I was shocked when I woke up on Jan. 24 and read news headlines reporting that Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport had descended into chaos when a suicide bomber reportedly screamed “I will kill you all” and detonated his vest in the midst of a busy crowd. The subsequent explosion ripped through the building, killing 35 people and wounding over 100 others. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev slammed the airport for lax security.
Besides the obvious, there are three deeply disturbing qualities about this tragedy. The first is that it attracted barely any mainstream media attention in the U.S. The second is that when Russian newspapers published photos of the man suspected to have masterminded the mass murder, the Russian people found themselves looking not into the face of the typical dark-skinned, heavily-bearded Islamic terrorist, but that of an ethnic Russian who resembled millions of their own brothers and fathers, sons and husbands. Vitaly Razdobudko was a 32-year-old Muslim convert and Russian native of a town 800 miles south of Moscow called Pyatigorsk. He had a history rife with fraternizations with an Islamic Wahhabi couple who had been arrested for an attempted suicide bombing, as well as a radical Islamic imam whose flat was discovered to contain bomb-making manuals – the same imam who introduced Razdobudko to Islam.
Russia’s relationship with Islam has been bloodied by years of countless terrorist attacks dating back to the first wwChechen war in 1994. Since then, Chechen separatists who seek to establish an Islamic caliphate along Russia’s southern flank and independent Islamic organizations have carried out terror attacks on both the Russian military and civilians. Chechen militant leader Shamil Basayev has deemed Russia’s civilians “fair game … because they pay taxes. They give approval in word and deed. They are all responsible.”
The year of 2010 saw Russia suffering five major terrorist attacks, including one right before a concert in Stavropol and one at the crowded Moscow Metro that killed over 40 people and injured at least 100. As would be expected, Russia has had to step up its security over the years. It has banned 17 terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Lashkar-e-Toiba.
While Muslim extremists now carry out the majority of international terror attacks, it doesn’t justify generalizing all Muslims as terrorists. One should keep in mind that these people are in the extremely small minority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
And at the same time, that doesn’t make that radical minority any less of a threat; as Hamza Tzortzis, an international Islamic speaker on Islam, politics and Islamic and western philosophy, famously said, “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom.”
It’s also interesting to note that when one turns to the international Muslim community for a response on these tragedies, the silence is almost deafening. Instead of working to eradicate radicalization in their own communities, most Muslim organizations respond to major terror attacks by handing out “Islam is Peace” or “Understanding Islam” pamphlets, as if to suggest that the countless people who have blown themselves up in an Israeli café or an Iraqi marketplace were in no way influenced by Islam. Like it or not, when members of a specific group begin committing crimes, especially in the name of that group, the responsibility to fix it should fall on the shoulders of that group, not the victims.
Only a precious few Islamic organizations go beyond the token denunciation of terrorism and make an actual effort to combat extremism within their own communities. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy is one such organization that truly embodies both Islamic convictions and American sensibilities.
Last year in August, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, the president and founder of AIFD, for the online magazine Pajamas Media. Dr. Jasser is a former US Navy lieutenant of 11 years and self-described “Jeffersonian Muslim.”
While more mainstream Islamic organizations, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, utilize rhetoric that tends to create tension between Americans and its Muslim members, the rhetoric of AIFD – whose motto is that its members are “Americans who happen to be Muslim, and not Muslims who happen to be American” – refers to Americans as an “us” and not a “them.” Terms like “moderate,” “secular,” and “radical,” Jasser says, are all innately controversial as any group can contort them to mean what they want; Dr. Jasser pointed out that the term “moderate” has become synonymous with being non-violent or against terrorism. This is, he stressed, an oversimplification that blinds Americans to the very political ideologies that are the cogs and gears of terrorism.
Dr. Jasser blames the Muslim Brotherhood as primarily responsible for the violent and radical rhetoric sweeping Muslim communities across the world, including those in the U.S. Incidentally, the Muslim Brotherhood, as established in Zeid al-Noman’s widely-published 1980 speech titled “Ikhwan in America,” explicitly propagates suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians to fight Zionism, advocates “infiltrating media … and human potentials” in a host country (i.e. its education and civil organization system) in order to Islamize it, and states one of its primary goals as reinstating the “dar al-Islam” (conception of the world as belonging to Islam). Instead of following the Muslim Brotherhood’s model of trying to convince Americans that Islam is a religion incapable of violence, Dr. Jasser focuses his organization’s efforts within the Islamic community to eradicate extremism in order to make it truly peaceful.
“At AIFD our offense in countering the Muslim Brotherhood’s [activities] is our Muslim Liberty Project,” Dr. Jasser explained. “It is patterned after Jeffersonian principles of universal religious freedom and principles of liberty targeted to devout Muslims. We target Muslim youth and young adults in giving them an alternative framework for government and society that is based on our U.S. constitutional principles and the Establishment Clause … [Our goal is to] inoculate them against the potent ideas of political Islam.”
The recent Moscow airport bombing is just one more tragedy that represents a growing threat encroaching on the Western world. Extremism and hatred, in any society, starts with people. This was true for anti-Black America until the Civil Rights Movement came along. While most Muslims may not even support terrorism, many have been raised in super-religious environments that have, over hundreds of years, allowed for radical concepts to slowly crystallize within them as de-facto aspects of reality. In psychology, there is a belief that a person can’t truly internalize a new habit or belief through any channel but what is termed “internal justification,” where he explains his actions through personal motivation rather than external motivation. The same concept applies to any human society. Dr. Jasser has personified this approach with the founding of AIFD. Rather than foist the blame of Islamic terror onto “imperialist America” or “the oppressive Western world,” Dr. Jasser has taken the charge to reclaim the religion of Islam from the extremists; with luck, he’ll influence other Muslim communities to follow his lead.
AE Anteater is a fifth-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.