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I. Articles

Death Wish

As Published in the Washington Post

April 4, 2002

Islamic Nations held a conference in Malaysia this week in an effort to refute the connection between the Muslim world and terrorism. Sadly, they managed to accomplish the opposite. Despite appeals from the Malaysian and Bosnian representatives, the 57 assembled states adopted a resolution that specifically rejected the idea that Palestinian "resistance" to Israel has anything to do with terrorism. As the Muslim governments would have it, the Palestinian who killed himself and 26 Israeli civilians who were sitting down to a Passover Seder in an Israeli coastal city last week was not practicing terrorism; neither were those who organized and dispatched dozens of other young people to kill themselves and scores of innocent Israelis in recent months. In effect, the Islamic conference sanctioned not only terrorism but also suicide as legitimate political instruments. Though the governments were right in describing Islam as a peaceful religion, they were terribly wrong about themselves: It is hard to imagine any other grouping of the world's nations that could reach such a self-destructive and morally repugnant conclusion.

The refusal of Muslim states, particularly those in the Arab Middle East, to separate themselves from the suicide bombers demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge faced by the United States in combating international terrorism. Arab governments say they reject the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States and support the campaign against al Qaeda. But they are unwilling to renounce either terrorism itself or the extremist Islamic ideology that underlies it. On the contrary, their schools and media help feed the terrorist cause with anti-Western and anti-Semitic incitement, and their governments often help pay for it with donations to radical Islamic groups. Even now, Arab states are subsidizing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, rewarding them for their acts of savagery and thereby encouraging others to follow them.

Muslim spokesmen protest that terrorism is not easily defined; one purpose of this week's conference -- which was not achieved -- was to come up with an Islamic definition. It's true, of course, that some governments seek to discredit conventional military rebel movements by labeling them as terrorist; it is also true that terrorism is sometimes employed in the name of legitimate causes. And yet it should not be hard to agree that a person who detonates himself in a pizza parlor or a discotheque filled with children, spraying scrap metal and nails in an effort to kill and maim as many of them as possible, has done something evil that can only discredit and damage whatever cause he hopes to advance. That Muslim governments cannot agree on this is shameful evidence of their own moral and political corruption.

It is also a sign of dangerous obtuseness. Anyone following the destructive Israeli offensive against Palestinian towns in the West Bank -- the Muslim governments, of course, were shrill about Israel's "state terrorism" -- can see how deeply terrorism has damaged the Palestinian national cause. For most of the 1990s, Israeli hard-liners like Ariel Sharon railed ineffectually against the Oslo process, which aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and granting the Palestinians a state. Relatively few Israelis supported them, and the United States ignored them. Now, thanks to the suicide bombers and the terrible choice of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to tolerate them -- and maybe even aid them -- Mr. Sharon is Israel's prime minister and has won both a domestic mandate and U.S. tolerance for his ambition to destroy the authority, along with any chance of a viable Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. The Palestinian national cause will never recover -- nor should it -- until its leadership is willing to break definitively with the bombers. And Muslim states that support such sickening carnage will risk not just stigma but also their own eventual self-destruction.

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