problem of extremist Islam and terrorism emanating from the world of Islam.”

The carnage in Mumbai last week was a clear answer to that question.

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Neil Kressel

“It’s been a long time since 9/11,” noted Kressel, the author of “Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism” and visiting associate professor at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism. “A lot of Americans were beginning to think that we can move on. What attacks like this one do is remind Americans that this is a global problem of a very large scale and not likely to go away soon.”

A previously unknown group, Deccan Mujahedeen, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which more than 150 people were killed and hundreds injured. According to Ralph Peters in Monday’s New York Post, the group’s name is emblematic of its goal: “The Deccan plateau was a Muslim stronghold in central India, ruled by tyrants from mighty fortresses,” wrote Peters, the author of “Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” “The subcontinent’s Islamist extremists believe that Muslims are entitled to rule India again. They view the Deccan as Islam’s dagger in India’s Hindu heart.”

Another group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has also been named in connection with the attacks.

“It’s known to operate out of Pakistan,” Kressel said, but “there is no reason to link either with Pakistan as a country…. There is good reason to believe that the current Pakistani government has no sympathy with these terrorists but may lack an ability to control them.”

One of the things that makes terrorism so difficult to combat, he said, is that “you only need a small group with an agenda and right away you’ve got a global problem.”

Radical Islam, said Kressel, is behind much of modern terrorism, and “the first thing to do [to confront it] is to do away with a false understanding that religion has nothing to do with it. If we can’t talk about the religious roots [of radical Islamic terrorism], then we can’t begin to address the problem….

“Do the texts contain verses that could be used to justify hatred and terrorism? I think they do, but,” he pointed out, “they could also be interpreted in ways that are entirely different.”

He paraphrased one hadith – a saying of Mohammad – that “at some point in the future the rocks are going to declare, ‘Look behind me; there’s a Jew hiding. Come and kill him.’ This could be used by an extremist to say that Mohammad supported that sort of thing.”

But, he stressed, “plenty of Islamic scholars don’t pay attention to that hadith. Some have questioned whether it’s valid in the first place.”

He stressed, as well, that Islam is not alone in being open to interpretation. All the religions, Judaism included, “are huge umbrellas under which there are many different interpretations.”

Also, he said, there are “many, many people who live their entire lives in a way they think is Islamic who don’t come out with anything justifying terrorism of any sort.”

What should India do in response to the Mumbai attacks? What should the world do to avert such attacks?

Kressel said that while India has a right to protect itself, it is “clearly in America’s interest” for India and Pakistan to maintain “relatively good relations. We are trying to get Pakistan to devote its resources to going after Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas,” he noted. If Pakistan feels threatened by India, “it would be inclined to ignore its Islamic problem.”

No one should ignore the “Islamic problem,” Kressel said. “Enough countries have now been struck with serious attacks that they ought to recognize that we’re in this together. There’s a natural alliance that ought to exist among the countries that could be victims – and that’s almost everyone.”

It’s the problem, as well, of moderate Muslims.

Within the United States, he said, Islam has been fairly moderate. “We’re doing something right that I think Europe is not doing right…. Muslims here feel that they can practice their religion moderately and advance their lives economically. We’re generally better at assimilating immigrants.”

As for Europe, Kressel said, “the hold of radical Islam is growing [there],” in great part as a result of Muslims’ higher birth rates. “We’re going to see a Europe that looks a lot less European and a lot more Muslim 20 or 30 years down the line.”

But perhaps the Islam of 20 or 30 years down the line will look a lot different as well. In Kressel’s view, a war is being waged within Islam itself over “the future and the soul of the religion.”

Unfortunately, he added, “in a lot of parts of the world, people are scared to speak out.” Also, “people don’t fight for moderation the same way that they fight for extremism – but if the balance of power makes it safe for moderate Islam to emerge, I think there will be plenty of takers.”

Meanwhile, BBC News reported on Monday that “[i]n what is perhaps their first openly defiant act against ‘Islamic terrorism,’ Muslims in India have decided they will not allow the militants to be buried in Muslim graveyards anywhere in the country.

“They said that they could not believe that the assailants, who they said had ‘killed innocent civilians unprovoked,’ were true followers of Islam,” the report continued.

It quoted Ibrahim Tai, the president of the Indian Muslim Council, as saying the terrorists had “defamed” Islam.

“They are not Muslims,” he said, “as they have not followed our religion, which teaches us to live in peace.”

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