What Islam Can Do
Dr. Richard L. Benkin
I am trying to stop the elimination of Bangladesh’s Hindus. In 1947 after the Indian Subcontinent’s partition, Hindus represented almost one third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; 30 years later less than one in ten; and by several reliable estimates, perhaps fewer than eight percent today. During that time, regardless of the party in power—BNP, Awami League, Caretaker, Military—a regular flood of reports documenting anti-Hindu atrocities flowed like a river from Bangladesh. No one whose outrage could have stopped them ever expressed any; no government has prosecuted the victimizers; no religious leaders have called these actions un-Islamic—which they clearly are—and done so again and again when the atrocities continued. Where is the voice of Islam?
Several years ago, some Israelis set up a shrine at the gravesite of Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein was the Brooklyn dentist who walked into a mosque in Hevron one day in 1994 and started shooting. Before he was subdued and beaten to death, he killed 29 worshippers. Do you know what happened to that shrine? The Israeli government destroyed it, arrested the people behind it, and passed a law outlawing shrines to terrorists like Goldstein. Jewish religious leaders from the most observant to the most liberal all condemned Goldstein at the time of his terrorist attack and his followers when they tried to honor him with a shrine. No one told us to understand his anger or think about his “noble” motives. They just condemned it.
If you go to Israel or drive around any of the Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, looking for a street or anything else named in his honor; you will not find any. If you scan television programs or newspapers in Israel looking for any that call Goldstein a “martyr,” you again will be disappointed. There are none, and there will be none for him or any other terrorist. Moreover, both Israel and the United States are nations that allow free speech and expression, even if it is critical of their governments. Yet, you will not find literature demonizing the Arabs or Muslims as “sons of apes and pigs” or citing holy verses that supposedly tell good Jews to kill them.
So why do we see terrorists praised as martyrs in the Muslim world? What makes that even more frustrating is that I know a lot of individual Muslims who find these terrorist attacks contrary to their basic values and understanding of their faith. The closest we have seen to a real and unequivocal rejection of these terrorists came from the Islamic community of Mumbai. After the terrorist attack in their city on 26 November 2008, Mumbai’s Muslim community refused an Islamic burial to those terrorists killed in the attack. There was no “understanding” of their anger; no equivocation about what others might have done. It was a clear statement that these terrorists had disqualified themselves from the support of the Islamic community.
So, I ask my Muslim brothers and sisters why we continue to cry out in vain for Muslim religious and lay leaders to condemn the terrorists in their midst and refuse them even a crumb of ideological justification. While I will not sit at the table with those who say that Islam itself is evil, I do acknowledge (as I suspect you do) that the preponderance of terror attacks involving those who claim to be acting in the name of Islam—and who are not utterly and unequivocally condemned by Muslim religious and lay leaders—have caused many people to associate that faith with those actions. So, I ask my Muslim brothers and sisters why Muslim religious and lay leaders continue to refuse to take this simple action, which should strengthen the shared bonds of all people of faith.