Blowing up children is wrong! Maybe

suicide2Michael Landauer of the Dallas Morning News editorial pages is underwhelmed by the report in his own newspaper offering muted hosannas about a statement (text here) released by a collection of powerful imams and Islamic scholars. The gathering — organized by Jordan’s King Abdullah II — condemned the use of violence against fellow Muslims and against some infidels.

I wish I could link to Landauer’s post, but the newspaper’s excellent editorial page blog still does not allow outside bloggers a permalink option. Nevertheless, here is a chunk of what Landauer had to say:

Imagine if Thomas Jefferson had been so timid: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that some men are created equal.

Or MLK: When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from some villages and some hamlets, from enlightened northern states and the occasional big city, we will be able to speed up that day when a good number of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, many of us are free at last!”

And forget that it is not very inspiring to condemn “some” violence, it’s also just not very well-grounded from a moral sense. Shouldn’t morality have a ring of universality to it? If not, then let’s embrace a few other strong statements of morality: Thou shalt not steal . . . very much. Thou shalt not commit adultery . . . regularly. . . .

C’mon. Is it that hard to say that killing innocent people in the name of religion is wrong? Every time? Always?

Wait a minute: is he suggesting that there are moral absolutes that apply in all cultures? The Ten Commandments, even?

Anyway, the story itself — by Godbeat veteran Jeffrey Weiss — attempts to navigate a dangerous and even deadly minefield. Clearly, the newspaper’s editors think this document is terribly important and a positive statement about mainstream Islam.

Yet, Weiss also has included key details that let the reader know that some of the clerics involved do not fit smoothly into any of the West’s definitions of “moderate.”

For example, it is clear that Muslim-on-Muslim violence is almost always wrong.

During 14 centuries of Muslim history, dozens of wars and battles have been religiously justified by one side declaring the other excommunicated, or takfir. But the Jordan document says that those who follow any of eight long-standing schools of Islamic jurisprudence cannot be declared outside the faith.

What about the status of innocent infidels?

The document says that only fatwas that are consistent with the traditions in the eight defined schools are valid. That means only fatwas that are consistent with traditional interpretations of the Quran are acceptable. Critics of Mr. bin Laden and other Muslims who use Quranic “proof texts” to justify attacks on Christians and Jews say that many of those texts are being used in ways that violate the traditional understanding of those passages.

But the communiqué did not outlaw all violence by Muslims, even by implication. Some leaders whose authority is recognized by the Jordan document, such as Sheik Al Qaradawi, have offered religious support for attacks on Israel, which they regard as self-defense.

The document is notable in what it does not say. It doesn’t mention Mr. bin Laden or any “fake” fatwa by name. The words “violence” or “terrorism” don’t even appear.

So the anti-terrorism statement does not mention terrorism.

The News blog shows (go quick and scroll down) that this story inspired strong debate in the newspaper’s editorial meeting today. Good. At what point will that debate begin to influence the hard news coverage in this newspaper, a frequent religion-beat award winner? What do Muslim leaders in Dallas have to say about this statement? How do both progressive, mainstream and Islamist leaders in the Dallas area answer some of the questions raised by the Abdullah document? I hope more coverage is forthcoming.

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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.

  • The Common Anglican

    Why should the Dallas Muslims make any statement when sitting their quietly is to their benefit?

    I think that the gathering, organized by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, “[which] condemned the use of violence against fellow Muslims and against some infidels,” shows the typical understanding of most traditional Muslims on this. Their doctrine says one thing, Western society says another. This “some” statement attempts to appease both.

    It is only the liberal Muslims who say that any violence against anyone, infidels (a word they don’t like to use) as well, is not right.

    Just a personal observation. I could be wrong…

    ~ The Common Anglican

  • Phil Blackburn

    The original statement was not an “anti-terrorism statement”: it was about about fatwas – religious rulings. The preamble mentions terrorism, but not the main statement. Weiss’s article looks at possible beneficial implications of the statement in undermining the justification of terrorism (I think – Dallas News let me look at the article once but now won’t let me back unless I register). From your article it seems like Landauer and others start from what Weiss added and make a big jump on to make criticisms which have nothing to do with the Amman conference’s closing statement at all. Is this journalism or chinese whispers?

    King Abdullah’s preamble does say that the process started by the conference would “close the door on ignorant people who practice killing and terrorism – of which Islam is innocent – in the name of Islam.” To me this seems a reasonable basis for Weiss’s approach, but not for the rest.

    Presumably Michael Landauer is a pacifist: “it is not very inspiring to condemn ‘some’ violence”. To be consistent he would therefore want condemnation a soldier who shoots a suicide bomber before he can set off his bomb? How about an airstrike that kills the bomber – and his family – whilst he is putting the bomb together? And so on. The moral absolutes are really not so simple.

    Even the commandment is “You shall not murder”, with ‘murder’ being a very slippery term. No sooner has Moses brought down the commandments from the mountain than he is calling the sons of Levi to slaughter brother, friend and neighbour in the name of God. If you really want moral absolutes I suggest starting with the sermon on the mount and moving on to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbour as yourself”.

  • dawud

    as a Muslim, I can state that the above is offensive: I don’t believe in violence against civilians, I term that ‘terrorism’ and have held to that strongly: and am angry that there is a large amount of muslim condemnation of terrorism (see Alan Godlas’ web page )

    as for theological debate, let’s be honest: ‘Just War’ is a doctrine that muslims had, and it’s more honest to say that Islam and Judaism could at least have critical statements from their Prophets on War, and strict doctrines laid down as to the just behaviour and treatment of prisoners of war – despite the abandonment or negligence of certin modern adherents to those doctrines – whereas Christianity, though the early Orthodox positions for the first 300 years were opposed to war and were quite strictly pacifistic, later enthusiastically endorsed the State / Empire and it’s going to war.

    It’s also worthy to note that ‘holy war’ (harb muqaddasa in arabic) doesn’t appear in any classical texts of Islam, and it’s only in the recent era, as studies of the Crusades and reviews of scholars of that period (ibn Taymiyya is of note) who, upon noting that Pope Urban II had declared ‘Holy War’ (Deus Volt) on the ‘infidels and Saracen’, took drastic action & reformed their theology & laws of war.