[TODAY]Fight Terror, Not Fundamentalism

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[TODAY]Fight Terror, Not Fundamentalism

Obviously, the hardest-hit victims of the terrorist attacks on America were the passengers aboard the hijacked jetliners and those who were killed after the planes crashed into World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the entire American population is suffering from mental anguish after the attacks; they are as much victimized as those direct victims.

There are many Arabs and Arab-Americans who are also suffering from the aftermath of the attacks. Because Osama bin Laden, who was identified as the mastermind of the attacks, is an Arab Muslim, Arabs became a target of hatred and suspicion. The threat to and the suffering of Arab-Americans was so huge that U.S. President George W. Bush was forced to visit the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. and stressed there that Arabs are not America's enemies.

Misunderstandings about Islamic fundamentalism leads to widespread but wrong conceptions about Islam itself. American and European scholars and journalists dubbed the radical political activities of some Muslims, which they could not understand, as fundamentalism, making them sound a bit mystic. Islamic resistance against hegemony by the United States and Russia since the 1970s, criticism of authoritarian regimes in Islamic countries, a backlash against Western high technology and global media, which they sometimes see as immoral: these complicated phenomena were oversimplified and called Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism was tinted with the image of retrogression. The success of the Iranian revolution stimulated additional fears by western countries about Islamic fundamentalism.

Ironically, the term "fundamentalism" started to be widely used as a description of the conservative movement in American Christianity and civic activities supporting that movement since the late 1970s. Christian fundamentalism appeared in the world earlier than Islamic fundamentalism, according to Masayuki Yamauchi, a Japanese expert on Islam. Christian fundamentalism believes in the infallibility of the Bible and the purity of Christian doctrine. It resembles Islamic fundamentalism in that Muslims believe that the Koran and the words of the prophet Mohammed are infallible.

In the Islamic world nobody calls himself as a fundamentalist. Radical activists who sacrifice themselves or their colleagues if necessary are quite different from moderates who concentrate their activities on everyday life, such as improving social welfare and protecting the weak. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency smuggled money and weapons together with copies of the Koran to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan through the mujahidin of Afghanistan in 1979, proving that the United States already knew that the Islamic world had different faces.

The Islamic world is divided into factions. Bin Laden's followers and the Hamas group, even though both are radical, use different methods of fighting. The terrorist organization of bin Laden that commits terrorism by either fair means or foul is categorized as mutatarif, or radical.

Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan pledged to help the United States attack the Taleban regime of Afghanistan. It struck me how much times have changed when I recalled 1979, when the United States got help from the Afghan mujahidin to infiltrate into Central Asian countries. The change reflects the antagonism of other Islamic countries against the Taleban.

Islamic fundamentalism includes Islamic terrorism. But not all Islamic fundamentalists adopt terror as a means of struggle.

Insisting on wearing veils and refusing to participate in music and physical classes while attending French middle schools, Arabic female students and their parents are Islamic fundamentalists but far from terrorists.

Unless the United States and its allies separate Islamic fundamentalism from Islam terrorism, they may succeed in retaliation but they will not succeed in eradicating terrorist organizations. If they treat Islamic fundamentalism categorically as anti-western civilization, that may turn fundamentalists who believe every word of the Koran into followers of bin Laden.

The eradication of international terrorism is an urgent mission. As Masayuki Yamauchi points out, the Jacobin dictatorship that grew from the French Revolution was followed by counterrevolutionary Ninth of Thermidor movement that brought Napoleon to power. Likewise, if the United States wants to avenge effectively the terrorist attacks on mainland America, it should not treat this war as one against Islamic fundamentalism. The enemy is Muslim terrorism. The United States should embrace Islam while isolating terrorists like bin Laden from the mainstream - and the fundamentalist Islamic world.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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