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Islamic terrorism called aberration

February 12, 2008, Palm Beach Post, Islamic terrorism called aberration, by Ron Hayes.

WEST PALM BEACH — "Why is Islam important?" Babar Ahmed asked about 360 listeners at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches' monthly luncheon Monday in the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion.

Then he answered his own question:

Islam is important because there are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world today and 57 Muslim countries. One of those countries, Pakistan, has nuclear weapons, and others are close to having them.

It's important because the United States is militarily engaged with two of those countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and America's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, is Muslim.

And because there are 7 million Muslims in the U.S., and all are involved in American society.

Ahmed, a film director and graduate of Cambridge University, was a last-minute replacement for his father, Akbar Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, who was ill.

In his talk, Babar Ahmed portrayed modern-day Islamic terrorism as an aberration, uncharacteristic of a noble religious tradition in which Jesus and Moses are honored as great prophets, tolerance and peace were demanded by the prophet Mohammed, and education is highly valued.

"In the 10th century, one library in Cordova had more books than all of Europe put together," Ahmed said. Oxford and Cambridge universities were modeled on similar institutions already established in Morocco and Egypt.

In the seventh century, Ahmed asserted, Islam preceded both Judaism and Christianity in granting women property rights.

"And so, why are we seeing suicide bombings if Muslim history is so good?" he asked.

Because, Ahmed theorized, Islam is divided into three groups: the conservative, the moderate and the extremist, the last of which is "growing every single day."

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan, Ahmed said, orphans were driven over the border to Pakistan, where they were taken in and educated by the most primitive tribal schools, run by illiterates who could not read or properly interpret the Quran.

"In driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan," Ahmed said, "the United States developed relationships with military dictators which continue to this day. That may have worked in the short term, but it left the orphans poor, desperate and angry, without any skills except how to use a gun."

The current movie, Charlie Wilson's War, makes the same point, he noted.

The solution, Ahmed said, is education, because the majority of Muslims are young. In Pakistan alone, he said, 40 percent of the population is under 16 and more receptive to radicalism.

"One-half of the world's population is Muslim, Christian or Jewish," Ahmed said, "and if we don't start finding this common ground, we are going to be heading for a very turbulent century."

Copyright 2008 The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.

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