I understand the frustration Ahmed Tharwat must feel getting sideways looks and not-always-friendly questions from his fellow Minnesotans in the wake of yet another murderous attack on innocents by religious fanatics who happen to share his faith (“I am Ahmed — nonterrorist,” Jan. 13). But his defensiveness is overstated and based on the false notion that Islam has nothing to do with terrorist attacks in Paris, London, Madrid, Boston, New York and so many other places across the globe.

Islam is one of the world’s great religions, and the vast majority of its 1.5 billion followers just want to get on with their lives, and work, pray and raise their children in peace. But that is not the end of the story.

Tharwat would have us believe these men yelling “We avenge our prophet!” as they gun down cartoonists or “Allahu Akbar!” as they behead another Western aid worker are not motivated by their faith but are merely angry or mentally ill criminals who happen to be Muslim.

Tharwat seems to forget that Salman Rushdie had a price put on his head by the most prominent clerical leader of Shia Islam for doing exactly what the editors of Charlie Hebdo did: satirize the prophet Mohammed.

Tharwat equates Bill Maher and other critics of Islam with the fanatics who slice off heads, calling them “militant atheists” who blame all Muslims for the actions of a few. That is nonsense. Yes, Maher argues that millions of Muslims (out of 1.5 billion) support the killing of the Parisian journalists, an accusation Tharwat dismisses as hateful stereotyping. But Maher’s observation is based on fact. According to numerous public opinion polls, large majorities of Muslims in the Middle East, and smaller but significant numbers in Asia and Europe, believe the appropriate response to insulting the prophet is death — exactly the penalty meted out to the Charlie Hebdo writers and illustrators. That might be an unfortunate fact, but it is a fact.

Tharwat refuses to acknowledge the dysfunction in his faith. Its leading authorities routinely condemn apostates to death, hang homosexuals, demand censorship under threat of mob violence, subjugate women, imprison and publicly flog critics, and equate a man’s honor with the sexual purity of the women under his control.

It may be painful to acknowledge, but Islam is becoming increasingly radicalized and it exports that radicalism from its heart in Saudi Arabia to all corners of the Earth, facilitated by billions in oil wealth. Would Tharwat have us believe that the homicidal thugs of ISIS and Boko Haram are merely militants with political or territorial aims and not religious fanatics enthralled by a literalist interpretation of Islam? That their dreams of a caliphate are not deeply rooted in Islam’s texts and traditions? Their fundamentalist beliefs may be supported by only a minority of Muslims, but it’s a minority large and powerful enough to conquer armies in Syria and Iraq, throw Yemen, Libya and Nigeria into chaos, and draw tens of thousands of European Muslims, many with college degrees and all of the advantages of the West, into its grip.

I would suggest that moderate Muslims perhaps focus less on their grievances and instead examine how the faith they hold dear could foster so much death, hate and oppression. A little more self-reflection and a little less complaining may be in order.


Ken Darling lives in Golden Valley.