The longest war


No matter how many wars we fight and how many precautions we take, as long as enough people believe they are killing in the name of God, the war against Islamic terror will continue. The killers of San Bernardino were motivated not by grievance but by religious fervor. California’s tough gun laws, a sophisticated U.S. anti-terrorist program and even the American dream were no match for them.

President Barack Obama can promise to “destroy” terror groups such as ISIS, but let’s not fool ourselves. Terror is a symptom, a tactic, not a cause. The root cause of the violence is a medieval and literalist interpretation of Islam that fires up zealots toward jihad and the dream of martyrdom. No missile can destroy that fervor.

It’s a mistake to dismiss Islamic extremism as belonging to only a fringe minority. In too many countries, extreme beliefs have become all too common. According to the 2013 Pew Research Center report, for example, 88 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 62 percent of Muslims in Pakistan favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim faith. Significant majorities in many Muslim-dominated countries believe Sharia should be the law of the land. 

Unless a more moderate and progressive interpretation of Islam gains serious traction throughout the Muslim world, you can forget about winning any war on terror.

Until now, the general approach of progressive Muslims has been to condemn Islamic terror while dismissing it as “not Islam” and defending the real Islam as a religion of peace. 

After so much violence committed in the name of Islam, this defense has started to wear thin. The problematic texts in the Quran that are used to justify violence are real. What Islam needs today is not better PR but serious reformation. A good starting point would be for influential Muslims to endorse a formal declaration of principles that defines a liberal, modern vision of Islam for the next century. 

Luckily for us, that declaration has arrived. It’s called the Muslim Reform Movement. It was announced on Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., by a dozen or so Muslim scholars and activists from around the world. Here is the preamble: 

“We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.

“We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.

“We have courageous reformers from around the world who will outline our Declaration for Muslim Reform, a living document that we will continue to enhance as our journey continues. We invite our fellow Muslims and neighbors to join us.”

The declaration, which has been in the works for a year, outlines a series of principles based on a modern view of Islam that reinterprets outdated texts for the new century. Some sections read as if they were written by a die-hard liberal: “We reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.”

An essential principle is the separation of mosque and state: “We are against political movements in the name of religion.”

Above all, the declaration honors life and freedom: “We believe in life, joy, free speech and the beauty all around us. Every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights. We reject blasphemy laws. They are a cover for the restriction of freedom of speech and religion. We affirm every individual’s right to participate equally in ijtihad, or critical thinking, and we seek a revival of ijtihad.”

According to one of the authors, Raheel Raza, founder of Muslims Facing Tomorrow in Toronto, the goal is to take the declaration to mosques, Muslim institutions and Muslim leaders throughout the world and seek their formal endorsement.

Even if it takes 100 years, getting those endorsements is the real war we must win.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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