CNN guest: Radical Norwegians and Buddhists present similar danger to Islamic terror

The time has come for my Muslim brothers and sisters to take back their faith from the killers who are hijacking it.

ISIS militant (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISIS militant
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, I appeared on Don Lemon’s CNN show for a debate. The question we discussed was provocative – are ordinary Muslims obligated to publicly repudiate the terrorism wrought in the name of Islam.
I had recently published an article calling for a million Muslim march, where Muslims across the world would come out en masse to show their disdain for the terrorists who claim to represent Islam. I said it was up to them to take back a great world faith from these monstrous hijackers.
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a Palestinian-American journalist whose company I enjoyed, appeared alongside me.
He disagreed. In his eyes, it was unfair to burden regular Muslims with demands to publicly denounce murder in Islam’s name.
He then went on to try and back up his argument. He compared Islamic terrorism to the murders perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway and extremist Buddhist monks in Myanmar. No one, he said, asks Norwegians and Buddhists to take responsibility for the terrorism committed in the name of their faiths.
At first glance, that might seem like a compelling argument.
It’s an argument that’s been brought up many times before, in news outlets as large as Time magazine and The Daily Beast.
Still, it’s ridiculous.
First, let me be clear: Of course, any such terrible violence must always be condemned, no matter where it stems from. But does anyone believe that radical Norwegians and blood-thirsty Buddhists are the new great threat to world peace? Can you really get up on national TV and trivialize Islamist terrorism by insinuating that Norwegians and Buddhists are just as violent? Norwegians and Buddhists are not inspiring groups across the world like Boko Haram, Islamic State, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the mullahs of Iran.
Radical Islam is. It is a growing, international source of conflict, inciting massacre after massacre. It has been tearing apart the Middle East and Africa for years, and now it has reared its head in Europe. It claimed the lives of 3,000 innocent Americans in New York. Just two weeks ago, it inspired terrorists to gun down 17 innocent people in Paris. As if that weren’t enough, Boko Haram brought its four-day assault on Baga, Nigeria, to its culmination that very same day. Carrying out one of the most brutal massacres in recent memory, the group’s radical Muslim adherents slaughtered nearly 2,000 people.
I do not believe this reflects intrinsically on Islam. I am on record over and over again praising Islam as a great world religion and I have the highest respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters who live God-fearing, decent lives of compassion and faith. They are of course the overwhelming majority.
Still, the murderous minority – however small by comparison – can no longer be ignored. My Muslim brothers and sisters must take their religion back from the increasing number of monsters who kill in its name by publicly condemning their actions as an abomination to Islam.
These killers do not represent the compassion and decency of Islam. But it is not for me to say this, but rather for my Muslim brothers and sisters to publicly declare it so.
On CNN, Shihab-Eldin said out that only 2 percent of terrorism is religiously motivated. There is a study saying so, but it’s a study based on terrorism in the European continent alone – not worldwide. If he were to look at the latest report of the Global Terrorism Index, he would see a far more frightening statistic: of the 20 most deadly terrorist attacks in 2013, 19 were carried out by Islamic extremists.
The fact is, none of us needs to point to a single deranged man or sporadic violence in a remote Asian country to come up with an example of Islamic-extremist terrorism. It’s gone global, and is only growing.
To be clear, this brutality is not authentic Islam. And that is my point. Islam is a religion that upholds the infinite dignity of human life, just like Judaism and Christianity. It does not condone murder. It does not advocate terrorism. The prophet Muhammad was clear that murder is the most heinous sin.
But why am I the one saying this? I’m a Jew. Muslims are the ones who must promote the grandeur of their faith and denounce any and all violence in its name. It is an essential responsibility that they ought not to shirk, but should embrace.
In Judaism, we have a concept of Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying God’s name through our righteous actions in Judaism’s name. I told Shihab-Eldin on air that when I was a young boy, I was taught that people would see me wearing my yarmulke and judge my faith by my actions. They would look to me to see whether or not Judaism was truly capable of crafting higher character.
And it was not just me. Jews across the world are taught to be ambassadors of their faith and the gatekeepers of its reputation. As a result, when anyone tries to disgrace the Jewish faith, I and many other Jews will jump to defend it. It’s a knee-jerk reaction.
Surely my Muslim brothers and sisters feel the same way about their faith. Does it not pain them to see that hundreds of millions of people read every day of another atrocity being perpetrated in the name of Islam? Do they not feel the burning need to repudiate every ounce of it? With all due respect to Shihab-Eldin, a well-meaning and impressive young Muslim – there is no greater responsibility incumbent upon a member of any religion other than to portray his faith in the most favorable and human light.
The time has come for my Muslim brothers and sisters to take back their faith from the killers who are hijacking it.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, an organization defending Israel in the media. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 29 other books. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley.