Why Islamic Leaders in the Middle East Should Speak Out Against Terror

Their silence after the Boston tragedy only contributes to some Westerners' negative impressions of Muslims.
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Women pass by the Heart of Chechnya mosque in Grozny in Chechnya, April 22, 2013. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

After the Boston marathon bombing, the vast majority of articles discussed the American reaction and whether or not the American people and the U.S. government will blame it on "Islam." But few wrote about the Middle East's reaction to those attacks.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, scholars and intellectuals are doing very little in order to address the fact that most people in the Middle East have the wrong view of the west and the western people. No one is writing about the fact that Muslims and Arabs should restrain themselves from hate speech on social media. No one is discrediting the irrational thoughts that suggest that the U.S. government had a hand in the attack in order to blame it on Islam and launch another attack on the Middle East. No one is correcting the notion that these attacks are connected to the French forces deploying troops in Mali. Essam El-Erian vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice party in Egypt wrote on the Muslim Brotherhood blog on April 16, 2013:

"This series of events began with the sending of French battalions to Mali in a war against organizations that are said to belong to Al-Qaeda."

Jumping into such conclusions one day after the attacks and when the attackers had not yet been identified only undermines the tragedy and shows the world how intolerant some people in Middle East are. If it is Arabs and Muslims who are under attack, we ask the whole world to notice and do something, and we accuse the West of ignoring it. If it is "them" who are under attack, we blame them for it and say, "they had it coming," and try to divert the attention to our own problems and conflicts.

Egyptian Salfi cleric, Murgan Salem appeared on Tahrir TV on April 16 and said: "[I]f these attacks were done by the 'mujahedeen,' then it would be a message to America and Westerners that we are still alive, contrary to their claim that we have died."

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but the question here is whether or not it is the only opinion out there. Other religious leaders did not make any counter-argument to his, which leaves many ordinary people in the Middle East with this one radical opinion. At the time of such attacks in the West, religious clerics in the Middle East tend to hedge and stay away from going into details from a religious point of view.

Instead, religious clerics in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who have millions of followers across the Middle East, should be out there showing their discontent with what happened in Boston. They ought to distance themselves and Islam from such actions and advise their followers to understand the reality of it. The victims were innocent people, just like the Iraqis or the Afghans or the Syrians who are dying everyday. They should not confuse these innocent people with their governments or politicians.

It is the responsibility of the religious leaders and intellectuals of the Middle East to present the public with all the opinions and the arguments available, so the public can construct better-informed reactions and make better choices.

Just as lots of Western intellectuals, journalists, and religious leaders are defending Islam and Muslims in their own countries against Islamophobia, Arab and Muslim intellectuals, journalists, and religious leaders should take it upon themselves to educate and inform the public through articles, TV programs, and research to make it clear that they reject these delusional thoughts, and to show that we are informed people who stand against terror in any form, yet understand our religion and our role as part of the world as a whole.

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Mohamed Hemish

Mohamed Hemish is a freelance writer based in Istanbul.

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