Terror Is Not Piety

March 14, 1993

Whoever bombed the World Trade Center in New York did not do so because he was a fundamentalist Muslim, but because he was a terrorist. His motives were not religious but political, even if he may deny the distinction. The millions of Muslims in this country did not do it. The hundreds of thousands who might describe themselves as fundamentalist Muslims did not do it. A handful of people who use terror for political ends, and who may be Muslims, did do it.

The search for the few who are guilty should not spread hate or fear on the many who are innocent. To do that is to do the bidding of the terrorists. To cause innocents to be persecuted and alienated into extremism is often the highest goal of terrorism. Those with little or no public following hope to provoke a crackdown that will in turn provide that following.

In Egypt, 43 defendants have gone on trial, with six more sought, for "damaging national unity and social peace by calling for a change in the system of government," which most Americans would consider their right, but also for terrorist attacks on four tourist buses, a river boat and a Christian shop, which no one would consider their right.

The defendants variously shouted that they belong to al-Gamaa al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), that they did not kill tourists, but that their group assassinated former President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and others. One defendant read a statement which said, "What is the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya? It is led by Dr. Omar Abdel-Rahman. It killed Sadat after he rejected the rule of God. If terrorism and extremism means legitimate self-defense and the defense of our religion and honor, then welcome terrorism."

Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was tried and acquitted in connection with Sadat's murder, is the blind cleric whose mosques were frequented by the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing. He disappeared, issuing through a lawyer a dissociation from the atrocity. So it is tempting -- almost too easy -- to link that violent group in Egypt to the bombing in New York, with the motive being anger at the U.S. government for supporting the secular Egyptian regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Wait for proof. There are other violent groups with other political motives.

However much some terrorists and their apologists claim their motives to be religious and their own interpretations of the Prophet to be the only ones permissible, they are unrepresentative of most Muslims. Just as David Koresh is unrepresentative of Christianity. To call him a fundamentalist Christian, which in some sense he is, does not explain his behavior and motivation for insurrection in Texas.

The investigation of the World Trade Center bombing, which got off to such an auspicious start, is essential. Not only to convict the guilty, but by doing that to clear the innocent.

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