Killing in name of Islam 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The recent uprisings in the Middle East seemed, at least at first, to send a
reassuring signal to Western observers: Not only did genuinely moderate Muslims
exist, and not only were they capable of finding a political voice, but there
was reason to hope that, given time to organize, they might succeed in winning
out against the voices of repression and Islamist extremism.
have unfolded, this early optimism has faded. There is still cause for hope, but
clearly the struggle will be long and hard. And then there are also the lessons
of history, and of contemporary experience, to consider.
One such lesson,
a bitter one, concerns the fate of all too many freethinkers in the Arab and
Muslim world. Quite apart from the mass-casualty suicide bombings carried out by
Muslims against their fellow Muslims – now obscenely routine in Iraq, Pakistan
and Afghanistan – pinpoint assassinations intended to snuff out individual
moderates have exercised a no-less devastating impact on political reality.
list of such assassinations is long, and the targets include any number of
figures in positions of power. The most recent such victim may have been Salman
Taseer, the cosmopolitan governor of Punjab province in Pakistan, whose murder
in January was the most significant since the 2007 killing of former premier
Benazir Bhutto. (Taseer was followed to the grave in early March by still
another moderate Pakistani politician, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian.)
Muslim heads of state include Jordan’s King Abdullah, shot at al-Aksa Mosque in
Jerusalem in 1951 on suspicion of willingness to make peace with Israel, and
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, murdered in 1981 for having actually done so.
Algerian president Muhammad Boudiaf was shot dead in 1992 by an Islamist
bodyguard, and Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in 2005 by
Hezbollah. (Lebanon’s president Bashir Gemayel, another Christian, was
assassinated in 1982 for meeting with premier Menachem Begin.) Tehran, too, has
a bloody history of wiping out its moderate leaders, including former premier
Shapour Bakhtiar in 1991.
Particularly vulnerable, as the list suggests,
are those who advocate coexistence with Israel, and most vulnerable of all are
Palestinians inclined in that direction.
HISTORICALLY, THE leadership of
Palestinian society was divided between fanatics led by the former mufti of
Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and relative moderates whose ranks included
notable families like the Nashashibis. The moderates reluctantly concluded that
the Zionists could not be defeated, and that coexistence was thus in the
But by the 1920s and ’30s, efforts were already
under way to radicalize village leaders and incite violence against
“collaborators.” The story, told by the researcher Hillel Cohen in Army of
Shadows, culminated in a succession of murderous riots that, by the time Israel
was established in 1948, had taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinian
The pattern continued after 1948. Twenty-five years ago this
month, Zafer al-Masri, the 44- year-old mayor of Nablus, was assassinated on the
doorsteps of city hall on the supposition that he – said to have close ties to
Jordan – was planning to negotiate with Israel under its auspices. The
same intransigent political culture that regarded contact with Israel as an act
of treason punishable by summary death would ultimately spawn not only Fatah and
Hamas, but also the allegedly moderate officials running the West Bank
One such is Saeb Erekat, among the most accommodating figures in
the PLO hierarchy. Speaking confidentially, Erekat has assured Western
diplomats that the Palestinians are prepared to compromise on the issue of
refugees. Publicly, however, he has continued to insist on the “right of
return” of “7 million” refugees and their descendants. Whatever the motivation
for his duplicitous statements, the net effect has been that the masses remain
unprepared for compromise – which is to say, unprepared for peace.
consistent, systematic slaughter of genuine moderates, instead of giving pause
to Western commentators, has instead led them to “define moderation
Only by that inverted yardstick can an obdurate Mahmoud Abbas, now
two years into his boycott of negotiations, be labeled a moderate. As for
the genuine moderates speaking out against the Hobbesian state of their
existence in Arab lands, they all too often have found life to be not only
solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish, but tragically short.The writer is a
Jerusalem Post editorial page editor, and is now contributing editor to
Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com), where this article was first
published and is reprinted with permission.