Letter from London: To apologize or not to apologize

Bakir Oweida
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As we all now know, the horrible killing of British soldier Lee Rigby has taken the debate concerning the place and role of Muslim community within mainstream society in different directions. One of the points that were voiced was whether Muslims should apologize for the crime committed in the name of their faith, or they should not. In my view, that is not the question. Apology will not take the real problem away. It merely hides it under a carpet that needs to be truly shaken. Without great courage, back home, to stand up and face the powers that are trying hard to pull Islam and Muslims back to the past and stop the Muslim world from being part of the modern world, there will be no moving ahead.

However, those who feel an apology is a form of rejecting the act of terror, anywhere, should feel free to do so. On the other hand, those who reject any form of apology, or even explanation, have the right to do so.

Will there be any action?

Regardless of the heated debate that follows any act of terror, the more important question is what follows, will there be any action to tackle extremism. So, the creating of Tackling Extremism and Radicalization Task Force, which should have held its first meeting last Monday, may be good news on Britain’s home front, but certainly (TERFOR) will have no role to play back home, meaning the Muslim World.

Regardless of the heated debate that follows any act of terror, the more important question is what follows, will there be any action to tackle extremism

Bakir Oweida

There, where the roots of ideologies that breed extremism and extremists, generation after generation, the task is in the hands of Islamic institutions, think tanks, NGOs, politicians, writers, artists, sports stars, business leaders, and of course, religious scholars, they all, individually and collectively, have the responsibility to stand up to all forms of extremism on all levels in all and fields, whatever they may be and wherever they may flourish.

Of course, this does not mean there have never been great efforts by several individuals and organizations that stood up, and still do, to challenge extreme thinking and fanatic behavior. However some of those efforts resulted in paying a heavy price, including assassination, threats to life, losing one’s job, or being cast out. These efforts were not enough to tackle the roots of the problem, simply because they were not supported enough by others who share the same concern.

Blair’s statement

This brings me to what Mr. Tony Blair, former PM, has written for the Mail on Sunday this last weekend, and to what one Stuart Wragg said, commenting on my last article. First, from a personal view, and I’m sure of many others sharing the same view, Mr. Blair is right in pointing out that extremism is a “problem within Islam.” For many Muslim intellectuals this is very old news. But using that fact to demand a better education for Muslim children in the west is one thing, and employing it to wash the hands of many western leaders, Mr. Blair included, from all the mistakes and miscalculations that played to the hands of extremism, fed it with political ammunition, helped in attracting and recruiting young Muslims, is another, and it’s far from reality. Hence, what Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, said commenting on Mr. Blair when he pointed out that “he appears to be still trying to justify the Iraq War rather than acknowledging that that war provided an unprecedented opportunity for the Sunni and Shia extremists to slaughter so many of their co-religionists,” is not just settling scores on political differences, it’s rather more accurate an analysis of the situation.

As for Mr. Wragg who doubts many Muslims will agree that extremism is a Muslim problem, I do not share his doubt, I’m rather surer that the majority within what is called the “silent majority” do acknowledge the existence of extremism as a problem. But, I do agree with Mr. Wragg in questioning whether they would come out in the open and take sides. Indeed this goes to the heart of matter, I mean as Mr. Wragg put it is “always easier to sit on the fence.” The culture of extremism, he added, actually starts from the very beginning, as early as the childhood years; the tyranny of extremism starts to take form within the family walls before spreading where ever it can. But, alas, that is a different story, one we can come back to another time perhaps.


Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and wrote for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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