Eight years after the 911 terrorist attacks in the US, Americans are ever wary of the global threat which Islamic extremism poses, as its seed is blown over the Islamic world and into every Muslim household via news media.
That word, terrorism, is spoken or heard by every adult on the planet, even quite likely in places where television and radio are not present.
September 11, 2001 was a day of rude awakening for those who knew little more of Islam than the word itself.
I was a priest then and this came as such a shock that I was left in a surreal stupor for days. At the time I was also doing business with a few Muslims from a small enclave of Iraqi and Somalian refugees in an old neighborhood that was once Italian and before that, Jewish.
Here, there were poor Americans, hard working Mexicans and this entrepreneurial group of foreign Muslims whose stores and restaurants catered to all cultures and tastes.
Not long after the attacks, I spoke with Nabeel Al-Hakim, the Iraqi store owner whose wife was a permanent resident from Chihuahua. The store, named El Guerrero, carried halal food products as well as consumables compatible with Americans and Mexicans. Nabeel even had halal pepperoni for the pizza he sold to order.
Like other Muslims I spoke with, he was also astounded and deeply saddened at the inept fatuity of the 911 hijackers who superfluously committed the greatest evil imaginable against both God and humanity. I frankly asked him to explain how teachings in the Koran might condone such a thing. He proceeded to explain how the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad immutably forbade acts of war against the innocent.
I also spoke with an Imam who presided over the prayers at the mosque next door to Nabeel’s store. The Imam used an Arabic reference while I was shown an English version of the Koran and a reference book of Hadiths to follow along. There were verses explaining protocols of war, standards of behavior under the duress of conflict.
For example, enemies or the people of enemies not brandishing weapons or attacking should never be attacked. Women, children, the elderly, should never be attacked or harmed purposefully. Captured enemies were to be protected, properly housed and fed. Though these rules of engagement were designed for scenarios of the time, there were other verses shown to me which gleaned the meaning of terrorism much more poignantly. In one verse Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying that he would be a witness on the judgment day against any Muslim who killed an innocent Muslim, Christian or Jew.
What happened to Islam anyway? It had succumbed to some grotesque ideology that does not represent 99% of the people, who like you and I, are mostly concerned with careers and family matters. It does not represent the ideals and mercy of the prophets.
I believe that every culture harbors idealistic truisms in some form or another. The east has the jurisprudence of Muhammad and the Koran and the wisdom of the prophets. The west has its own sense of justice vested in democratic ideals, inspired by the Law of Moses and the administrations of ancient Greece. Does any nation or people always rise to the occasion of its moral standards?
Are individuals often misguided by intellectually corrupt precepts which lead them to justify things that are grotesquely uncivilized? What of the ethnic cleansing of Hitler? The heinous acts of Stalin, who starved millions? What of the fact that America was the only nation in history to use the first two atomic bombs on civilians’ only weeks before the Japanese war would have ended?
These are all conscious acts of terrorism, impugned with cold calculation to impact the masses in devastating sociopolitical consequence. The Islamic terrorism of our time is not unique nor is it a new concept in its intended effects in recent history. It is yet another sign that ideological fervor of the few trumps the peaceful ideals of the majority and that all human idioms eventually succumb to the desperate means of intellectually inept leaders.
Without excuse, any form of terrorism is morally unjustified. There are standards established in every nation and culture. In the final analysis however, it seems quite certain that conquering over reaches the sanity underlying all rules. And that ideology is no more than the governing progenitor of everything foul, which degrades and debases the whole idea of humanity.