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Fri, Sep 14, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Many insist Islam is not the enemy

MIXED FEELINGS Muslims from around the world emphasized their sympathy, but also urged that the US should take the attacks as a call to examine its foreign policy

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gives blood in Gaza City, in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Arafat has condemned the attacks on the US.

PHOTO: AFP

Muslims around the world are flashing a message to the US as it desperately seeks a target to avenge the terror attacks on New York and Washington: Islam is not the enemy.

At the same time, sympathy for the victims is tempered with a sense that the US had it coming and had better rethink its foreign policy -- even though Islamic involvement remains just a theory.

From Muslims on the street to newspaper editorial writers, comments followed a predictable path: the attacks were horrific but -- in some way beyond the reach of most Americans -- understandable:

-- An editorial in moderate-Muslim Malaysia's Utusan newspaper: "The tragedy in US teaches us that the strong and powerful should not oppress the weak. This is the price that America must pay for their own attitude."

-- Khalid Ismail, a businessman in the capital Kuala Lumpur: "When you press people too much, they will reach their limits and retaliate."

-- Suri Rahmat, 45, out shopping with her children in Kuala Lumpur: "I pity those who died ... but the Americans have been harassing other countries and they do practise double standards ... like in Iraq."

-- Maisuharah Basaruddin, 23, accountancy student: "If you want to compare what Israel has done against the Palestinians, it is 10 times worse than what the Muslim terrorists, if they are behind it, have done to the US now."

-- A prominent Shiite cleric in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abdullah al-Habib, condemned the attacks but said the US should revise its foreign policy, especially in regard to the Middle East.

Trying to put aside politics, Muslim groups defended their faith:

-- "To kill innocent men, women and children is a horrible and hideous act [of] which no monotheistic religious approves," said the imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the top authority for millions of Sunni Muslims.

-- "We condemn these savage and criminal acts which are anathema to all human conventions and values and the monotheist religions, led by Islam," said the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Many in the increasingly atheistic West may find religion an absurd base for enmity. But while in Europe clerics are lamenting the end of Christianity as a major force in people's lives, US politics are unashamedly Christian.

US President George W. Bush himself brought religion into the equation in his address to the nation when he quoted the 23rd Psalm: "Yea though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil ... "

The executive director of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre, Abdul Razak Baginda, tried to put the political and religious elements into context.

"One school of thought is that Islam and Muslims all over the world will be seen as the enemy," he said. "If Muslim countries dissociate themselves from the attacks then people can distinguish between the attacks and Islam as a whole.

"However, the Muslim world is very sympathetic to what is happening in Palestine. It is frustration that finds its way out in this type of attack. The US is ready to respond, but the big question is: Respond against what?"

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