After London, Tough Questions for Muslims

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By Mona Eltahawy
Sunday, July 24, 2005

The July 7 London bombings did it for me. Perhaps it was because my parents moved us from Cairo to the British capital when I was 7 years old, and so London was my childhood "home." Or maybe it was because our route to work and school every morning crisscrossed those same Underground stations that were targeted.

I'm sure it was also those dog-eared statements that our clerics and religious leaders read out telling us that Islam means peace -- it actually means submission -- and asking us to please forget everything they had ever said before July 6, because as of July 7 they truly believe violence is bad. Their backpedaling is so furious you can smell the skid marks.

Some are not even bothering to put their feet on the pedals, such as the 22 imams and scholars who met at London's largest mosque to condemn the bombings but who would not criticize all suicide attacks.

Sayed Mohammed Musawi, the head of the World Islamic League in London, insisted "there should be a clear distinction between the suicide bombing of those who are trying to defend themselves from occupiers, which is something different from those who kill civilians, which is a big crime."

In a classic example of laying blame everywhere but at our own door, Musawi actually criticized the Western media (for supposedly confusing frustrated young Muslims) rather than those scholars who had blessed suicide bombings as long as they targeted Israelis.

Suicide bombings are the Muslim weapon of choice not only in London and Israel but in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. They are killing Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and yet our imams and scholars cannot condemn them.

As I said, the London bombings did it for me. Or maybe it's the knowledge that the more these faceless cowards strike, the more Muslim men in the West like my brother are pushed onto the stage of suspicion. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ehab -- who spends virtually all of his time caring for his cardiology patients or fulfilling his role as husband and father -- was one of the 5,000 Muslim men questioned by the FBI; two years later he was among the thousands more who had to submit to being fingerprinted and photographed as part of a special registration.

But most of all, the London bombings rid me of all patience with the excuse that "George Bush [or Tony Blair or take your pick of Western leaders] made me do it." We don't know who was behind Thursday's explosions, but an Arab analyst told a satellite channel that if Blair hadn't learned the mistake of the Iraq war, these new attacks were a firm reminder.

I never bought the explanation that U.S. foreign policy had "brought on" the Sept. 11 attacks, and I certainly don't buy the idea that the Iraq war is behind the attacks in London. Many people across the world have opposed U.S. and British foreign policy, but that doesn't mean they are rushing to fly planes into buildings or to blow up buses and Underground trains in London.

I was against the invasion of Iraq and would not have voted for George Bush if I were a U.S. citizen, but I'm done with the "George Bush made me do it" excuse. We must accept responsibility for this mess if we are ever to find a way out.

And for those non-Muslims who accept the George Bush excuse, I have a question: Do you think Muslims are incapable of accepting responsibility? It is at least in some way bigoted to think that Muslims can only react violently.

We all must ask a host of difficult questions. How about beginning by acknowledging once and for all that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue? It is a dispute over land that too many clerics and religious leaders, radical or otherwise, use to flesh out the victimized-Muslim scenario.

Yes, Palestinians deserve a state, and, yes, Israel must end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

But rather than dwelling endlessly on these issues, we would do well to spend time encouraging our young people to become more active members of their communities and to not live caught between two worlds: a Muslim one at home and in the mosque, an "infidel" one outside.

And what about assimilation? It is not bigoted to ask Muslims if they are integrating into the societies they are living in. Just as the British government has responsibilities toward its citizens, immigrants included, so too do those immigrants. Muslims ask for time off work for prayer, for example, and they often get it. But are they truly living in Britain or are they perpetuating an existence that even their relatives "back home" long ago left behind? Domestic policy is too often ignored by many Muslims who are more concerned with Palestine, Iraq or any other place where Muslims are believed to have suffered injustice.

I raise these questions because London might have done it for me, but I'm not done with Islam. The clerics and the terrorists will not take it away from me. God belongs to me, too.

Mona Eltahawy is a New York-based columnist for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.http://


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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