Scenes of explosions and heartache, trauma and tragedy, were the horrific scenes coming from the American city of Boston on April 15th. When we in the Middle East heard of these events, we were all terribly saddened. We know these scenes ourselves all too well. We were saddened for the people, those lives lost and those destroyed. We were saddened not only for the chaos and destruction, but for the fear we knew those people surely felt. We know that fear. We know that pain. We recognize clearly the hurt in the eyes we saw on the TV cameras. We’ve seen that hurt here. We’ve felt that pain. This tragedy, if anything, was a reminder not of how different we are from the Americans we saw on our TV, but of how very similar. In an ever smaller and interconnected world, it was an opportunity for us all to look within ourselves.
Was this Beirut? Was this Ankara? Was this Kabul or maybe Tel Aviv? Does it really even matter? A doctoral student from China, a restaurant manager, an eight year old child, all lost their lives. Countless others were wounded. Many will never be the same. Whether one is shot dead in Damascus, or killed in his car while serving the people of Boston, a human tragedy is a human tragedy. We who live in the Middle East understand the threat of ideological terrorism. Whether terrorized by the organized Marxist syndicate which has plagued Turkey in past days, to the PKK movement of recent history, to al Qaeda itself, we in the Middle East know what it’s like to feel fear in our public square. Whenever a bomb explodes in a crowd, there are no Jews, Christians, Muslims, or atheists. There are only humans. A shared experience, a shared history, and a shared tragedy.
Limited attention spans
Some may argue this not the best time to go into American public life and tell people: “These men’s actions do not reflect the truth about Islam.” But as a Muslim woman this is exactly what we Muslims should be saying. Why? Because attention span on Islam and Muslims is limited, sadly, to these evil actions. I join my voice to the vast majority of Muslims around the world: My religion is innocent of terrorism. We Muslims are al-Qaeda’s first enemies, and they have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. The fight against radicalism and terrorism, therefore, is a collective human struggle against evil.
Westerners would do well not to judge Islam by fanatical readings of it on the periphery of our religion --- there is a mainstream, 1,400-year-old understanding of the Qur’an which respects religious freedom.Ceylan Ozbudak
What happens when the “Christians” are wearing white sheets over their faces (the KKK), and burning crosses on people’s lawns? Or when Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland kill others in the name of Catholicism? We do not blame the Vatican.
Think of a young Muslim raised in the West. The young wo/man wants to succeed in life, marry, have children, and be happy in this life. S/he also wants to learn how to integrate his religion into a successful life in modern society. His/her problem is that there are very, very few Islamic institutions or accessible organizations in which he can learn to do so. Will such a young man not eventually learn about his faith? Yes, he will, but sadly, as we have seen with the Tzarnaev brothers, some may do so from random and extreme clerics on YouTube.
Therefore, what is the most promising long-term approach? First: Westerners would do well not to judge Islam by fanatical readings of it on the periphery of our religion --- there is a mainstream, 1,400-year-old understanding of the Qur’an which respects religious freedom, and has provided a pathway to pluralism while Europe was burning witches and fighting wars of religion. For example (and many Muslims don’t even know this), the first truly pluralistic society was based on the Constitution of Medina, in 622 AD. This constitution recognized Muslims, Christians, pagans and Jews as signatory members of one “ummah.” How is that for government by consent of the governed? If that historical fact were taught by the civil society organizations, what room would there be for a Muslim to engage in “jihad” against Christians or Jews in America?
There are Muslim teachers who are fully competent to catechize young, sincere Muslims to an authentic Islam, which is true to the Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet. Muslims who want to reconcile their primary allegiance to God with their roles as productive members of society can be brought together by NGOs and social institutions, without government investment, to learn how to live their faith in a manner which adorns Islam and which serves the nations in which they live. The prevalent fear among people outside of Islam is that Islamic education will lead to further radicalization. This is incorrect: the leaders and foot soldiers of terrorist organizations are not religiously educated. Bin Laden was an engineer. Zawahiri is a doctor. The vast majority of suicide bombers are not graduates of seminaries, but of secular institutions.
Still, we live in an age in which information travels at the speed of light. A religious scholar who strives against radicalization may not always have the means to spread his message; or, that message may be drowned out by hacks who use religion to appeal to young, disaffected men around the globe. A religious scholar, who opposes radical, fanatical interpretations can be strengthened and supported by money and moral support by those who oppose radicalism. It is far less expensive to promote peace than to buy an F-16 or a Predator drone, and probably, much more effective to the goal of a peaceable Boston Marathon in 2014.
We have seen this idea in action in a Western country. After the July bombings in 2005, British government worked with Muslims to launch its counter terrorism program (Contest). In recent years, the British sponsored the lecture tours by prominent Muslim scholars who refuted the arguments of extremists. We need more such measures.
Terror has no religion, no race, and no color. All bombs and bullets speak the same language. All widows mourn in the same language. As a human being, I am sincerely grieved about what happened last week in Boston.
Today, we all awoke to the same morning. A dawn filled with the dreams of our youth, of hope for our future, of promise and of peace, not for one of us, but for all of us. We are more than the sum of our parts, more than the things that divide us. We are one, in tragedy and in sorrow, in success and in victory. It's this moment we must seize and this realization that must be the lasting memory of Boston. Life, civil liberties, and the pursuit of happiness is the journey of us all. And we're best suited for success when we walk this path together.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak
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