The rash of kidnappings, beheadings and explosions in Iraq, the killing of innocent children in Russia, and car bombings in Turkey and Indonesia have sparked debate among Arab intellectuals on why the majority of terror acts have been committed by Muslims acting in the name of Islam.
Some blame the violence on an atmosphere of intolerance and extremism that has bred hatred of non-Muslims and urge honest soul-searching as a remedy; others insist the problem is with the West, particularly the United States and its unconditional support of Israel and its war on Iraq.
Condemnation has not only come from intellectuals, but also from some of the Muslim world's most prominent scholars. Egypt's foremost religious leader, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, says "beheadings and (the) mutilation of bodies stand against Islam." And Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, maintains Islam doesn't sanction the killing and abduction of foreigners who are working and feel secure in Muslim countries.
However, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many religious scholars say suicide bombings carried out by the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad are acceptable.
"The Palestinian resistance against Zionist terrorism is one that we demand, bless and sanction," said Abdul-Aziz al-Khayat, a Jordanian scholar and former minister of religious affairs.
A video posted Monday on a Web site showed the beheading of a man identified as American construction contractor Eugene Armstrong.
The authenticity of the 9-minute tape could not be verified. It shows a sobbing man, blindfolded and wearing an orange jumpsuit while a militant behind him reads a statement.
Societies measure their heroes in different ways. Some societies honor athletes or performers. Others celebrate caregivers and humanitarian workers. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have consistently chosen to honor murderers as their national icons.
During the recent PA prisoners' hunger strike, Palestinian TV repeatedly singled out one such murderer - Samir Quntar - and turned him into a Palestinian hero.
In 1979, Quntar crossed into northern Israel from Lebanon, and took Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter, Einat, as hostages, to bring them to Lebanon. When the Israeli army arrived, Quntar murdered Danny and Einat. Danny's other daughter also died in the attack. Quntar was captured, and received multiple life sentences totalling 542 years in prison.
PATV and PA leaders see Quntar as a hero, and the hunger strike was used as an opportunity to promote Quntar. His picture was repeatedly shown on TV and he was proclaimed the "model warrior," "brave," and a "leader" and "head" of the prisoners.
A broadcast describing Quntar's life defines his murder as "brave:"
"He was sentenced to 542 years in prison for committing the brave Nahariya action in Palestine."
[PATV, Aug. 18, 2004]
Note also that, consistent with PA teaching, the northern Israel city of Nahariya is defined as "Palestine."
CBS apologized Monday and said it was misled about the authenticity of documents used to support a "60 Minutes" story that questioned President Bush's Vietnam War-era National Guard service, after several experts denounced them as fakes.
"We should not have used them," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said. "That was a mistake, which we deeply regret."
Abu Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, said the group was â€śshocked by what we see on televisionâ€? about the Russian school standoff.
â€śWe would never agree to such a thing,â€? he said. â€śWe never did such a thing and never would. When there is an explosion and children are killed, we are sorry for this because this was a mistake, not on purpose.â€?
June 1, 2001, a Palestinian terrorist chose to detonate himself among a long line of teenagers , their youth clearly visible to him, at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv. 11 teenagers under the age of 18 were among the dead.
Mar 2, 2002 - Outside of a Jerusalem synagogue, a terrorist detonated a bomb next to a group of mainly women standing outside with their young children, several in baby carriages . The victims: Shlomo Nehmad (40), his wife Gafnit (32), and their daughters Shiraz (7) and Liran (3); Avraham Eliahu Nehmad, (7), Shaul Nehmad (15); Lidor Ilan (12) and his sister Oriah (18 months); Tzofia Ya'arit Eliyahu (23) and her son Ya'akov Avraham (7 months); and Avi Hazan, (37). The Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade took responsibility for the attack.
Aug 19, 2003 - Twenty-three people were killed, including 7 children when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated himself on a No. 2 Egged bus in Jerusalem's Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood. The bus was filled with children. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. The child victims: Shmuel Taubenfeld, 3 months, of New Square, New York; Shmuel Zargari, 11 months; Tehilla Nathanson, 3; Issachar Reinitz, 9; Avraham Bar-Or, 12; Binyamin Bergman, 15; Elisheva Meshulami, 16.
Last we checked, U.N. chief Kofi Annan was promising to help the U.S. rebuild Iraq. But pressed by a BBC interviewer last week, the Secretary-General stated flat out that the liberation of Iraq was "illegal" and a violation of the U.N. Charter. He had already opined that "there should have been a second resolution" authorizing the invasion, and that "I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time."
These thoughts could certainly stand a little parsing. Mr. Annan seems to be saying that the only way force can be used legitimately in the modern world is with the unanimous permission of the U.N. Security Council. So perhaps we should remind him of some recent history.
For example, there was that splendidly legitimate U.N. operation in Bosnia, where its blue-helmeted peacekeepers watched with indifference as Serbian soldiers rounded up for slaughter thousands of Muslim men in the so-called U.N. "safe haven" of Srebrenica. Or Rwanda in 1994, where Mr. Annan--then head of the U.N. peacekeeping office--shrugged off panicked warning calls from the U.N. commander on the ground, thereby allowing the slaughter of 800,000.
And if liberating Iraq was wrong, Mr. Annan must also believe it was wrong for NATO to have intervened in Kosovo, where Russia once again prevented Security Council unanimity. How about the recent French intervention in the Ivory Coast, which the Security Council got around to blessing only after it was a fait accompli? And notwithstanding the latest U.N. promises, what if Gallic and Chinese oil interests block international action in Sudan, allowing the continued attacks on Darfurians? It would appear, on this evidence, that Security Council unanimity isn't exactly the gold standard of legitimacy, much less of morality.