Ali: Reflections on Norway

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(HOST) Following the tragic events in Norway, commentator and UVM Professor Saleem Ali has been reflecting on the assumptions we make about terrorist acts as they happen.

(ALI) As news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Oslo unfolded, I must admit that my first inclination was to suspect Islamic jihadist forces at work. Several threats had been made against Norway by Muslim fanatics as well as by Libyan leader Qaddafi regarding Norway’s military involvement with NATO. Thus, to assume a possible connection of such an attack to Muslim extremism was understandable. However, the Western media should have waited before jumping the gun and suggesting Muslim connections to the attack. In particular, The New York Times article right after the attacks was particularly irresponsible by quoting some internet site rumors about an Islamist connection.

Yet there was also an unfortunate reaction in places such as Pakistan – a disturbing smugness that we Muslims are now beyond criticism and are victims of a Western media "smear campaign." Such a narrative is also regrettable, for it can perpetuate denial about a very clear and present danger of extremism within Muslim societies.

Soon after 9/11, the British-Pakistani author Tariq Ali called our current predicament a "clash of fundamentalisms"; indeed, that is what we are facing. Absolutist exclusionary ideologies from various faith traditions are finding common ground with secular alarmist struggles against immigration or multiculturalism and becoming an increasingly malevolent mix. If there is any lesson to be learned from such tragedies, it is that creating a culture of collective fear against any community can eventually lead to violence. We must stop the blame game and focus on fighting terrorism as we would fight any criminal activity. A focus on the criminals themselves and their networks, rather than collective punishment of their neighborhoods, is the way to proceed.

While I hope this tragedy will make Western organizations reconsider their assumptions about the source of terrorism, it is essential that this not be used as an excuse by Muslims to become complacent about the problems in their own house either. The tentacles of terrorism can take root in any society because we all have that dangerous talent for what Arundathi Roy has called "the boundless, infinitely inventive art of human hatred." At the end of the day, all forms of absolutist ideologies have to be resisted, whether right-wing or left-wing or flightless follies that might later take wing!

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