PROMINENT MUSLIM SCHOLAR AND HISTORIAN EXPLORES THE THREAT OF THE JIHADIST MOVEMENT IN SPRING ISSUE OF REFORM JUDAISM MAGAZINE
In an exclusive interview in the Spring 2002 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, Khalid Durán, a writer, Muslim historian, and former instructor in Islam at universities around the world, offers his unique perspective on the roots of Muslim terrorism, the way Muslims view Jews, the causes of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world, and the steps that must be taken to defeat the jihadist movement.
Durán has been in hiding ever since his book, Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews - published as part of an American Jewish Committee effort to foster interreligious understanding - caused Jordan's militant Islamic Action Front to brand him an apostate and call for his death. Interviewed by Reform Judaism editor Aron Hirt-Manheimer, Durán gives a forthright and refreshingly honest perspective on the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11 and the states and organizations that supported them, sharing his knowledge of figures such as Osama bin Laden, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Iranian president Mohammed Khatami.
Durán begins by stressing the fact that Islam is inherently neither anti-Christian nor anti-Jewish. Although the Qur'an contains negative references to a group of Jews who broke a treaty with Mohammad, he says, "On balance, negative images of Jews as transgressors are less frequent than positive references to Jews as exemplars of close communion between man and God." Adds Durán: "The double image of the Jew in the Qur'an may account for the fluctuations in Muslim attitudes toward Jews, ranging from amicability to hostility."
A true danger, he asserts, is the anti-Jewish propaganda spread by the Islamists, fundamentalist Muslim extremists whose "cardinal concern is the achievement of political power." Durán speaks of a "widespread belief that the Jews aim to create a 'Greater Israel' stretching as far as Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is a bitter irony that scarcely any Jew is aware of this, yet Islamists use this notion as a propaganda weapon against Israel and Jews in general," he says.
Contrary to popular opinion, Durán explains, Islamist extremists are a small minority in the Muslim world, who have achieved power through acts of terror and their ties to the oil wealth of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia."The vast majority of Muslims are firmly opposed to the Islamists, but do not have the financial means to broadcast their position," he says. "In Muslim nations with an electoral process, Islamist parties have never won more than 10% of the votes."
Responding to 9/11, Durán asserts that America needs to crack down on terrorists living within its borders. "The strongest base of Islamism is neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan - it is the United States," he says. "Islamists are firmly entrenched here - in the political system, in the economy, in academe, even in the military - and they count on support from a huge network of Muslim institutions and organizations in America."
Durán also believes that the United States must assist in rebuilding the educational systems of Muslim countries. "Islamist schools must be closed - a huge task, but absolutely crucial for humanity at large because these schools impart little useful knowledge and indoctrinate students with hatred of others," he says.
Still, Duran remains hopeful that calmer heads will prevail. "Interreligious dialogue," he says, "is a crucial means of overcoming such tensions. But it alone will not solve the problem. Interreligious dialogue will be decisive only if accompanied by a massive educational program, in the East as well as in the West, for ignorance of one another is the wellspring of war."
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Reform Judaism magazine is published quarterly by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents more than 900 Reform synagogues across North America and 1.5 million Reform Jews. This article and others are available on the Reform Judaism magazine website at http://uahc.org/rjmag/.