(Summer 1995) The Muslim world is drawing a much-needed distinction between a noble religion and the fanatics who exploit that religion as the pretext for the most ignoble acts of violence. Muslim countries are realizing the need to combat extremism - and its state sponsors - as more and more of the victims of radical Muslim violence are themselves Muslim.
The new resolve was apparent in Casablanca last December, when the 51 members if the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) held their summit meeting. They adopted a "code of conduct" calling on member states to refrain from financing or supporting "terrorist acts." In addition, member states must prevent their territory from being used as the launching ground for acts of terror. Muslim countries are further obliged to exchange information about violent groups.
Repeatedly emphasized during the ICO summit was the assertion that Muslim terrorists are traitors to their religion. The final resolution issued at the summit called on member states to"highlight the true image" of Islam and expose "the schemes of terrorist groups, the duality of their message." During the address to the summit, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak denounced the state sponsors of Muslim terrorist groups. Those countries, he said, "have gone astray..., they have sold themselves to the devil."
The code says of Islamic states: "Terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances, and thus they unequivocally condemn all acts, methods and practices of terrorism regardles of their origins, causes and purposes."
There was no secret that Iran and Sudan were in the thoughts of Mubarak and other speakers at the summit. Nor is there any secret about the degree to which those two states have contributed to the bloody terrorist toll. Both countries have been linked to the violence that has rocked Algeria and Egypt in recent years.
Sudan's leader, Hassan Turabi, describes his relationship with the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, as "very close," while excoriating Presiden Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. More than 500 people, including a dozen foreign tourists, have been killed in Egypt in three years of terrorist attacks.
The radical Muslim campaign to overthrow the secular government in Algiers has taken some 30,000 lives, many of them civilians. The government said that 6,388 civilians were killed by the militants in 1994. Iran is reportedly supplying the militants with arms, shipped in via Sudan.
When Algerian terrorists hijacked an Air France passenger plane in late December, the international media showed the world the violence that has become part of everyday life in Algeria itself. Before French counter-terrorist forces ended the hijacking by storming the plane on the ground in Marseilles, the terrorists had killed three passengers. According to French authorities, the militants' ultimate plan - to draw attention to their "cause" - was to blow up the Air France plane over Paris, with the intention of killing many people on the ground as well as everyone in the plane.
The organization claiming credit for the hijacking, the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA), staged another act of bloodshed in late December. Its radicals murdered four Catholic priests in the Berber town of Tizi-Ouzou, to avenge the four hijackers killed in Marseilles.
In another act of barbarism in February, days before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, Algerian terrorists set off a bomb in downtown Algiers which killed 42 people. Most of the victims were civilians. More than 280 people, many of them children, were wounded. In early March, another bomb wounded 33 people, including eight children. In a tract, the Islamic Salvation Army claimed Ramadan was the month of "conquest in the service of God's religion."
But these days Muslim extremists and such sponsors as Iran and Sudan are having difficulty selling their violence as heroic or righteous. The National Federation of Muslims in France and the Union of Islamic Organizations in France denounced the Air France hijacking. They reminded Muslim extremist groups that if they "claim to be Islamic movements, the tenets of Islam must be strictly heeded. The life of civilians should be spared, dialogue and reconciliation should be preferred." And in Algeria itself, thousands of Muslims attended the funeral of the priests slain by the GIA and denounced the murders.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also held a summit meeting last December. The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. These are the states where Iran once called for Islamic revolutions and where extremist groups are becoming active. The final resolution from the GCC summit expressed "total rejection and condemnation" of "the phenomenon of extremism and fanaticism leading to acts of violence and terrorism."
King Hassan II of Morocco, too, asserts that Islam is not to be confused with Islamic fundamentalism. In an April interview, King Hassan said: "I have yet to see a militant who advocates Islamic fundamentalism for the love of God. Fundamentalists preach their ideology because they consider Islam the elevator to take power. The day I see a fundamentalist who preaches religion for the love of God then I'll say, fine, let's listen. But so far, I haven't heard that."
Clearly, the Muslim world is growing increasingly weary of seeing Islam tarnished and subverted for political ends.