Ziauddin Sardar: The West must stop creating Muslim victims, black widows and martyrs

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The atrocious violence in Beslan, with its ghastly resonance of the 9/11 attacks three years ago, has particular significance for Muslims. The terrorists tortured the children of School Number One by denying them food and water for almost three days, and then shot them in cold blood as they tried to escape. For me, these actions confirm that radical Muslims have lost all vestiges of humanity.

The atrocious violence in Beslan, with its ghastly resonance of the 9/11 attacks three years ago, has particular significance for Muslims. The terrorists tortured the children of School Number One by denying them food and water for almost three days, and then shot them in cold blood as they tried to escape. For me, these actions confirm that radical Muslims have lost all vestiges of humanity.

Muslim terrorists, liberal Muslims everywhere must acknowledge, are now among the most dehumanised people on the planet. They can kill anyone and everyone without remorse, including other Muslims, in the name of Islam. The perpetrators knew well that the bomb blast on Thursday at the entrance of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, would largely kill other Muslims, including women and children.

So for their own well-being, as well as global security, mainstream Muslims must double their efforts to contain this minority of dehumanised fanatics. Their actions have to be condemned - no ifs and buts. They have to be denied the support of marginalised and aggrieved members of our communities. Their interpretation of Islam has to be exposed as the sham that it is.

However, the problem for Muslims is not just the radical groups among them. It is also the policies and rhetoric of the global powers, the very oxygen that sustains and nurtures the radicals. What are we, the liberals, supposed to say when the radicals ask: where were the bleeding hearts of the West when the Russian army was killing tens of thousands of Chechen children, raping Chechen women en masse and perpetuating unspeakable horrors on the Chechen people?

Where was the world that condemns the operations in Beslan as inhuman when Chechnya was being bombed back to the Stone Age? How many commentators and pundits stood up to protest when Chechnya faced scorched-earth warfare that made no distinction between civilians and combatants, the very war that has produced the horrendous spectre of "black widows"?

Why were the cries for help from the Chechens dismissed as babblings of uncivilised bandits, prone to Islamist tendencies? Where was Western humanitarianism when Washington and London left Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin to slaughter the innocent, and dismissed Chechnya as a remote Caucasian region of little consequence that no one understood?

We, the moderate Muslims who crave a more humane, pluralistic and rational practice and understanding of our faith, have no answers to these questions. But we know this much: our efforts to contain the radical minority within us will come to naught as long as the powerful nations of the world continue to produce more Muslim victims.

We live in an interconnected world. The empire always strikes back, whether it is the Russian or American empire. The US used the Afghan rebels to fight its ideological war against the Soviet Union and then left a ruined nation to fester in poverty, lawlessness and despair once it had played its bit-part in global realpolitik. The jihadis of Afghanistan provided al-Qa'ida with its foundations. The analogy with Chechnya is compelling. Decades of war, poverty and despair in a country where human rights violations were the norm became a recruiting banner for the misguided, who were prepared to pervert religion in order to justify the naked barbarism of revenge.

Beslan is an awful indication of what the inhuman future could bring. Putin's declaration of the right to strike at terrorists wherever they are is no different from the premise on which President George Bush went to war in Iraq. Bush has no mandate, no grounds and no inclination to challenge Putin. Just as he has no mandate, grounds or inclination to challenge the analogous policies of Ariel Sharon, only endorsement. Those who are appropriately chilled by the idea of a policy of pre-emptive strikes in the hands of Putin should wake up to the inescapable reality. Putin's strongest justification is the policy and manifesto of Bush. To tackle Putin, we have to pray for the defeat of the author of the policy of pre-emption. If Bush wins the next election, he will declare open season on Iran. That will be a cue for the Iranian Shia radicals to put on their white garbs of martyrdom. The world will resemble Baghdad's Sadr City - and the Iraq war will truly have come home to roost.

There is another, more effective, way to fight terrorism. Give Chechnya the independence it deserves. It is a totally different nation from Russia; has never been, and can never be, a part of Russia. Russia already shares its border with other Muslim states such as Kazakhstan, one more would not make much difference. And leave Iraq to the Iraqis. Again, this is achievable - the US can withdraw its troops with honour and restore genuine democracy to Iraq. Finally, create a viable Palestinian state and rebuild Afghanistan.

In other words, fulfil the numerous promises made to the long-suffering Palestinians and Afghanis. Stop propping up the despots of the Muslim world such as the Saudi monarchy and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Tyrants are bad for everyone - including the West. And support moderate Muslims across the world to reform Islam as a progressive, pluralistic faith. Most Muslims saw the events of 9/11 as a wake-up call. Since then numerous groups have emerged with the specific goal of containing radical Islam and building civic societies in their countries.

Consider, for example, Indonesia, which is at the forefront of the war on terror. After 9/11, a Liberal Islam Network was established specifically to counter-balance and resist radical Muslim groups such as Jemaah Islamiah. Mainstream organisations such as the traditionalists Nahdlatul Ulama, a network of religious scholars, and the modernist Muhammadiyah, have put their differences aside and mobilised a combined membership of more than 80 million to establish open democracy and civic society in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, the government has initiated a wide-ranging programme called Islam Hadhari ("progressive Islam"), which redefines Islam's role in politics, economics and society, and aims to showcase what a Muslim country can do in terms of modernity and social development. In numerous other countries, from Morocco to Turkey, modernists and traditionalists, non-governmental organisations and governments are joining hands to rethink what Islam means in the 21st century, and how they can pull the carpet from under the feet of the radicals. The activism, the concern with reform, the spirit of enlightened change that I have seen in my travels during the past couple of years in the Muslim world are unprecedented in recent Islamic history.

But such monumental efforts - and they are monumental - can bear fruit only if global powers stop creating more Muslim victims, more revenge-seeking bombers and potential martyrs. The use of military power as the sole means of addressing complex issues can lead only to increasing instability. The creation of political space to produce peaceful engagement and hope is, and will remain, the only true antidote to terrorism.

Ziauddin Sardar is co-author, with Merryl Wyn Davies, of 'American Dream, Global Nightmare'

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