In the wake of September 11, leading Muslims in America and other Western countries rushed to condemn the killings. Yet they were slower to condemn the likely killers. "They, of course, condemn the destruction that happened on September 11," says Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank in Philadelphia. "The leading organizations have never, however, condemned the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, militant Islam."
American Islamic leaders reply to such charges with indignation. They protest that it is unfair, even bigoted, to demand that they disassociate themselves from people with whom they have never been associated. "What we've found is that other religions don't have to defend their faith when extremists do maniacal acts," Salam al Marayati, the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Office, told The Tampa Tribune. In the same vein, Imam Abdul Rauf, of the Al-Farah Mosque in New York City, told CBS News's 60 Minutes: "That's just as absurd as associating Hitler with Christianity or David Koresh with Christianity. There are always people who will do peculiar things and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion."
For some time now-since well before the September 11 attacks-some Muslims have been arguing that the whole concept of the "Islamic terrorist" is an unfair stereotype. "A terrorist," writes Syed Soharwardy in an article published online, apparently before September 11, by an outfit called Muslims Against Terrorism, "should be identified and condemned as a terrorist, but a terrorist should not be identified with his/her religious affiliation." Why, Soharwardy demands to know, is the terrorist who happens to be a Muslim always identified as a Muslim terrorist? "The white supremacist groups in the Western world are fundamentalist Christians," he writes, yet "their terrorist attacks on blacks and other ethnic groups aren't reported and associated with their religion."
This is a reasonable argument that many reasonable people have made in other contexts. During the 1950s, loyal American leftists resented and resisted demands that they specifically denounce Communism or be presumed fellow travelers. More recently, mainstream African-Americans likewise protested demands that they disassociate themselves from Louis Farrakhan or other controversial figures, with whom they have nothing in common apart from skin color. In 1994, peaceable Jews everywhere were swift to condemn the massacre of 29 praying Palestinians by an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein; but they were equally swift to deny, rightly, that Goldstein's demented act had anything to do with Judaism or with themselves.
The false-accountability smear is the oldest trick in the book, and anyone who has been on the receiving end knows how effective it is. Even to assert that you should not have to defend yourself sounds defensive. All sympathy, then, to Muslim leaders in America and...