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Today's question: Is Islam a peaceful religion? Although the Koran teaches that the only just war is one of self-defense, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

In my opinion, many young Muslims seem to be unable to deal with the realities of the modern world without resorting to violence, and justifying murder in the name of religion.

Author Karen Armstrong, who wrote "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism and Islam," supplied some history: "About a hundred years ago, almost every leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the West (and) politicians and journalists in India, Egypt and Iran wanted their countries to be just like Britain or France," complete with representative government and constitutional rights. And then Ms. Armstrong posed a key question: "So what happened in the intervening years to transform all of that admiration and respect (for the West) into the hatred that incited the acts of terror that we witnessed on Sept. 11?"

The author noted that by the 15th century, Islam had conquered an empire that stretched from the Himalayas to the Pyrenees. "But once the great powers of Europe had reformed their military, economic and political structures according to the modern norm, the Islamic countries could put up no effective resistance (to Western conquest)," she wrote. "Muslims would not be human if they did not resent being subjugated this way." And more recently, she added, "The creation of Israel, the chief ally of the United States in the Middle East, has become a symbol of Muslim (and Palestinian) impotence before the Western powers."

Writing in the Foreign Service Journal, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Hume Horan offered his informed view of the highly emotional Palestinian issue. "By 'waving the bloody flag,' Arab governments can distract their subjects from misrule, oppression and misery at home," he wrote. "In particular, Palestinians' grievances against Israel have their match in the half-century of neglect and oppression they've endured from supposedly 'brother' Arab regimes."

Horan got to the heart of the current terrorism problem when he observed that the Saudi royal family, even while maintaining an oil-for-defense relationship with the United States, "has placated and suppressed (internal) opposition by giving 'power of attorney' for social affairs to reactionary, xenophobic Muslim clerics."

"Where are the politically engaged intellectuals who can help a young Arab make coherent, responsible sense of a troubling modern world?" he asked. His discouraging answer: "They scarcely exist in the Arab world." Which helps explain why so many young Saudis (60 percent of the country's population is under the age of 18) hate the United States and its Western allies, and why 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were young Saudis.

"Many young and sensitive Arabs -- especially members of the educated elite -- are deprived of moral and intellectual leadership from their own religious institutions," Horan concluded. "Bereft of meaningful guidance, they use violence to fill the void ...."

With that background, we can understand why so many young Arabs hate us, our country and everything we stand for. Thus, when Gallup pollsters surveyed nearly 10,000 (mostly young) people in nine Muslim countries in December and January, they found that more than half of them held negative views of the U.S., and 77 percent were opposed to our war against terrorism in Afghanistan. And even though two-thirds of the respondents acknowledged that the Sept. 11 attacks were "morally unjustified," 61 percent of them refused to accept that the attacks were carried out by Arabs in what Time magazine columnist Tony Karon called "an astonishing state of denial."

Even in Kuwait, which we liberated from a bloody Iraqi invasion ten years ago, nearly 70 percent of those questioned opposed the war on terrorism. All of this tells me (again) that we have to do a better job of telling our story to the Muslim world. As Karon wrote, even though Charlotte Beers, the Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, "taught Americans to love Uncle Ben's rice, she's having a harder time teaching the Muslim world to love Uncle Sam." No kidding!

The depth of our public diplomacy/public affairs problem is illustrated by the Arab world's violent response to our political support for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, and its relatively subdued reaction to the slaughter of more than 500 Muslims in India. "Why is it when Hindus kill hundreds of Muslims it elicits an emotionally muted headline in the (government-controlled) Arab media, but when Israel kills a dozen Muslims, in a war in which Muslims are also killing Jews, it inflames the entire Muslim world?" asked New York Times foreign affairs analyst Tom Friedman. Because, hecontinued, Israel is "a constant reminder to Muslims of their own powerlessness."

Meanwhile, here in the United States, some Islamic children are being taught hate and violence. According to the Washington Post, 11th graders at the elite Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia learn that "the Day of Judgment can't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews."

And at the Al-Qalam Girls School in Springfield, Va., a teacher doubts that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and "wonders whether the United States just needed someone to blame and picked a Muslim." So if that's what Islamic schools are teaching in the U.S., what do you think they're teaching in the Middle East? Just ask American Taliban John Walker Lindh.

None of this sounds very peaceful to me. Perhaps I'll adopt a more benign view of Islam when Muslim leaders denounce those who perpetrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and admit that a religion that promotes violence needs to be reformed from the top down, starting with its hate-filled schools, here and abroad.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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