An attack by Islam on Islam?

I understand the tension caused by young Master Jeremy’s hell wish. Christian believers should, of course, pray for evangelism, debate, repentance, conversion and dangerous stuff like that. Free speech, even.

But all of that’s out of line these days. It probably is safer to simply say “to hell with it.”

My initial reaction, hearing about the news this a.m. in the remote mountains of North Carolina, was a moment of relief that the attack was so conventional. The worst technology used was cell telephones. No nerve gas. No small but terrifying amount of radioactive material.

It’s been a long time since the Tube in London had conventional garbage cans. London is not a city that will be shut down long by a few bombs. London has seen its share of bombs, with all kinds of labels on them.

I do wonder how this will affect the European Union talks and, of course, the larger issue of Islam and European culture. That is, of course, what the debate will be about. Why? Because the people most at risk in Europe (other than Jews, of course) are moderate Muslims who have shown evidence that they want to live in a society where you can rally around concepts such as, well, religious liberty and the Bill of Rights.

This is a battle inside of Islam, and journalists have to make sure that they do not automatically assume that all of our friendly sources — those moderate Islamic voices linked to academia in Great Britain, the United States and elsewhere — represent the majority of the Islamic world. The reality is more complex than that. It is time to find the truly dangerous Muslim voices in the West and put them on the record, in part as a way of contrasting them with the endangered world of moderate Islam.

Andrew Sullivan has a link up to the site of British writer Johann Hari, best known for his work in the Independent and the major gay publication called Attitude. Here is the crunch of his concerns, which includes some interesting inside London information about the bombings themselves:

In the scarred miles between each explosion — walking from Moorgate to Liverpool Street down to King’s Cross — you could see several fights taking shape yesterday that will grip us for years. The fight against Islamic fundamentalism became clearer. Anybody who tells you these bombers are fighting for the rights of Muslims in Iraq, occupied Palestine or Chechnya should look at the places they chose to bomb. Aldgate? The poorest and most Muslim part of the country. Edgware Road? The centre of Muslim and Arab life in London and, arguably, Europe.

Does anybody need greater evidence that these Islamic fundamentalists despise Muslims who choose to live in free societies, and they would enslave Muslims everywhere if they were given the opportunity? Nor is this tit-for-tat revenge for deaths in Iraq: very similar jihadist plots have been foiled in France and Germany, countries that opposed the invasion. Anybody who doubted that the fight against Islamic fundamentalism — a murderous totalitarian ideology — was always our fight should know better now.

But another fight began yesterday: to defend our civil liberties — and especially those of the decent, democratic Muslim majority — in an age of terror. I headed for the East London Mosque — a few minutes’ walk away from the bomb in Aldgate — to watch afternoon prayers. Chairman Mohammed Bari said, “Only yesterday, we celebrated getting the Olympics for our city and our country. But a terrible thing happened in our country this morning . . . Whoever has done this is a friend of no-one and certainly not a friend of Muslims. The whole world will be watching us now. We must give a message of peace.” Everybody in attendance agreed; many headed off to the Royal London Hospital to give blood. But they were afraid the message would not get out: several people were expecting attacks on the mosque tonight.

We can expect to read waves of such quotes tomorrow. That is good. We also need to know who is celebrating in London tonight. Who, what, when, where, why and how. We need that information on both sides of that terrible divide in Islam.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Terry Tee

    I write from London. People are stoical. As you rightly observed, we have been here before, notably with the IRA bombing of the 70s and early 80s. Still, even with the Irish community there was a sense of integration. They were – are – part of us. The future was never in doubt. We had one future, as they and their children increasingly integrated with the broader community to mutual benefit. Could the same be said of Islam? Can we hope for the Muslim community to be fully part of the increasingly multi-ethnic character of Britain today? The hijab and above all the burqa sometimes feel like a rejection of modern British values. Or is it the case that the stubborn clinging to Muslim values can and should challenge Britain with its easy-going ways and especially with its weak family life? I am not aware of these religious and ethical questions being debated the MSM here.

  • tmatt


    Can you keep us up on the best articles in YOUR MSM in the next few days? Look for solid coverage of this issue.OK?

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  • Stephen A.

    If a vast majority of Christianity, for example, acted as if they were members of a separatist sect that violently rejected the majority’s values and a small, but vocal portion of them advocated violence against “wicked” people who were “unbelievers,” the media would be right in labeling them extremists.

    Your comment about the battle inside of Islam was correct.

    In the past, I’ve argued with folks against knee-jerk labeling, and I still do. But when a moderate, well-assimilated American I know (who is nonetheless still very Muslim) tells me he had to stop going to the mosque here in a northeastern US city back in 2002 because of just such rhetoric, and because they wouldn’t publicly condemn violence after 9/11, I realize there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But not by society. It needs to be addressed within Islam itself.

    Also, has the UK or EU adopted a “Bill of Rights” yet? That’s just a quibble. The line included in the now-defunct EU constitution guarantees “the freedom to change religion or belief” which would run afoul of Islamic extremists, who have killed over this in other nations.

  • Terry Tee

    I would like to take up t.matt’s invitation, but the day job requires otherwise. I will however keep my eye open for articles discussing the question of Muslim integration vis a vis our own values.

    In today’s (London) Daily Telegraph, Mark Steyn has has usual take-no-hostages neo-con approach to these things. (I cannot give you the URL since the Telegraph requires registration and I loathe doing that.) Steyn’s column is a little too knock-about for my taste. But he does point out the uncomfortable fact that many of the terrorists came from well-educated, integrated backgrounds, and took to violence after re-assuming a more overtly Muslim identity. This raises the question for me of whether, in our post-modern, fragmented societies of the West, terrorists tend to be those who turn to fundamentalist religion to ‘construct’ an identity. It gives them a sense of who they are.

    To Stephen A I say: How can you say that the vast majority of Muslims ‘violently reject the majority’s values’? Violently? And in terms of the question I have raised above about identity, I would remind you of the uncomfortable fact that the Oklahoma City bombers had links with white supremacist, fundamentalist Christian groups. Or should that be ‘Christian’? The problem is surely that religion can be too easily used to clothe violence with high ideals. We need a debate within the churches and yes certainly within Islam about how we tackle the more pathological elements within our communities. This is where the MSM fail: they simply resort to stereotypes. Let’s not make the same mistake in this useful website.

  • Terry Tee

    Addendum: It is suspected that the one bomb that exploded on a bus might have been the work of a suicide bomber. If so, it takes us back to religious questions: about our concepts of God, eternity, and judgement.

    Clarification: my reference above to Mark Steyn’s discussion of terrorists should have made it clear that he refers to previous, known terrorists, not to yesterday’s perpetrators, who are of course still unknown to us.

  • Kathy Shaidle

    The Oklahoma City bomber was kicked out of his mainline church for his views. When his former pastor explains this to reporters, they inevitably hang up.

    Please spare me the Christians are bad too line. A couple of militia guys does not a mass movement make. Eric Rudolph said in a recent interview that he preferred much Nietzche to the Bible. The idea that gangs of crazed Christians are running about blowing up abortion clinics is easily traceable to Law & Order episodes rather than reality.

  • Terry Tee

    Oh dear kathy. You allow rhetoric to obscure reality. If you read me again you will see that I was not referring to mainline denominations but to white supremacist churches with which both McVeigh and Nicholls were associated. Indeed, these groups revere them. And as for mass movements: yes, indeed they are a fringe. But would you like to be black, gay or Asian in the backwoods of Idaho and Montana where these guys flourish? And finally: can we get back to the main purpose of this site which is media reporting of religion?

  • Terry Tee

    This analysis in The Times (London) asks why the bombers did what they did. The Iranian commentator says that one major stream within Islam rejects dialogue, believing instead that non-Muslims have to be shocked into conversion by acts of terrorism. On this view there would be no such thing as integration. You can find the article at:,,1072-1684970,00.html

  • Stephen A.

    Terry Tee: My post was a “what if” and the “violently” label applied to the hypothetical Christian sect, though it obviously applies to some Muslims as well as some Christians in the real world, too. However, let’s not get carried away with the OKC example.

    The Koran makes a point of demanding that believers oppose non-believer’s values, and that’s not entirely a bad thing, given some excesses of Western Society. The way many Muslims (not all, obviously) go about expressing it is a bad thing, however, as we are seeing.

    I’m not entirely sure a great deal of Muslims in Britain are NOT aimed in a violent direction. They gave us the ‘shoe bomber’ after all. They seem more radicalized there than here in the US. Then again, my friend’s experience tells me I may be wrong about that supposition.

    Just like any religious group (Episcopalians, etc.) Muslims have to decide what their faith stands for, how it’s is going to express itself in the future, and how its going to be perceived by ‘The World’ as it does.

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    This perhaps involves the tension between “praying for peace” and “praying for victory.” I think Peter Kreeft said that first.

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