Do no mischief on earth (Quran 7:56, 7:74)
Those with good sense must prohibit mischief on earth (11:116)
Osama bin Laden has become a significant moral challenge to Muslims. His alleged association with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks raises a major question about the relationship between Islam and terrorism. If he is guilty, then he incriminates the faith of Islam by using it as a motivation and justification for his actions. If he is innocent, then why is he such a big hero?
If bin Laden is not guilty of the embassy bombings, of the attack on USS Cole and the attack on America, then why do some Muslims admire him? Bin Laden has become a symbol of resistance and empowerment to a community deprived of freedom and opportunities for self-determination. He is a hero to a community that has long been accustomed to living with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. He offers a promise that even the weak and the hopeless can strike back.
If my understanding of why bin Laden is a hero is correct, then it means that his charisma is dependent on Muslim acceptance that he is indeed responsible for the various attacks against the U.S., regardless of the availability of evidence. He is a hero because some Muslims believe that he indeed pulled off all those spectacular attacks against the world's sole superpower. His heroism and his popularity in the Muslim world are an indictment of him as a terrorist and his supporters as supporters of terrorism.
But most Muslims have condemned without reservation the attacks of Sept. 11 as morally reprehensible and unjustifiable. Prominent members of the Ulama (like Sheikh Qaradawi) have also established the un-Islamic character of the Sept. 11 attacks. All Muslims agree that terrorism is un-Islamic and deplorable, and the perpetrators must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Bin Laden has denied any connections to the attacks, and many Muslims believe that he is really innocent and are critical of the American establishment for not providing conclusive evidence against bin Laden before launching a war upon Afghanistan. Yet many of the comments made by bin Laden in his recent interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, especially the justification of choosing American targets and killing American citizens, clearly indicate his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
How are non-Muslims, unsympathetic to the "conditions that engender violence," supposed to interpret Muslim condemnation of the attacks and Muslim hero-worship of bin Laden? How can Muslims condemn terrorism without also condemning terrorists?
How U.S. media and authorities resolve this dilemma -- of Muslim condemnation of the attacks and simultaneous support for bin Laden -- will determine the future relations not only between the U.S. and Muslim nations, but also between mainstream America and American Muslims.
As long as Muslims hesitate to condemn bin Laden, they will be seen as supporters of terrorism. This issue has also become a test of Muslim loyalties to America. When and if the FBI and company do produce conclusive evidence against bin Laden, Muslim condemnation of the man will be meaningless. As of now many Muslims, including some leaders who have no conclusive evidence of bin Laden's innocence, have chosen to err on the side of bin Laden and not America. This may make them popular in some pockets of the Muslim community, but it also makes them suspect in the American mainstream.
It baffles the mind to watch American Muslim leaders waffle over condemning bin Laden as a terrorist who is misappropriating Islamic ideals and incriminating Islam in his campaign of terror. This man has undermined decades of hard work by these very same leaders to make Islam more acceptable in America. The shadow of bin Laden now looms large on the decades of efforts by these same leaders at building bridges with other faith-based communities. The issue of condemnation stands clearly between American Muslims and the American government. Rather than perceiving American Muslims as a national asset and source for diplomatic expertise that can be deployed in defense of American interests, the establishment sees American Muslims as potential suspects, because they are not confident about where Muslim sympathies lie.
The only reason why there is no explicit condemnation of bin Laden by major Muslim organizations, which have recently condemned the American bombing of Afghanistan, is perhaps their fear of losing support with the constituency that they seek to serve. They fear that if they condemn him, even as a matter of self/public interest ("maslaha" in Islamic law) they will be perceived as taking sides with America in this war between America and Islam.
We Muslims have to realize two important things: Bin Laden and his tactics, no matter how just his causes, are detrimental to Muslims as well as to the image of Islam. The present suffering of the Afghan people is a direct consequence of their association and support for bin Laden. Secondly, we cannot hide behind the issue of evidence and hedge about condemning those who murder innocent people, in direct violation of Islamic teachings.
When we say that there is no evidence against bin Laden, what we really mean is that there isn't enough to meet the legal standards of American and Western jurisprudence. Since when have bin Laden and the Taliban become subscribers to the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with its guarantees of due process? Just take a look at the way in which the Taliban's courts have meted out justice in the last five years. The video tapes in which bin Laden says that he supports those who attack the U.S., the fatwas declaring war on the U.S. and his promise of more such attacks alone should be sufficient to hang him according to the legal practices of the Taliban -- and for that matter other Middle Eastern regimes, which are notorious for their kangaroo courts.
Why does bin Laden deserve the full protection of civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, when the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan do not? Bin Laden supports the Taliban and he deserves only what they can offer. Hang him on the soccer goal post, where the Taliban has hanged many in the recent past, using its medieval techniques of law enforcement.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that bin Laden has nothing to do with Sept. 11. This man is still guilty of the following acts: He has blasphemed Islam. He has used its sacred principles to incite murder and mayhem. He has declared war on the U.S. and called on all Muslims to murder Americans, making Muslims targets for retaliatory attacks. He has exposed millions of Afghans to war, starvation and misery to save his own skin. If he were a hero, he would have surrendered -- not because he was guilty, but to save poor innocent Muslims from the ravages of war.
He has attacked the moral fabric of Muslim life by glorifying terrorism. He is trying to embroil the Muslim Umma in a global war of death and destruction by calling the American war on bin Laden as a war on Islam. His use of Islamic values has made Muslims look like terrorists, and in most parts of the world people are associating Islam with violence and Muslims with terror. This man does not have the interest of Islam or Muslims at heart. He is an enemy of Islam and Muslims and should be treated as such.
It is time Muslim scholars and leaders fulfilled their Islamic duty (Quran 11:116) and condemned bin Laden for what he is, and rescued not only Islam but also our misguided youth from the clutches of this mischief monger.