The after-effects of the Beslan school massacre are making themselves felt in some serious introspection among Arab commentators. One of the most graphic reactions was that made by Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid, manager of the satellite television station Al Arabiya, in a comment that achieved some celebrity: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 8). This was the prelude to a severe criticism of the role of hard-line clerics in fostering a culture of religiously-sanctioned violence. Other commentators developed the same theme. In Kuwait, the columnist Abdullah al-Jasami deplored religious pronouncements which “reflect the mentality of violence, extremism, and the absence of debate from the discourse of many clerics”, arguing that they “play a complementary role to the violence and terrorism that is being perpetrated on the ground by providing such acts with religious Shari’a cover.” (Al-Ra’i al-‘Am, 8 September).
A particular subject for attack was the conservative Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has a high media presence in the Middle East through his appearances on television. He is famous for having issued a fatwa licensing the targeting of U.S. civilians in Iraq, justifying this on the grounds that they form part of the ‘invading force’. In May this year his sermon called for divine intervention against “the oppressive tyrants, including Zionists and Americans and their supporters. Take them, O God, and their supporters with Your might” (Doha TV, translated by FBIS, May 14). Under the furor, Al-Qaradawi has since attempted to distance himself from his earlier pronouncements, but the doctrinal vagueness remains. On September 9 clerics at the influential Egyptian Al-Azhar University declared their support for the killing of American civilians in Iraq, stating that if these civilians are engaged in supplying the military in any way Islam permits their killing. (Al-Bassa’ir, Baghdad).