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November 17, 2001
Column #1055


     President Bush has repeatedly declared the U.S. war is not against Muslims, but against Osma bin Laden, who tried to ''hijack'' Islam from its pacific past, the Al Qaeda international terrorist network he created and the Taliban regime which allowed that terrorism to flourish.

     The extent to which bin Laden hijacked Islam and distorted it to suit his own ambitions can be seen clearly in the past remarkable week during which the Taliban (''Islamic students'') was routed from most of Afghanistan.

     In each of the cities liberated by the Northern Alliance, men celebrated by shaving their  mandatory beards that had to be four inches long (but no longer). Women showed uncovered faces on the streets for the first time in five years and Taliban-banned Afghan music poured out of cafes. Grateful residents draped flowers over tanks that liberated Kabul. 

     The extreme brand of Islam mandated by the Taliban prohibited women from working or going to school or even leaving their home without a male escort and required women to wear full-length burquas. Up to 250 women have been beaten in a single day in Kabul for dress code violations by religious police. Men with short beards were thrown in jail until their beards grew to four inches. Television, music and photos of people were illegal. Violators of these strict rules were beaten by religious police, jailed, mutilated or killed.

     A headline in ''The Washington Post'' summed up the mood: ''We were in prison. Now we are free.'' The Taliban religious police disappeared. Residents dug up once banned TV sets that were buried in their back yards. Kabul residents danced to Afghan music with joyous abandon.

     The Taliban practices clash dramatically with Islam as practiced by 1.2 billion Muslims around the world. ''That rigid interpretation of the practice of Islam imposed by the Taliban has been rejected by most of us,'' said Nihad Awad, director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. ''Imagine if Muslim women did not become educated! 

     ''God does not judge people by their appearance, but by looking into their hearts. To focus only on people's appearance (such as seeing if men wear beards) is unhealthy and unIslamic. The Koran says, `There is no compulsion in religion.'' See Sura (Chapter) 2, verse 256.

     No compulsion in religion? Islamic militants killed 16 Christians worshiping on a Sunday in Pakistan. Why? Muslim leaders issued fatwas (religious decrees) to kill two Pakistani Christians for every Afghan Muslim dying in American bombing raids. In eastern Indonesia, white-uniformed militiamen of Laska Jihad, who are forcibly converting Christians to Islam, killed 5,000 Christians, according to Paul Marshall of the Center for Religious Freedom. Churches were burned in Bangladesh, the Phillippines and Sudan where 2 million Christians have been killed.

     Much of this Muslim violence can be traced back to bin Laden and the Al Qaeda training provided to thousands of young militants in Afghanistan and Sudan camps, who were then provided financial and logistical support for terrorism by groups such as Laska Jihad.

     It has also become starkly clear this week that the Taliban forces were not primarily Afghan troops, but thousands of foreign Muslims called ''the Arab Brigade.'' They came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt Iran, and Pakistan, inspired by bin Laden's record of fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, his anti-American rhetoric and his success in bombing U.S. embassies.

     These foreign troops were integrated into the Taliban army and appear to have formed the core of its front line defense. One of the first to report on this phenomenon was James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation. He notes that bin Laden ''is more of a threat to Muslims than non-Muslims. He has killed more Muslims (in the Northern Alliance) in many different massacres (up to 500 at a time) than non-Muslims.'' 

     This explains the quick collapse of the Taliban. Its imposition of extreme customs that were alien to Afghan Islam pushed by young foreigners who had no sympathy for Afghanistan, made them hated by other Afghanis.

     Hopefully, the collapse of the Taliban will thwart the hijacking of Islam by bin Laden. It should now be easier to find him and Al Qaeda leaders. However, even if they are caught, what's frightening is that thousands of bin Laden disciples are left behind in 50 countries. 

     Muslims in the U.S. need to be heard, such as Dr. Sayyid Syeed, of the Islamic Society of North America, who says: ''America's greatness is not in its buildings, but in a society in which everyone from different races and religions coexist. These ideals need to be projected.'' 

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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