This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 366 – July 3, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's  English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

Islamic solutions to terror?

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So, after 15 months, Iraq is once again a sovereign state.  It was a quiet, unpretentious handover of power – and just the beginning of a process leading up to democratic elections in January.  Reaction is mixed – some saying it should have happened 15 months ago, some arguing that the handover is too soon with the continued escalation of violence, and many pondering on how the next few months are going to go.  It is no easy task for the new Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi or for president Sheikh Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar.  They have the advantage of being Iraqi and of having the best interests of their country at heart.  They have the disadvantage of suspicion from some of their countrymen that they are coalition puppets and that America is still in charge.  They have a challenge to built trust, and rebuild the economy.  Security is their number one issue.  

Mind you, security is also the number one issue of their neighbours.  Saudi Arabia has been struggling with the issue of terrorism.  Some Western companies are now offering their expatriate employees $US1,000 monthly bonuses for staying in the country amidst fears of targeted terrorism following the June 18 beheading of Paul Johnson, an American engineer, by al-Qaida.  But the Saudis have now taken a very interesting approach to dealing with terrorism.  

Crown Prince Abdullah, the day to day ruler of Saudi Arabia has announced a month long amnesty indicating that those who gave themselves up would be treated leniently.  And there is Islamic reasoning behind the process.  These extremist militants are fighting, however misguided their ideals or understanding, in the name of Islam.  But Islam has a merciful side to it, and when you, as a devout Muslim, are offered mercy, it becomes you, as a faithful follower, to also offer mercy.  The month long amnesty is a kind of “stick and carrot” approach, but it follows the example of Egypt that used a similar process to deal with the rise of fundamentalist terrorism – and hasn’t had a major terrorist attack for seven years.  

The Saudi’s have already had some success.  Othman al-Amri was named on their most wanted list last December as a senior Al-Qaida operative.  Under the amnesty, he’s handed himself in.  Last week Saaban al-Shihri another militant turned himself in.  He appeared on state television last Tuesday to repent and apologise for harming the kingdom.  He stated. "One must think and consult with (Muslim) scholars...who have called for repentance, a return to God and condemned these acts as crimes. All of society rejects these acts".  

Perhaps others will follow.  Perhaps the Egyptian model can work – and perhaps that’s the reason for similar types of overtures being made by the new leadership in Iraq .  More than 300 Iraqi’s have been killed this last month in car bombings, attacks on police stations and army recruitment centres and well as the targeted assassinations.  In addition there have been the kidnappings.  So the stick here is the threat to impose selected curfews, set up more roadblocks, conduct house to house searches and maybe even restore the death penalty or impose martial law.  The carrot, is the idea of extending an olive branch to those Iraqis who have been opposing the coalition led administration but who may now, hopefully, be brought along side the Iraqi leadership following the same Islamic principles.

The good news from Iraq was that the three Turkish hostages were released on Wednesday.  After the recent executions of hostages that must be a relief to their families.  Turkish officials, celebrated the reported release of their countrymen, but condemned taking hostages as against Islam.

''I cannot understand how people who belong to the same religion as me can do such a thing,'' Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. ''Such actions do not belong in our religion.''

If we can start to see more positive outcomes like this, then I, for one, will be happier.  I’ve spend some time looking at the Islamic way of dealing with the current terrorism problem – and I think that is important – but in listening to a BBC radio documentary, In the footsteps of Mohammed, I also learnt something about the roots of Islam and the strong early links to Jewish Christianity.  It discussed, from an early Islamic point of view the difficulty of taking Jesus principle of “turning the other cheek” in the face of oppression – and almost extermination.  Yet this is a principle that can, it seems, bring people around to a more reasoned point of view.  Add to that the Biblical injunctions to support the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, the ideals of the Lord’s prayer to “forgive as we are forgiven, and I think there is common ground to work on.

I pray for the people of Iraq .  They’ve been facing difficult times for many years.  They deserve a better future.  And whether Muslim, Christian – or any other religion, let’s use those principles of humility, forgiveness, and hope to build community both for a better future in the Middle East, but also, perhaps, more locally, where I really can make a difference.

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