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The real Muslim moderates

Last of two parts
FOR YEARS, Muslims have been criticized for their seeming complacency about Islamic terrorism. Time and again, Islamist radicals have committed some savagery, and time and again non-Muslims have wondered why there was no outcry of condemnation from the Islamic world. Let a fictional TV show depict Muslims unflatteringly, and Muslim spokesmen thunder in outrage. Where is that outrage when real atrocities are being carried out by killers professing Islam?

Good news: Since 9/11 a growing number of Muslim moderates have been speaking out. They have denounced the jihadis' ideology as a perversion of Islam and a disgrace to Muslims everywhere. More important, they have emphasized that decent Muslims have an obligation to enlist in the war on terror -- not merely to denounce the fanatics from afar, but to delegitimize and defeat them at home.

As Anouar Boukhars, a Moroccan graduate student at Old Dominion University, has written, this war is ultimately ''not a clash between Islam and the West. The real battle is taking place within a Muslim civilization in severe internal crisis, and the stakes of that battle are high indeed."

Another moderate is Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and US Navy veteran who launched the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in 2003. The forum's stated purpose: ''to take back the faith of Islam from the demagoguery of the Islamo-fascists." Writing after the London bombings last month, Jasser argued forcefully that it is not enough for well-meaning Muslims to issue ''empty condemnations" of the extremists.

''As Muslims we must help bring these barbaric Islamists to justice and assist in dismantling the systems that create them," he wrote. ''We can publicly embarrass radical imams and organizations . . . We can publicly expose the twisted interpretations of the Koran . . . We need to force a public debate with the Islamists, not run from it . . . It is time to . . . teach Muslims to dismantle terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah . . . The war against Islamo-fascism has many fronts, and moderate Muslims need to be leading the struggle."

Other anti-Islamists include Mansoor Ijaz, who says Muslim communities should form ''watch groups" to monitor the activities of Islamist radicals; Ahmed al-Rahim, who calls for a ''Million Muslim March" -- a massive denunciation of the jihadis and their teachings; and Kamal Nawash, who declares bluntly: ''Throughout the Islamic world, we must acknowledge that we have a problem of fanaticism, we have a problem of terrorism, and it is our responsibility . . . to stop this."

Unfortunately, these voices don't get nearly the attention they deserve. Instead, the spotlight shines on outfits like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which styles itself a civil rights organization and generally draws deferential coverage in the media.

That was the case on July 28, when CAIR organized a press conference at which the Fiqh Council of North America issued what purported to be a ''fatwa" against terrorism. Signed by 18 Muslim scholars and endorsed by scores of Muslim establishments, the fatwa declared that ''all acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam" and that Muslims are forbidden to cooperate with anyone ''involved in any act of terrorism or violence."

Fine-sounding words -- until you find out that one of the Fiqh Council members, Muhammad al-Hanooti, has called for jihad against ''the infidel Americans and British." Or that the council chairman, Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, has been linked in court filings to terrorist bankrollers in northern Virginia. Or that one of the fatwa's endorsers, Fawaz Damra, was convicted and stripped of his citizenship for lying about his ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization. Or that CAIR itself is headed by a man who publicly proclaimed his support for Hamas.

Experts on Islamism pointed out that the fatwa contains no definition of either ''terrorism" or ''civilians" -- a useful omission for those, like CAIR official Ghazi Khankan, who have defended suicide bombings in Israel on the grounds that Israelis are not really civilians. The fatwa mentions no terrorist group or leader by name. It doesn't acknowledge, let alone refute, the jihadist ideology that has become a cancer in the Islamic world.And it doesn't insist that Muslims take the lead in excising that cancer and the culture of hatred it has led to.

In short, the fatwa was a stunt -- a way to win headlines for condemning terrorism without impeding the radicals' cause. ''Our best defense in this so-called war on terrorism," Wisam Nasr, the head of CAIR's New York office, said last month, ''is public relations."

Fortunately, there are brave and honorable Muslim moderates for whom denouncing terrorism is not about PR but about rescuing their religion from barbarism and totalitarianism. Their voices, not those of CAIR and its ilk, are the ones that deserve our acclaim.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

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