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Our Own Worst Enemy

If I weren’t a Muslim and didn’t know better, I’d think Muslims really do come with a grenade at the end of their turbans — as portrayed in the infamous 2005 Danish cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Danish police arrested three Muslims earlier this year for allegedly plotting to kill the 73-year-old cartoonist behind that caricature of the Prophet that appeared in 2005.

It would be tempting to believe that our holy book, the Quran, really was a fascist violence-baiting manifesto, as a right-wing Dutch politician claims in a forthcoming film that deliberately heightens European terror fears. After all, it seems as if the default setting for Muslim reactions these days is violence and more violence.

A Berlin gallery opened an exhibit last month that Muslims found offensive, some threatened it with... guess what? Yep. Violence.

The Madrid train bombs (four years ago this month), the London bombings in 2005, and the murder in Amsterdam of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh have made Muslim terrorism a dominant European concern.

With a prayer for all those souls murdered in the name of my religion, I confess I am not so concerned about Europe. And I don’t care about cartoons in Denmark. Newspapers there have every right to publish whatever they like. I couldn’t care less about Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician whose film Fitna will surely provoke more fear-mongering racism. It's just red meat dished out to right wing Europeans.

But I also have little interest in the views of the left wing reader who may be waiting for my inner Victimized Muslim to blame all our ills on the right wing, or the United States, or Israel. No, I have a much closer, more intimate concern.

I am not so concerned about these others, because the main target of Muslim violence is fellow Muslims in the Muslim world.

Nearly every week, hundreds of Muslims are blown to shreds in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The frequent demonstrations held across the Muslim world don't call for an end to the slaughter of Muslims by Muslims, but to demand petulantly that the 'world' stop offending Muslims.

For this Muslim, no number of Danish cartoons or Dutch films will ever be more offensive than the seven suicide attacks that have killed at least 100 in Pakistan in the past three weeks alone. No slur is as horrible as the 600 people dying in violence in Pakistan since the start of the year.

In Iraq, suicide attacks are so common and claim so many lives that most news agencies include just the most deadly incidents in their reports, such as these two from Reuters: On February 1, two women suicide bombers killed 99 people in attacks blamed on al Qaeda at two popular Baghdad pet markets in the city's worst attacks in six months. On February 24, a suicide bomber targeting pilgrims heading to one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest rites in southern Kerbala killed 63 people and wounded scores in Iskandariya.

And yet, topping the agenda of the summit in Senegal this week of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is Islamophobia.

Denial? Not just a river in my Egyptian homeland, but blindness to rivers of shed Muslim blood.

I don't expect any enlightened self-criticism from the OIC. It was at a meeting in 2005, after the Danish cartoons were published, that the manufactured outrage against Denmark was cooked up and delivered across the Muslim world — a perfect distraction from domestic pressures for every opportunistic Muslim dictator — and for Islamist groups looking to claim the banner of Islam.

At least 50 people died in violence during demonstrations against the Danish cartoons in early 2006. Most, if not all, were Muslims.

If the OIC really cares about the Muslim world, then it is past time to clear its agenda of issues about the West and Islamophobia, and look at its own house: Declare once and for all the immorality of suicide bombings. Is there a more pressing issue for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq today than such gruesome, devastating, and persistent attacks?

Suicide is a grave sin in Islam, and yet it was perversely legitimized by clerics for use against Israelis. Not only did they seriously jeopardize the moral core of modern Muslim theology, they gave the green light to radical groups across the Muslim world to plunder a Pandora’s Box. How ironic, now, that suicide bombings hardly figure in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, but have become the weapon of choice for settling scores between Muslims in Muslim countries.

Islam has been around for more than 1,400 years and it will not vanish because of cartoons and films. But what does shake my faith is the violence. When I read that a Muslim killed 68 pilgrims, I confess I question if I can continue to claim the same faith as such a barbarian.

But with a keen eye on the values of my religion that I hold dear — compassion, social justice, and taking care of the weakest and neediest — I fiercely claim it.

I will not leave Islam to the barbarians.

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—— Mona Eltahawy
Copyright by the author; all rights reserved