Text size

A quick glance at two Internet sites attests to the vast gap between Islam and Islam. One site, dreary and empty of content - it is still in large part under construction - is that of the Al-Azhar Institute for Religious Studies, in Egypt, which is the most important Muslim establishment. The second site, which features abundant with content, news, exchanges and riveting graphics, is one of the sites that represent Al-Qaida and its supporters. Al-Azhar is the "official" representative of the Islamic religion with its tolerant and progressive traits; Al-Qaida, in contrast, has turned Islam into a cause of world terrorism. If websites are also symbols, then Osama bin Laden's movement has already won.

This is not the sort of Islamic victory that the majority of the Islamic states wish for. About a week ago, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Egyptian parliament, Dr. Mustafa Paki, published one of the most important articles on the subject of the separation between Islam and Islam. According to Paki, those who have assumed a monopoly for the dissemination of world Islam are non-Arab organizations that have only a superficial and abhorrent understanding of the religion and are giving true Islam a bad name.

Paki is referring primarily to the Taliban and Islamic organizations in Asian countries "that have harmed the good name of Islam as it has never been harmed before." True, Paki "forgot" to add bin Laden's name - bin Laden is of pure Arab stock - to the list of those who are doing harm to Islam, but he nevertheless raises another cardinal issue: the extremist organizations are fluent in Western languages and capable of creating websites, whereas moderate Islam, including Al-Azhar, is unable to speak its piece in English or "the other important languages and thus get its message across to the enemies of Islam in the West," who "are certain that Islam is Taliban."

Thus it is the obligation of the Arabs, as differentiated from the other Muslims, to teach the world what true Islam is, Paki maintains. This is one of the few times that an Arab intellectual, and a holder of public office, has publicly contested the sweeping conception that there is one Islamic nation and has spoken of the need to distinguish between Islam and Islam, and more especially the need to speak correct Islamese in the international language created by the West.

This is not yet a phenomenon, but the article reflects a growing feeling, particularly among Arab intellectuals, that it is necessary to create a clear separation that rejects the idea of terrorism in the name of Islam. Nor is this outlook confined solely to intellectuals. In a historic step, Saudi Arabia announced that it intends to carry out tough financial reviews of charitable institutions after it became known that such groups had transferred funds to terrorist organizations. The declaration has yet to be translated into action, and the accounts the Saudi government froze are mere peanuts compared to the billions of dollars that pass through these institutions - but this is a change of conception that shows that even this conservative kingdom is beginning to decide which Islam it wants to belong to.

This is the inconvenient corner into which bin Laden is pushing the Arab states; they see that they have to dissociate themselves little by little from the national wars, neglect even the Palestinian issue, follow the United States in taking an anti-Iraqi stand, and now, at Paki's advice, also cut themselves off from part of the Islamic world that is perceived as a manufacturer of terrorism - and all in order to save their good Islamic reputation.

However, one reservation has to be entered in connection with this interpretation. One national war is still making it difficult for the majority of the Arab states and for Islam to build a fortified wall between them and the Al-Qaida federation: when bin Laden blows up Israeli targets in the name of the Palestinian problem, the Arab states can again wrap themselves in the national problem and comfortably grasp the divider that separates between "good" terrorism and "bad" terrorism. Terrorism with a national backdrop - yes; terrorism that taints Islam - no.