ISLAMIC EXTREMISM AND THE MODERATE MUSLIM VOICE: FIVE YEARS AFTER THE WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING SUBMITTED TO: U.S. SENATE JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY, TERRORISM, AND GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SUBMITTED BY: OMAR ASHMAWY MATERIALS PREPARED BY: OMAR ASHMAWY AND SEIFELDIN ASHMAWY I. Introduction My father, Seifeldin Ashmawy, was a Sunni Muslim and an American citizen who migrated from Egypt to the United States in 1969. Just over one month ago, he was unexpectedly killed in a fatal car accident. He made his life here in America - he got married and had a son. He was a scientist by profession, but a humanitarian and a scholar by nature. Over the quarter of a century that he spent in the United States, he witnessed a dynamic change in the Muslim community - the emergence of an extremist movement that began to threaten the foundation of his faith. He felt obligated as a Muslim, and as a person, to do something about this danger. He studied Islam and other religions extensively and began giving lectures in synagogues, churches and universities about Islam - trying to reverse the ideologies of the Muslim extremist movement. He endeavored to promote the true Islam, fighting the misconception that the religion was one of violence and intolerance. He organized a group of intellectual Muslims who believed in moderation and authentic Islam and named the organization the Peace Press Association. Under the auspices of this organization, he published a monthly newspaper, The Voice of Peace, in Arabic, English and Spanish, that reflected their moderate views. Currently, The Voice of Peace is being distributed in 10 states. He was careful never to accept any support from any country, or political or religious organizations, placing great value on being able to assure readers that his views and that of the paper were totally independent. He held to this principle, even when it meant paying the costs of the newspaper out his own pocket. At about the same time as the inception of The Voice of Peace, my father began to appear monthly on the WABC radio program, Religion on the Line, representing the moderate voice of Islam to over one-half million listeners. For many of these listeners, his monthly appearances were their first and only positive introduction to Islam - juxtaposed against the negative attention given by the American media to the activities of Muslim extremists. About five years ago, my father took part in mission for peace to the Middle East with an inter-religious group. He met with political leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, West Bank and Israel and reached out to the common citizens in each country, explaining to them the importance of peace to all of us. On many occasions he publicly denounced terrorism. and extremism in any form - political or religious. It was his opinion that extremists among the Muslims are not motivated by religion, but by their own political greed. He also firmly believed that their actions of terror were a departure from the ethnic and religious morals in which he, and the majority of Muslims, believed. The senseless killings of civilians were abhorrent to him as Muslim and as human a being. He sincerely believed in a just peace in the Middle East. He denounced the acts of organizations, such as Hamas, as well as the collective punishment carried out by the Israeli government against all Palestinians, regardless of their guilt or innocence. In his opinion, peace would only be achieved when both sides truly accepted one another as equals, and could deal with one another in a fair and just manner. Within my father's New Jersey community, he was involved in openly confronting Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman before the World Trade Center bombing, publicly debating the Sheik and his followers. My father risked his life by taking the public stand that he did, and he faced the indescribable hardship of knowing that threats had been made on his life. Yet, he continued with the work to which he had devoted himself. In a past appearance before another Senate hearing, he stated that "by appearing before you today I am placing my life, as well as that of my family, in jeopardy; since I will be accused by the extremists as a traitor to Islam." However, he believed strongly in his faith and in peace. In that same statement, he made clear that he had "chosen [his] path willingly to explain to Muslims and non-Muslims the authentic Islam, which loves and respects the life of every human being." It was this belief - and the support of his loving wife - that gave him the courage to take such risks despite no hope of reward. During his life, my father fought to defend and protect his country, the United States of America; to defend his faith; and to speak out for the moderate voice of the world's fastest growing religion, Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, and moderation. It is inclusive of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. It is the only religion that accepts both the Torah and the Bible, along with the Koran, as the authentic words of one God for all people. Islam acknowledges and reveres all the prophets of God, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Mohammed (Peace be upon them); recognizing all of them as equals. A Muslim is asked only to believe in one God, to do good deeds with good intentions, and to help those in need. In no way is Islam a religion of the sword; nor is it inherently anti-Western. It is a faith of mercy - teaching that it is far better to forgive a person accused of wrong doing than to pass judgement on them. I wish to emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace - forbidding Muslims from taking an offensive stance in a conflict; instructing its followers only to fight if attacked. It is a universal faith with believers on every continent and nearly every nation in the world. Therefore, those who promote Islam as a narrow religion of violence, bigotry, and hatred profoundly misrepresent the faith. Mr. Chairman and distinguished committee members, my father devoted his life to the moderate Muslim voice only to discover that no one, neither the media nor the government, was concerned about how extremism affected Islam's majority - moderate Muslims. They seemed to forget that the extremists are but a small, albeit a loud, minority among a vast sea of moderates who believe in the authentic teachings of Islam. I am here, in my father's, and my own, name to tell you that the mask of religion, which these extremists wear, must be torn from their faces and they should be recognized for what they stand for - greed and power. The moderate voice of Islam must be allowed to speak. It is in that voice - the voice of my father - the voice with which I speak to you today - that we will all find security and peace. II. Islamic Extremism The face of the Muslim extremists has been modified in the last three decades. Their operation has extended from the local to the international. Their activities have changed from small skirmishes to what can be described as a militia jihad. Their actions were initially directed against foreign occupation, now they terrorize their own communities. Their agenda began with religious motivation and has transformed, today, into political ambition. Their tactics, beginning with the initial birth of extremism in Islam which occurred in 657 A.D., have never altered. They are the same today as they were over 1,300 years ago. The extremists mobilize people by slogans and arouse them by fear. They attack their Muslim brethren who do not agree with their motivation by branding them infidel, "Kaffara, (sing. Kaffer)". The non-Muslims are the enemy of God, "A'adau Allah, who are living in a corrupted Western society with a hidden agenda to destroy Islam. Throughout the past thirteen centuries, the Islamic extremist movement, with its peaks and valleys, has had a multifaceted agenda, but always one objective - to rule the Muslim world. THE OBJECTIVES OF THE EXTREMISTS 1) To establish an Islamic theocratic government Although neither The Koran, the Muslim's holy book, nor the Prophet of Islam indicated or recommended any type or style of a political system for the Muslim community, the ideology of the extremist movement revolves around the creation of a theocracy. The government in Islam has never been theocratic. From the very beginning of the history of Islam, the Muslim rulers never professed that they were infallible. They never asserted that they were the only source to interpret the Koran. The Muslim scholars and judges, who held a respected status in the state, were the initiators of this thought. The extremists describe the current governments as secular, believing that they are applying the Western code rather than the Islamic law. The word secular was borrowed early this century from the Western vocabulary and was translated to Arabic as "A'almani". It has been used by the extremists to describe civil government in the Islamic world. The extremists use the word "A'almani," or secular, as a synonym to the word "Kaffer," or infidel. They use it to defame and taint the current governments as Western collaborators. It is their most popular slogan to instigate people against their civil institutions. 2) To impose islamic law, "The Shar'ia" The Islamic law is the work of many Muslims scholars. They codified the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet. The moderate Muslims do not consider this specific work of the scholars to codify the Koran and the prophet's tradition to be untouchable, and they believe that it could be modified to suite the times and places. It is very important to emphasize that moderates do not believe in the modification of the Koran itself, only the legal codification developed by the scholars. All Muslims believe that the Koran was revealed, word for word, by God to the Prophet. However, the extremists reverse the moderate's call for a revision of the Shar'ia and represent it to the less educated citizens as if it is a call to modify the Koran. This is plainly not the case. The extremists on the contrary would like to apply the Shar'ia, as it was written in the seventh and eighth centuries, to the modern world of the late twentieth century. 3) To revive the Caliphate The Caliphate was abolished by Mostafa Kamal "Attatork" in 1925. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I gave him the opportunity to overthrow the last Sultan "Abdel Hamid," who was also the last Caliph. The extremists consider that the Caliphate represents the unity of the Muslim community under one ruler, the Caliph. Simultaneously, they also consider the Caliph a successor to the Prophet of Islam. The moderate Muslims refuse this notion. They advocate the idea that the Caliph is a civil head of state and hold to the belief that there was no successor to the Prophet's heavenly inspired revelations. The first Caliph, Abu Baker, was elected by the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D. in his inaugural speech, he told the people that they had elected him, although he was not the best of them. He also said that if they approved of what he was doing they should help, however, if he stayed, they should correct him. This was the first civil institution after the death of the Prophet - a government by the people and for the people. The extremists accuse the moderates who refuse the idea of reestablishing the Caliphate of blasphemy and of opposing the revival of Islam. ORIGIN OF EXTREMISM IN ISLAM The Shi'ites and The Kharijites About 657 A.D. a conflict over who would rule the new Islamic Empire took place between Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and his rival, Muawiya, the Prophet's second cousin. The conflict ended with Muawiya's victory. During the conflict, Ali was obliged to acquiesce to a settlement by arbitration; however, a group of his followers did not accept the agreement on the grounds that the result of the battle should not have been be decided by human intervention. Instead, they determined to fight until God judged by victory or defeat. The result of the war would be the final arbitration and judgment of God. Their opinion was based on misinterpretation of a portion of Koranic verse ("Judgement belongs to God alone." Sura 4:57.). The entire verse was exclusively about the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, who refused to apply God's commandments. The verse was explaining that in a dispute the commandments of God should lead the people to the correct judgement. These dissenters seceded from Ali's camp and became known as Kharijites or "Seceders." They declared both leaders, Ali and Muawiya, to be infidels and deserving of death. This was the beginning of a schism in Islam. A member of the Kharijites killed Ali, and they continued to war against Muawiya and his successors on different occasions. It is believed that this is one of the reasons why Muawiya's dynasty, the "Omayyads" (660 to 750 A.D.), became weak and was eventually overthrown by the "Abbaside" dynasty (750 -1258 A.D.). The doctrine of the Kharijites has never died, and has been embraced by many extremists and anarchists in Muslim countries. Those who adhere to that doctrine still raise the banner of "Judgement belongs to God alone." However, the word "judgement" took on a different meaning and began to mean Rule exclusively, including all its political attributes. On the other hand, the followers of Ali after his assassination in 661 A.D., claimed that Ali and his line were the only ones who should rule the Muslim community. This group of supporters became known as the Shi'ite of Ali. The word "Shi'ite" means "party" or "supporter." From the early part of Islamic history the Shi'ite were oppressed. Since the Shi'ite of Ali or the "party" of Ali's main objective was to overthrow the central government, they became the enemy of the state. Faced with continuous persecution and execution, the movement went underground. The underground movement became militant and violent. The simple idea of supporting Ali and his line was later complicated when it became philosophized and theorized. The Shi'ite are divided into many factions, but the two main groups are the "Twelvers" (mainly in Iran) and the "Ismailites " (the majority in Pakistan and India). The Shi'ite population is about 100 million; Iran, being the stronghold and the most populous country among the Shi'ite communities, assumed their leadership. The Shi'ite embrace martyrdom, following the example of El Hussein, the son of Ali and grandchild of the Prophet, who was killed in his attempt to overthrow the central government. The hidden agenda of the Shi'ite is to spread their doctrine and attempt to install the lineage of Ali to lead the Muslim community. The majority of the ideology of extremism has been derived from these two groups. Furthermore, both ideology have meshed together to the point that it is sometimes difficult to rationalize their tactic and policies. ELEMENTS THAT AFFECT THE EXTREMISTS' MOVEMENTS 1) State Sponsorship Until about 1952, small local groups with little or no outside support composed the extremist movement. The largest group was the Muslim Brotherhood. It was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan El Banna. When Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1953, he promoted his Pan-Arabism policies. The Pan-Arabism policies became very popular among the Arabs. The Saudis, fearful of this policy, began to financially support the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize Nasser's regime. The Saudis fostered the idea of Pan Islamism as a counter policy to Nasser's Pan Arabism. They also tried to assume the roll of leadership and protector of Islam, which Egypt had enjoyed for a long time. In order to assert their leadership, the Saudis, intentionally or unintentionally, found themselves obliged to finance many of the extremist groups. The Islamic extremist movement expanded out of Egypt in the 1950s and '60s. The growing patriotism and the call for independence by Arab countries gave rise to this strong conservative and, later, extreme movement. Libya, after Kaddafy came to power in 1969, and Iran, in 1979, followed the footsteps of the Saudis in their support of extremism. As a result of the increase in state support, the extremists began to emerge from a limited, domestic movement to international terrorism. They became the vengeful arm of these states, such as the explosion in December 21, 1988 of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the bombing of the U.S. army barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; the bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November 1995; and the June 1996 bombing of the El Khobar compound. 2) The Ayatollah Khomeini and "Iran" The turning point in the extremist movement in the past two decades was the installation of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini government in February 1979 with the help of the USA under President Carter's administration. The structure of this theocratic government is based on the Shi'ite doctrine. Contrary to the majority of the Muslims, the Shi'ite believe in a hierarchy of religious clergy with the Ayatollah Ruhollah being the highest. The main voice and interpretation of religious and non-religious matters is the opinion of the Ayatollah, the Imam (the Arabic word for leader). The Imam in Shi'ite doctrine is infallible and must be obeyed. The Iranian government recognizes that Muslims hold the lineage of the Prophet close to their heart and camouflage their intention to expand their doctrine and influence by using this emotional tie of "Ahl El-Beit", the closest kin to the Prophet, to mobilize the public to spread their doctrine. The government has mobilized and utilized the country's resources and media to achieve their goals. Their goal is to install other theocratic governments favorable to the Shi'ite's ideas and doctrines. They finance the extremist movement in other countries and provide a safe haven for its proponents. In addition, they train the extremist guerrillas,"mujahedeen," to destabilize the governments in other Muslim countries. The extremists considered the installation of the Khomini government a leap to success for their movement. A theocratic government is in place and their dream can now be realized. The style of this government became the role model for the extremists. 3) The war in Afghanistan In 1978, the Soviet Union engineered a bloody military coup in Afghanistan and installed a communist government. The United States, fearing that the U.S.S.R. would have a stronghold close to the oil rich Gulf States, took an active role during the Ronald Reagan administration to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The CIA, with the support of the Reagan Administration, recruited some Afghanistan extremists and trained them in Pishawor, Pakistan. Pishawor became not only the training ground for the Afghani militants, but the gathering point for all extremists, such as Ramzy Youssef. Some extremists were recruited directly or indirectly by the CIA from other Muslim countries, such as Abed Allah Azzem, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahmen, currently imprisoned in the U.S. for the World Trade Center bombing, and Mustafa Shalaby, former head of the Brooklyn, New York office to recruit the mujahedeen. Shalaby was mysteriously killed and his killer is still at large. As a result of the U.S. involvement, these extremists were well trained and organized. They were trained in the use of advanced weapons, sophisticated communications and guerrilla warfare. They became extremely knowledgeable in military tactics and codes. In fact, they became a strong, subversive military force. The idea which was instilled in them-- that they were fighting for God and in the name of God-- united all the recruited fighters and formed a cohesive fraternity of all these extremists. Their battle cry or their slogan in their fight against the Soviets was "Allah Akbar" or God is Great. These well-trained extremist guerillas, or mujahedeen, with America's assistance, were able to overthrow Communism and defeat the Soviets. However, this victory was interpreted within their own community as a sign that they could conquer anything if they continued fighting for God. After the overthrow of Communism in Afghanistan, the extremists were abandoned by the United States and left without a common goal. They returned to their homeland's, however, with belief that they were invincible. Their dream to establish theocratic governments in their own countries became stronger, supported with their new military training. It was the return of the Afghan fighters to their countries of origin that brought a new wave of extremism to many nations. 4) Infiltration of extremism into the West The liberal policies of the West, primarily France, Germany, England and the United States, allowed the extremists from the Middle East to establish bases of operations in their countries. The extremists infiltrated these countries through immigration or political asylum. They have taken advantage of the democratic and liberal atmosphere to organize and form a nucleus of leadership. From these new bases, they attempt to achieve their political agendas in their home countries. The easily obtained western technology and free open market offers them a better and more effective way to direct and finance their followers. The tolerant policies of the West facilitate the creation of safe havens for their supporters and fugitives. Utilizing all the current technology available in communications has helped the extremists to have strong, successful, effective and influential underground activities. The quick and immediate transferal of monies has also enhanced the power of the extremists, giving them the opportunity to expand by financing and supporting new members into the inner circle and to hijack established Islamic institutions, or establish new ones. The protection the extremists receive in the Western countries under the auspices of freedom of speech and association has unfortunately made them powerful. In addition, their activities are not necessarily illegal since their conspiracies are not toward the host country, but towards the countries of their birth. 5) The East vs. The West The aftermath of the Crusades became evident in the attitude of Muslims towards the West. Muslims became distrustful of the West's intentions and policies. The West, in turn, became aware of these suspicions when they occupied the Middle East countries in the Eighteenth Century. England and France, the main players at the time, understood the economic and the strategic location of the Middle East and attempted to westernize and modernize the occupied countries. The Muslim conservatives assumed that the intention of these nations, beyond the movement towards westernization, was to demoralize Islam. Furthermore, the differences in lifestyles between the two cultures made it even more difficult for the conservatives in the Middle East to accept the new changes. The occupation of the Muslim countries by the West categorized them as the enemy and the oppressor. The extremists used this perception as a motivation to fuel hatred and antagonism towards the West, and perpetuated and strengthened the image of the West as the enemy of Islam. The creation of Israel in 1948, and the failure of the West to achieve a just peace in the Middle East, further eroded the image of the West; providing the extremists more opportunities to portray the West, and the U.S. in particular, as the "Great Satan." Although extremists consider the western civilization corrupt, they take advantage of the democratic principles to expand and protect their movement, while simultaneously pointing their guns towards them. They feel that by terrorizing the people of these countries, it will lead their governments to exert pressure on their home governments to compromise and negotiate with them. 6) Domestic causes Nasser's successful coup against King Farouk in 1952, his popular Pan-Arabism policy, and his successful challenge to the West made him a hero in the Arab world. His support given to Algeria against France, enticing the people of Yemen, Jordan and Iraq to turn against England, and his efforts to turn other Arab countries against the United States all aided in his increasing popularity. His success in defeating an alliance sponsored by United States between Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan, "The Baghdad Alliance," made Nasser a model dictator for all other Arab countries. But the failure of all the dictators to ease the poverty, bring victory to the battlefield, improve the economy, and generally elevate the standard of life for the people brought only frustration. This frustration was subsequently used by the extremists to agitate the people against the government and to expand their support. Moreover, the liberal educational policy adopted in the Arab states permitted the underprivileged children, who were influenced the most by very conservative ideas, to attend colleges and universities. As a result, these students were easily attracted to and recruited by the extremist movement. Later, they infiltrate government offices and all other facets of life, and gave rise to ultra conservative notions. THE SOLUTION The problem of extremism cannot be resolved unless specific measures are taken. They include: 1. The moderate Islamic voice must be accepted, adopted and promoted by the local governments, as well as the international community, in order to counteract the vehement propaganda of the extremists. It is a known fact that the moderate Muslims far outnumber the extremists. By advocating the moderate position, the extremist movement will find itself an outcast in the Muslim community. 2. Some Western countries are attempting to apply the policy of "divide and conquer" among the Muslim community. On one hand, they help the extremists, and on the other hand, they are supporting the local government. This must be stopped. This policy will not succeed in the Muslim community since all Muslims consider themselves a part of a single foundation. The result of a "divide and conquer" policy will be a severe backlash, and it will bring hate and violence to the countries that initiate this policy. 3. It is imperative that we stop labeling the extremists with the prefix of Islamic and/or Muslim. These two prefixes antagonize the Muslim community and strengthen their suspicions towards the West's intentions, while at the same time, increase sympathy and solidarity towards the extremists. Labeling a Muslim Shi'ite or Sunni will also be counterproductive, since Muslims look upon the whole community as one. And they feel that the West is attempting to put a wedge among the Muslims. 4. Increase or enhance education among the public through publications and use of the media to explain that the ideology of the extremists is far from the fundamental teachings of Islam. 5. Recognition of the extremists gives them a political identity and increases their influence among the masses. Refusing to acknowledge them will reduce their influence and effectiveness in the community. As history has demonstrated, (both in Egypt and in Israel and Palestine), when the government aids and recognizes the extremists as an entity, the extremists will grow stronger and then will work against the government that helped to create it. An example of this is the extremists in Egypt that the killed Sadat, and Hamas which was aided by Israel and now is beyond control of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 6. Isolate the head of state of the countries that sponsor and support extremism without applying embargoes that punish the people. Applying embargoes that hurt the common citizens will backlash and gives the extremists yet another opportunity to attack the West, allowing them to state that the West is trying to kill and destroy the Muslim people. 7. Comprehensive peace in the Middle East is essential to curb terrorism and extremism not only in the region, but throughout the world. This will improve the economic conditions in Middle Eastern countries and give the governments time to focus on their individual domestic problems. It will also eliminate the slogans the extremists are using, either to show the ineffectiveness of their government to solve the domestic problems or to achieve a just solution to the Palestinian problem. 8. Another essential point to curb terrorism and extremism is the necessity to eliminate corruption among the governing Muslim leaders. This is a main source of discord among the people and an important tool in the hands of the extremists, who use its existence to gather support from the masses. 9. Cut the source. It is obvious that the sources that supply military and financial support to the extremists are known to the Western and Middle East intelligence organizations. If the source is restrained and thwarted the extremist movement will suffer, and their growth and influence will be minimized to the point of ineffectiveness. III. The Threat Extremism Poses to the Muslim Community One could accurately say that the misconceptions and misunderstandings that plague the Islamic community are almost entirely the result of the extremist movement within Islam. The perception of Islam as a violent, intolerant, anti-western religion has been created by the minority extremist component of Islam and then perpetuated by the attention that they receive in the Western media and by other Western power blocks. Islam, in spirit and in practice, is a religion of inclusion, of peace, and of mercy. Its followers are taught to be kind and tolerant to all people, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, or religion. Perhaps more than any other faith, Islam can be said to propound a truly universal philosophy that is accepting of all people, religions, and ideas. The Koran, the holy book of Islam, could not be more explicit in its command "There shall be no compulsion in religion." This single line embodies the spirit of Islam - a faith that acknowledges and strengthens the nobility of the individual, while simultaneously embracing the importance and power of community. Extremists have distorted this true image of universalism in the eyes of the world. In the United States, their acts of violence and fanatic intolerance have tragically marred the perceptions Americans have of Islam. Though the doctrines they espouse are wholly incompatible with the teachings of Islam, and run contrary to the very foundations of the faith and its traditions, these terrorists have managed to partially succeed in their goal to alienate Americans from the Muslim community - thus making leaders on both sides mistakenly believe that cooperation is, at best, a difficult venture. They have succeeded in making the American people unnecessarily wary of any association with Islam. This alienation and wariness is extremely harmful to both America and its Muslim communities - and to the Islamic world as a whole. No good can ever come from blatant misconceptions of truth. The fear that has been generated by these extremist entities has given rise to an alarmist atmosphere in this country towards Islam and its followers. This fear has found a foothold in every aspect of American society - from the government down to the American people. Moreover, there has been no significant attempt by anyone in a visible public office to emphasize the fact that these extremists are acting under contrary to Islam. Extremism, by definition, is a force contrary to freedom, liberty, and justice. Islamic extremism is no different than any other form of ideological extremism. They believe that they are justified in attempting to force their belief system on others. In their eyes, moderate Muslims, who cringe at the blood and pain caused by such extreme elements, are considered renegades of Islam - nonbelievers and enemies of the religion. Within this extreme movement, as with all types of extremism, there is only room for one set of thoughts, one opinion, one vision. Extremism poses its greatest danger to the Islamic community - stifling its diversity and its multifaceted and multinational character. It is a threat to the freedom and liberty of the community, and thus to the very community itself; for what community can truly survive staunch intolerance and lack of free thought.) Islam is struggling with this extremist movement world-wide. In this country however, the difficulties faced by moderate Muslims are particularly unique. There is no question that moderate Muslims make up the vast majority of Muslims in this country and world-wide, with followers of extremist movements a fraction of the population. Yet, the amount of attention received by each group is inversely proportionate to its size. The media and other sources of public information concentrate excessively on the extremist element of Islam, and give little to no time to the moderate Muslim voice. While this can be explained by pointing out that it is the extreme element who poses a conceivable danger and therefore somehow deserves the majority of the media attention, this answer does not take into consideration the full scope of the problem. It is this attention that Muslim extremists have been able to draw, to the exclusion of all else, that presents America and American Muslims with their most significant problem. Unless the moderate Muslim voice is given sufficient attention and is allowed time and a significant forum, it is unreasonable to expect that voice to be able to overcome any extreme Muslim element present in this country. Moreover, the continued focus on Muslim extremists without properly placing them in the context of the larger Muslim community, will further alienate American Muslims by reinforcing a belief that America is only interested in weakening Islam. Allowing this belief to perpetuate would be, at best, an invitation for further misunderstandings on all sides - an event that be would detrimental to all. In summary, Islam, perhaps the most misunderstood religion in the world, has suffered as much as its people from ignorance and foreign occupation. Islam, like the rest of the world, faces a new challenge, the rise of extremism; however, this challenge is not exclusive to Islam; it is being faced by every nation and every religion. It is a phenomenon which is altering the thought and action of every part of the world. It is a phenomenon which can conceivably lead to the fall of governments, deviate mankind from the course of God, and destroy many of the most cherished democratic ideals. Islam is not a militant religion, but a religion of peace, mercy, and love for all people. Unfortunately, like everything else, when man uses something he distorts it. The religion of Islam is no exception. However, true Islam joins Judaism and Christianity in its call for love, mercy and justice. As Americans we must never forget the value we place on freedom and liberty, and at no time can America, in its possible responses to extremism, allow the Muslim community in this nation or abroad to suffer any injustices. We must remember to place extremism in the context of the broader community. To do otherwise would only place this great nation in the same category as those very extremists we are trying to fight. Intolerance and injustice at the hand of any entity - even for an admirable cause - is repugnant to all that we as Americans, and I as a Muslim, hold to be true.