WHETHER WE are American, Nigerian, Indonesian, or British, we look like them, we dress like them, we speak like them, and we pray like them. We cannot identify them before they strike. They hate us because we reject their ideology. They would kill us as ''infidels." We are Muslims. So are they. But they are terrorists and we are not. That is the distinction. This is where we must make our stand.
As troubling as it is for Muslims to be identified as potential terrorists, the truth is that the terrorists conducting such barbaric acts in today's society are Muslims. That is not to say that they are the only or the biggest terrorists, but they are the most mindless, unpredictable, and deliberately merciless. Driven by motives or grievances that they may legitimately share with countless other Muslims, they have devised their own demonic modus operandi that almost all others abhor and are repulsed by. In an open society they bear no distinctive traits.
While the recent terror acts have been committed by Muslims, there is nothing ''Islamic" about them. They are totally antithetical to the fundamental principles of Islam and represent a heretical deviation of the religion. When the 9/11 Commission went out of its way to define terrorism as not just any generic terrorism, but specifically as ''Islamist," this pejorative label, despite the banal niceties of ''Islam being a religion of peace," sent a chilling message to Muslims worldwide that terrorism is a hallmark or prerogative of Islam, or that when committed by other groups it is in some way mitigated by intrinsic extenuating circumstances.
The leap from deviant Muslims perpetrating atrocities to a religion being impugned for the sins of its supposed adherents is breath-taking in its audacity. This distinction has become critical ever since the ''showdown with Saddam" transmuted into the ''war on terror." With the daily mind-numbing imagery of maniacal Muslim ''insurgents" savaging troops and civilians alike, a transformation rapidly took place: The problem was just not Muslim terrorists but an ''evil" Islam itself. This is a theme broadcast with malevolent glee by talk shows on a daily basis thereby intensifying suspicion, fear, contempt, and hatred of Islam. Demonizing Islam makes it the enemy in the ''war on terror."
Ironically, it is us Muslims who have the greatest vested interest in eradicating terrorism. We need to do this to salvage our religion and our self-respect. As long as we are marginalized by the West and taunted by the extremists, we are made to feel as if we were part of the problem rather than of the solution, and our commitment becomes ambivalent. If the so-called war on terrorism has any chance of being won, there needs to be an immediate redefinition of the enemy.
First, to achieve a delinkage between Islam and terrorism, the term ''Binladenism" has been suggested. It is an accurate characterization of the architect whose unifying call is hate, whose target is the current world order, whose modus operandi is the terrorization of innocent civilians, and whose fascist ideology directly contravenes the basic principles of the religion it claims to espouse.
Second, it is essential for Muslims to dissociate their legitimate concerns from the terrorist acts that have been perpetrated to justify them. Irrespective of whether Muslims see the victimization of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Palestine, or Iraq, the terrorists can never find justification for their terror tactics. In Islam the end does not justify the means.
Third, because these concerns have been hijacked by a bunch of hoodlums as a pretext for terrorism does not delegitimize the concerns, nor does responding to them in any way justify the terrorism. It would be crass to ignore Muslims' legitimate concerns, or, worse still, to consider any response to them a negotiation with terrorists. Until the issues are addressed, the war on terror will smolder on.
Finally, with a redesigned strategy, the stand against the ideology of terrorism (Binladenism) must be, and will be, united, unwavering, unequivocal, and unconditional. The recent fatwa by the Fiqh Council of North America against terrorism is a small first step.
But for Muslims the conviction for such a stand has always been and is direct from the Koran: ''Stand steadfast before God as witnesses for justice, even though it is against yourselves." An act of terror is an act of supreme injustice. Its prevention is the moral imperative of every Muslim. Those who fail this basic test should have more to fear than that their civil rights might be infringed. In this stand lies our hope, our security, and our future.
Abdul Cader Asmal is former president of the Islamic Center of Boston and former president of the Islamic Council of New England.