Dr. Hassaballa in the July 31 Chicago Tribune


In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Thanks be to the Lord God, my article was published in the Sunday July 31 Chicago Tribune‘s Perspective section. As always, I have reproduced it for you below:

Aftershock
Muslims in the West are struggling to understand the aftermath of terrorist attacks on London’s transit system

The war on terror belongs to the police, not the military

By Hesham A. Hassaballa
a Chicago doctor and freelance writer
Published July 31, 2005

“Did you hear about London?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “they won the 2012 Olympic bid!”

My sister’s confused response told me that something else had happened. When she told me about the bombings, I could not believe it. My heart sank as I pondered the despicable reality that 7/7 has joined 9/11 in the dark pantheon of digits that represent the dates of brutal terrorist attacks.

Investigators have identified the four bombers, and they are all British citizens. This is particularly disturbing. That anyone would place a bomb on a bus or subway train to maim and murder is disturbing enough, but for someone to attack his fellow citizens in the name of the faith I hold so dear strikes a particular nerve with me. It curdles my blood in anger.

But along with that anger comes a nervous fear. How can such an attack ever be prevented? How can you stop someone who is determined to kill others, even if it means killing himself in the process? It is a daunting challenge for those charged with protecting our homeland. Some may advocate closing the borders and preventing any more immigrants from coming to this country. Others may suggest profiling all Muslims to try to pick out the tiny fringe of extremists in their midst. Still others–and this worries me the most–may even advocate mass internment. I suggest a different approach.

First, it has become clear that regime change through military means is not a particularly effective means to combat terrorism. Most experts agree that the war in Iraq has not made America safer, and intelligence reports suggest that Iraq has become a breeding and training ground for an even deadlier generation of terrorists.

Still, this does not mean we should stop taking the fight to the terrorist enemy. That fight, however, must be based on accurate and precise intelligence and really should be primarily a law-enforcement, rather than military, operation. If authorities learn of a “sleeper” cell anywhere in the world, they have to disrupt it, all the while taking special care not to harass and intimidate the very community whose help and cooperation is needed the most.

Second, we see that the biggest threats come from Muslim extremists wishing to kill Americans. Thus, we have to analyze the root causes of terrorism at the hands of these extremists. It is not because “they hate us for our freedom.”

Though it may be cloaked in the robes of Islam, Islamic devotion is not what motivates these terrorists. Much of the motivation is political, stemming from the political repression, corruption, economic stagnation, lack of freedom of expression and religious intolerance that infest the Muslim world today. This injustice breeds tremendous anger on the part of Muslims across the world–driving some to contemplate violence–and is a potent recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. This injustice must end.

Now, does this mean that terrorism against America is America’s own fault? Absolutely not. The Muslim world must take the lead in the effort to clean its own house.

Nevertheless, America has the resources and influence to help. Once we end injustice, the swamps in which terrorism incubates and grows will be dried up for good, and when America is at the forefront of the fight against injustice, the likelihood of another attack against America diminishes significantly.

Third, within Muslim communities, there must be absolutely no room for hateful and violent rhetoric. Not even one mosque should allow an imam, such as British radical Abu Hamza al-Masri, to stand on the pulpit and tell his followers to get an infidel and “crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat. Forget wasting a bullet, cut them in half!” Anything that comes from the pulpit has the connotation of religious authority; hate speech defiles that space and must never be allowed.

Does this mean I advocate government monitoring and surveillance of mosques and Islamic centers? No. Muslims must do this sort of policing themselves, and it should be easy because the overwhelming majority of Muslims categorically reject the sort of hate speech and twisted perversion of Islam espoused by Al Qaeda and similar extremist groups.

Fourth, many of the Muslim youths vulnerable to the logic of Al Qaeda feel alienated from the societies in which they live. This stems from Muslim extremists preaching isolation from the “infidel society” and from the discrimination and racial hatred many Muslims face in the West, particularly after Sept. 11. Both must end. Racial discrimination and hatred have no place in our society.

The Koran says, “Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.”

In addition, Muslim leaders must continuously teach their communities that being fully Muslim and being fully American are not mutually exclusive. They must teach fellow Muslims to embrace their “American-ness” and always see themselves as American Muslims as opposed to Muslims in America.

The war on terrorism is a vital and noble endeavor. Changing the paradigm of the fight against the terrorists themselves, ending injustice around the world, snuffing out hateful rhetoric among Muslims in the West and preventing the alienation of those Muslims may not be the easiest tasks. They also may not guarantee that America will never be attacked. Yet they are important strategies that will strengthen and enhance our long-term security.

It is a responsibility we cannot shirk, and it is the least we can do to try to ensure that our children will be given a world no longer tainted with the dark digits of death and destruction.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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