Mullahs in the corner of Pakistan where I live tend to be brilliant orators. They usually speak extemporaneously for an hour before Friday prayers. They can be persuasive, humorous, conciliatory, prayerful or bellicose. Frequently they break into song or weep for the sins of their tribe, and they hold their audiences spellbound, displaying a masterful use of repartee and the timing of a stand-up comic. They can move listeners from tears to laughter in the time it takes you to fold your turban.
The taxi drove past a mural of the American flag. There were skulls where the stars should have been and the words Death to America! scrawled across the stripes. It was the only such sign I’d seen in Iran, but at ten stories tall, it made a strong impression. Just then the taxi driver asked me, “Madam, you German?” “No,” I replied hesitantly.
Five years into the “war on terror,” are Americans any safer? Thankfully, there has been no major terrorist attack on American soil post-9/11, and that probably is not for terrorists’ lack of effort—as we were reminded by the plot, foiled in mid-August, to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic Ocean.
On a blustery Wednesday evening in central London, about a dozen people from different parts of the city made their way to St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They included an attorney from a large London law firm, a political lobbyist, a corporate consultant, a Muslim college chaplain, a university professor, a female rabbi and a research scientist.
A recent study by two Indiana academics suggests that Shari‘a law, the Islamic legal code often associated with strict rules, oppression of women and harsh punishments, has a softer side when it comes to the poor.
Although Muslim reform may seem like an oxymoron to those who see Islam only through the lens of graphic violence, Muslim reformers have been in the sights of jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda for years. Their increasingly bold public stance has made them the natural enemy of those who seek to squeeze followers of Islam into a tight-fisted sectarianism at war with the entire infidel world.
Among the messages of sympathy that poured into London following the July 7 bombings were condolences from the governments of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iran, Turkey—all nations with majority Muslim populations—and at least two Muslim nongovernmental groups: Hamas and Hezbollah.
Prior to September 11, 2001, a substantial majority in the United States approached Islam with a strange kind of detailed ignorance. For many Americans the words Islam and Muslims evoked disjointed images of violence, religious fanaticism, rejection of the modern world, mistreated women, and praying men bowing in the direction of Mecca.