It is hard to be a Muslim nowadays. Not only do most Muslims live in relatively poor conditions (not their fault, but the fault of their ruling governments - take Afghanistan and Indonesia as prime examples), but they also have the world media breathing down their necks in the wake of several recent high profile terrorist attacks. Generally, it is a media that equates Islamic or "Moslem" fundamentalism with acts of terrorism. This generalization has to stop.
It looks like just a coincidence that many of the world's most famous terrorists today happen to be Muslims, blowing something up, assassinating or kidnapping someone or committing some other terrorist act. Osama bin Laden has been a name bandied about as the world's number one terrorist; Algerian terrorists are almost always Muslim, the suicide bombers that blow themselves and children up in the heart of Israel are also Muslims.
The media's medium
The world media does a good job reporting these acts of terrorism, but where it fails is when it intentionally (or maybe, unwittingly) tags them as being Muslim "fundamentalists"; as though being a Muslim means to be more inclined towards violence. The more adherent you are to the rules and regulations of Islam, the more "fundamentalist" you are, and therefore, the more violent you tend to be. That's the logic that the media uses. And it comes as no surprise that the people are beginning to believe them.
What does it mean to be a Muslim?
The fundamentals of Islam are simple: To believe in one God (Allah), To believe in the Prophet Muhammad, To believe in the Holy Quran, To believe in the Angels and To believe in the Day of Judgement. Certainly, adhering to these five core principles involve performing certain compulsory acts such as five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadhan and paying alms to the poor. Another vital principle in Islam lies in it definition itself, transliterated from its Arabic root. It means "peace". Therefore, to be a "fundamentalist" means to prescribe closely to these tenets principles, including the principle of peace. This is the true understanding of Islamic fundamentalism. Sadly, the press rarely reports this and thus, it becomes ever more convenient to believe that an Islamic fundamentalist is a person with a beard who is radically inclined towards intolerance; a person who will use violence to achieve his objectives.
It is unfortunate that many Muslims justify their violent actions by invoking the name of Islam. A suicide bomber blows up a bus of school children; Hamas claims it as a religious victory, the bomber will surely be sent to heaven for his sacrifice. Such logic is sick, and such action is deplorable - but it must be understood that their actions do not represent Muslims in general. What they did represents the action of terrorists. Terrorists all over the world do deplorable things, but the reality of the matter is that terrorism is not exclusive to Muslims or even in any way associated to the teachings of Islam. The ETA in the Basque region are terrorists, the IRA used to be known as a terrorist organization, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber soon to put to death is a terrorist, the Zapatista rebels in Mexico are widely considered to be terrorist - why are their acts of terrorism not associated with their faiths? Having answered that question, then ask yourself why terrorists who happen to be Muslim have their acts associated as a direct result of their religious beliefs?
A false claim
Just because terrorists claim that they terrorize in the name of religion doesn't necessarily make the claim true. And certainly, it doesn't mean that the religion is to blame for their acts.
Islam is not a license to commit violence. Any Muslim who claims otherwise is a liar. Any media organization that reports otherwise, is sorely, sorely misinformed.
Appearing on www.renungan.com 14 April 2001