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The U.S. "Has to Bring Moderate Muslims In"

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The chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America says only by reaching out to Islam's masses can hatred and terrorism be ended

Do Muslims hate America? Not at all, says Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA). But he adds that Americans must understand the struggle going on inside one of the world's great cultures and religions. Recently, BusinessWeek contributing correspondent Raluca Topliceanu spoke with Kabbani about the reaction of Muslims to the bombings in Afghanistan and new fears about future attacks by Osama bin Laden. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: Many in the Muslim world seem to be upset with the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. What is your response?

A: What we are promoting hasn't changed since September 11: We want understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. There appear to be signs that Muslims in Pakistan and in Central Asia are not taking the bombing very well, with civilians being killed. That is exactly what the U.S. Administration was saying that it doesn't want. At the same time, Muslims don't like to be labeled as terrorists, because this is a bad name for Islam. The majority worldwide condemn these attacks on the U.S. Islam doesn't allow this [violence].

You have to understand the mentality of the majority of Muslims, which differs from the mentality of Muslim radicals, those who are demonstrating in Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries. The radicals created their own sect, which deviates from mainstream Islam. They are willing to fight Muslims and non-Muslims. [Osama bin Laden and his followers] are trying to play with the people's emotions in order to [foster] an uprising against the U.S. Moderate Muslims will never demonstrate. Many Muslims are keeping silent. Only those who have been indoctrinated are protesting.

Q: How about the U.S. reaction? What should President Bush do?

A: I think all Americans have absorbed a lot of anger since September 11. President Bush addressed that when he went to visit some mosques and said, "We are not fighting Islam, we are not fighting Muslims, we are fighting terror." These radical, violent networks are going to try to motivate the Muslims around the world to rise up against America, especially as Ramadan approaches [in mid-November].

This is a big danger. The Administration has to bring moderate Muslims in [see BW Online, 10/17/01, "How to Win Islam's Hearts and Minds"]. The Administration has to explain that this is not a war on Islam, that this is a war against terrorism.

Q: What about more U.S. aid to this part of the world? Do you think an economic component is essential in efforts to bring peace and stability to the region?

A: The whole motivation is economic. If we can bring up the standard of living of people in these Third World countries, most of these terrorist networks will come down. Once people have a better way of life, they will no longer be in need of the money that terrorists offer. America knows this. I hope that the U.S. will try to give more money.

Q: What else will ease tensions?

A: The most important thing is that America has to support institutions that [espouse] traditional Islam [worldwide]. Otherwise, this problem cannot be solved, ever. The radical ideology is being spread more and more, and it is still only at the beginning.

We hope and pray that nothing will happen [again]. [But] we are worried, as a Muslim community, of retaliation if [a terrorist attack] happens again. When I hear [bin Laden's] statements, I am worried that there is going to be another major attack, and we don't know where it is going to happen. That's why we are trying our best to speak with different institutes, with the Administration and [government] agencies, to tell them, please take precautions. If another [attack] happens, the Muslim community is going to be a victim.

I would like to read from a speech by Shaykh Abdur-Rahman Al-Hudhaifi, Imam of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, the holiest mosque in all of Islam, on March 13, 1998. We disagree completely with it, but this is what he says: "America be warned.... All the Muslims of the world are united in the defense of the Holy Land, because the land of the two holy mosques is the last center of Muslims and their faith. I am warning and advising America to stop interfering in the affairs of our region. The Americans should learn a lesson from the Muslims of Afghanistan.... Let it be known that we, under any circumstances, cannot accept and tolerate the presence of the American forces in Saudi Arabia." This is what bin Laden also is [saying].

These extremists are confusing Muslims with such rhetoric. Where are the holy cities? They are Medina and Mecca, on the west side of Saudi Arabia. American bases are on the east side of Saudi Arabia. [Despite what the Imam says,] the area where the Americans are is not a holy area, in fact it is 1,500 miles away, and that's why Saudi Arabia allowed them at that time to stay there. Many Muslims know this. They agree with it. It is a very complex and complicated situation.

BW Online, October 18, 2001

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht