8.12.2005

Op-Ed: Why Not a 'Million Muslim March'?

By Ahmed H. al-Rahim
The Wall Street Journal (Opinion Journal)
July 26, 2005

Two recent events have sent shock waves through Egypt. The later of the two was the terrorist bombing of the resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh. The first, unnoticed in the West but no less unsettling, was the silencing of a liberal scholar, Sayyid Mahmud al-Qimany.

Mr. Qimany, an outspoken critic of Islamism whose many writings have been banned by al-Azhar University (Sunni Islam's most revered institution of higher education), recently received a death threat declaring him an apostate. "We have individuals," the message read, "who are willing to cleanse their sins with your blood." The individuals threatening him wished to make an example of Mr. Qimany in the same way they had of his fellow secular writer Farag Fouda, assassinated in 1992.

If Mr. Qimany did not retract his statements and writings against the Islamists, his fate was death. Despite the Egyptian government assigning bodyguards to protect him, he knew that once he was declared an apostate, the state could do little to prevent the Islamists from assassinating him. So to spare his family the fate that befell Fouda's, Mr. Qimany recanted all his writings, promising never to write again. He knew that he was alone in his battle against the dark forces of Islam; his only weapon was his pen, which alas he surrendered to the Islamists as others before him surrendered their lives.

The silencing of Mr. Qimany could not come at a worse time, when there are so few Muslims speaking out against Islamism and the recent spate of bombings. Sadly, only the voices of Western political leaders constantly remind us that Islam is a "religion of peace." Where are the Muslims, especially those living in the West, who have the freedom to organize and make their voices heard? It seems that the only time we hear from the Muslim masses is when there are alleged desecrations of the Quran, or of prisoner abuse in Iraq. Where is the Muslim outrage, the mass protests to defend Islam, in whose sacred name murder is committed nearly every day, against what Western leaders describe as a "perversion of its true nature"?

Alas, the battle against Islamism -- and also for the heart of Islam -- has become a battle for the West to fight. As a Muslim, these acts of terrorism committed by fellow Muslims -- and yes, they are Muslims, from whom we cannot distance ourselves by the sophistry that asserts that their version is but a perversion of Islam -- are a great source of shame. But what is more shameful is that there are no mass Muslim protests to speak of against terrorism that is committed in our name. In the same way that Muslims have protested against alleged desecrations of the Quran, they now should be out in full force in the streets of Cairo, London and New York, sending a clear message to the Islamists that Enough is Enough. Why not a "Million Muslim March" on Washington, of law-abiding Muslim citizens clamoring to reclaim their faith from those who would kill innocents in its name? Muslims must no longer stand by while murder and suicide bombings are committed in their name.

Mr. Rahim, an Iraqi-American, has taught Arabic and Islamic studies at Harvard University.

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