For three consecutive days, April 10-12, Tariq Ramadan, the controversial Muslim activist who was denied a U.S. visa for questionable activities (such as making "charitable" donations to the terrorist organization Hamas, which regularly commissions suicide-attacks), was invited by Georgetown University to give a one-way talk live via satellite — a move which many, including several Georgetown faculty, protested.
The Washington Post reports that Ramadan's overarching theme was that "Islam and democracy are not incompatible in their tenets of equality and freedom for all and that tensions between them have arisen because of historic problems — such as European colonialism, political manipulation by Middle Eastern autocrats and the influence of minority Islamic groups he described as 'literalists.'" As to the question of Islam and violence, the Georgetown Voice reports he asserted that, "[Terrorism] is not only non-Islamic, it's anti-Islamic." And when discussing the presence of Muslims in the West, he bemoaned the fact that "We are obsessed with the few [radical Muslims] and not seeing the many [moderate Muslims]."
Meanwhile, on the very same three days that Ramadan was exonerating Islam of terrorism, various Islamic groups around the world engaged in wanton acts of terrorism: On April 10, three suicide bombers in Morocco detonated themselves while being chased by police, killing, among others, a child. That same day, at the other end of the Islamic world, in Iraq, a woman detonated herself killing 16 men who were waiting in an employment line. On April 11 in Algeria, an al Qaeda-sponsored suicide-bombing campaign targeted the prime minister's office, claiming 33 lives and wounding 222. And on April 12, hours after a suicide truck tore through a major bridge in Baghdad, killing at least ten people, another suicide bomber detonated himself in the Iraqi-parliament cafeteria, killing at least eight (including lawmakers who were trying to create a viable democracy for Iraq).
How does one reconcile Ramadan's rosy picture of Islam with these oft-recurring and ubiquitous acts of terrorism — all perpetrated by Muslims and in the name of Islam? Ramadan insists that Islam does not teach terrorism, much less suicide bombings. However, considering that we have reached a point now that on almost any given day some Muslim somewhere detonates him- (and now, her-) self in an effort to kill the perceived enemies of Islam; considering that, since Ramadan's three-day lecture, nearly 500 additional people have been killed in suicide attacks, primarily in Iraq — is that not profound evidence to the contrary? Shall we judge based on words (such as Ramadan's) or deeds (such as the Islamists')?
While Ramadan and other apologists can pontificate all they want about "true" Islam, the fact remains: There are countless and nameless others who are so convinced that Islam extols not just terrorism (see Koran 8:12 or 8:57 for an idea of where they get this notion), but suicide-attacks — that is, "martyrdom-operations," which radicals believe lead directly to paradise — that without a second thought they happily sacrifice their own lives. Surely if they believed that their actions were, as Ramadan vociferously maintains, "anti-Islamic" sins that lead directly to hell, they would not be committing them in the first place — and all while screaming "Allah is great."
Moreover, if terrorism and suicide bombings have no connection to Islam per se and are instead byproducts of frustration and political oppression, or, as Ramadan asserts, "European colonialism," why are we not seeing suicide bombers in other dictatorial, oppressive, and impoverished regions of the world, many of which were also colonized by Europe? Despite the fact that the Islamic world has the lion's share of dramatic news headlines here in the West, it is not the only region in the world suffering, both from internal and external causes.
For instance, even though practically all of sub-Saharan Africa had been colonized by Europe and is currently riddled with political corruption and oppression, when it comes to political violence and terrorism, no other sub-Saharan nation can come anywhere near to Somalia — which also happens to be the only sub-Saharan country that a) is entirely Muslim and b) has experienced a suicide attack, which, admittedly, is a new style of terror for Somalia that was ushered in only with the rise of the Islamist Sharia regime.
Furthermore, the only nation that comes a close second to Somalia, insofar as terrorism and destruction are concerned, is Sudan, where a genocide against the Christian and polytheistic peoples is currently being waged by Khartoum's Islamist government.
Latin American (e.g., Cuba) and non-Muslim Asian countries (e.g., China) also have their fair share of oppressive, authoritarian regimes, of poverty, and of all the rest that the Muslim world suffers. Yet there are no records of, say, practicing Christians or Buddhists crashing explosives-laden vehicles into Cuban or Chinese Communist government buildings all while screaming "Jesus is great!" or "Free Tibet! Buddha is great!"
In response to this discrepancy, apologists like Ramadan have traditionally relied on a two-fold strategy: 1) preach to the West about what "true" Islam is, and 2) complain about how "aberrant" groups like al Qaeda have "hijacked" Islam, totally distorting it to fit their political agendas.
What the apologists seem to miss, however, is that, even if their watered-down, made-to-accord-with-the-West version of Islam is more authentic, that doesn't really change a thing. Repudiating the validity of "literalist" interpretations of the Koran is totally beside the point. The issue isn't which "version" of Islam is "correct." The issue is that there are Muslims who have interpreted, do interpret, and always will interpret the mandates of Islam literally. As long as the Koran contains a plenitude of verses commanding Muslims to be in a perpetual state of war with non-Muslims (e.g., Koran 9:5, 9:29, 9:123), to "strike terror into the hearts of infidels" and "to strike their heads off" (Koran 8:60 and 47:4), all with assurances that "Allah has purchased the lives and possessions of the Believers in exchange for paradise: they fight in his cause, slaying and being slain" (9:111) — there will always be those faithful (Ramadan's "minority of literalists") who take these words for what they plainly mean.
Thus, even if we were to agree with Ramadan that the vast majority of Muslims are "moderates" and that, say, only a mere 20 percent of Muslims are "literalists," that simply means that some 200 million Muslims in the world today are dedicated enemies of the infidel West. At any rate, when it comes to instilling terror, numbers are of no significance. It took only 19 to wreak great havoc and destruction on American soil on 9/11. It won't take much more to duplicate that horrific day. This is precisely why, to use Ramadan's own words, "we are obsessed by the few [radical Muslims] and not seeing the many [moderate Muslims]." That most Muslims are good, law-abiding citizens and that only a mere minority of the umma, say, 200 million, are hell-bent on destroying the West — how is that supposed to be any comfort to us?
Raymond Ibrahim is the editor of The Al-Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda. He works for the Near East section of the Library of Congress.