Every time I write a column mentioning Islam, my words are taken out of context or misquoted, and the hate mail rolls in branding me a bigot and hatemonger. So when I was asked to meet the CEO and co-founder of a foundation representing moderate Muslims, I tried to pass it on to my chief editor. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and my meeting with Holland Taylor of LibForAll Foundation turned out to be most illuminating. In this election year, it is vital for all Americans to recognize where the threat to our freedom is coming from and that there does exist a strong counter-extremist network in the Muslim community.
Mr. Taylor and the former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid (popularly known as "Gus Dur") have founded a group whose ultimate goal is to help ensure the triumph of a pluralistic and tolerant understanding of Islam, at peace with itself and the modern world. That sounds all well and good, but along with the hate mail I get, I receive just as much correspondence from those who believe that the problem is Islam itself. Religion of peace, my eye, is the gist of these e-mails. For many Americans, the videos of jihadists beheading the innocent are confirmation that Islam advocates barbarism. Likewise, the stonings and ritual honor killings in the daily press cannot easily be explained away as peaceful.
Much of this type of correspondence came as the result of my objection to the opening of the Arabic language public school, Khalil Gibran International Academy. I wrote that there was a real need for studying the language, but I objected to a public school with a board of directors composed of religious clergy. In addition, the Department of Education never released detailed information about the proposed curriculum to a group with concerns about it becoming a possible madrassa.
I found it comforting to learn from Mr. Taylor that, of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, 85% to 90% are traditional, non-radical believers. They belong to different ethnic groups, and only 20% live in Arab countries. This is the silent majority that is the target audience of the LibForAll Foundation, and it must face up to the fact that the Islamic extremists are the greatest threat not only to the West but to the Muslim world. Imagine a nuclear strike here and what repercussions we'd be forced to consider against Muslim nations.
In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Wahid wrote: "An extreme and perverse ideology in the minds of fanatics is what threatens us (specifically, Wahhabi / Salafi ideology) — a minority fundamentalist religious cult fueled by petro dollars). ... All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches us to be lenient toward others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are tolerated by Islam as a religion." Mr. Wahid is the Muslim leader who issued a firm condemnation of Holocaust denial and in another article for the Wall Street Journal called for the world's religious leaders to "not only refute the claims of terrorists and their ideological enablers, but also defend the rights of others to worship differently."
The mission of the LibForAll Foundation (www.libforall.org) is to generate understanding in the Muslim community on the differences between the right and wrong Islam. Non-Muslims are in need of a history lesson as well. In the 1920s, when Great Britain was deciding which group of Muslims to support, T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, recommended the Hashemites, descendants of Muhammed, but diplomat Harry St. John Philby, father of Kim Philby, persuaded the British to support the Saudis, who had risen to power through the radicalism of Wahhabism, which preached its own violent interpretation of Islamic Law, transforming Islam from a personal faith into an authoritarian political system. The majority of the September 11, 2001, hijackers were Saudi Arabian.
If the Islamic fundamentalists are being funded by petrodollars, as Mr. Wahid asserts, then we need to invigorate our efforts to decrease our dependency on foreign oil. Drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Florida, and in the Gulf of Mexico, and start building nuclear power plants and oil refineries are just a few of the steps I want to hear proposed by the presidential candidates.
Those who insist that we have nothing to fear from Islamic jihadists and can negotiate with Wahhabi Muslims are naive and unworthy of the presidency.