I do not claim expertise on Islam, but when I hear President Barack Obama assert, once again when reporting on the killing of Osama bin Laden, that America's quarrel is not with Islam, I feel myself hearing that the sun will rise in the west.
The claim that Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah are not properly Muslim, but movements that have corrupted Islam, is like saying that Anglicans, Methodists, and Evangelicals are not Christians but movements that have corrupted Christianity. Or that Reform and Conservative Judaism are not truely Jewish, but corruptions.
All religions are multifaceted. Going from one Orthodox synagogue to the next will expose one to differences in style that are clear or only nuanced. Prayers in an ultra-Orthodox synagogue will appear to be depart even more from the conventionally Orthodox, if there is such a thing. What happens in a Reform Temple may appear like another religion, but is only another approach to Judaism.
Muslims who proclaim that Christians and Jews are infidels, that Islam must prevail from Indonesia to Andalusia, and that suicide bombers are martyrs deserving of veneration are just as Muslim as those who do not bother themselves with any of those claims. Muslim martyrs enjoy the blessings of individuals widely viewed as religious authorities. As such, they are as much a part of Islam as Presbyterians are part of Christianity.
Palestinian Muslims claim that the al-Aqsa mosque is one of the holiest in Islam. And among the comments following the killing of Osama bin Laden was that of a preacher in al-Aqsa, eulogizing bin Laden and warning that Obama will soon be "Hanging:from the gallows next to Bush," and "Dogs should not rejoice at the killing of lions." http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2912.htm
Along with this was the comment of Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas regime in Gaza who is viewed by some as corrupting the Fatah Palestinians of the West Bank by agreeing to a reconciliation with them: "We believe that this continues an American policy that is based on oppression and on the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood. Regardless of the different views in Arab and Islamic circles, we, of course, condemn the assassination or killing of a Muslim mujahid and an Arab. We pray for Allah to cover him with His mercy, next to the prophets, the righteous, and the martyrs." http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2910.htm
Claiming that these figures are not true Muslims is like saying that the Pope is not Catholic.
So why does Barack Obama, and other political leaders proclaim that the martyrs are only corruptions of Islam?
It's the easiest way to avoid pushing other Muslims into the camp of the violent, and maybe winning some support from the leaders of Muslim countries who control votes in international forums, supplies of energy and other natural resources.
Good enough for us simple citizens?
As long as we know the game we are playing.
It's okay when American and European troops are fighting in the outskirts of Islamabad, throughout the Northwest Province of Pakistan, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, maybe Yemen and Sudan, but not in London, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Jerusalem.
It would be better if airport inspectors practiced some ethnic profiling against you know who, but that is expecting too much given the prevailing myth that the problem is only those who have corrupted Islam. So an Irish Catholic grandmother must take off her shoes along with the rest of us.
A purist would charge that Obama and all the rest are corrupting language with their claim that the violent are corrupting Islam.
Perhaps it is best to think of that myth as part of the tax we pay for civilization. We go along in order to get along.
Insofar as I may be violating the rules of the game by writing this, it is time to stop. You may save yourselves from reprobation by pushing the discard button.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem