Osama’s Islam-violence link weighs heavy on Muslims

May 2, 2011

(A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. CNN said on July 14, 2007 that the video was intercepted before it was to appear on radical Islamist Web sites/REUTERS TV)

Osama bin Laden’s radical Islamism has had a devastating impact on Muslims around the world by linking their faith with violence and using religious texts to justify mass killings. His “jihadist” strategy has claimed the lives of many thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States, Europe and Africa. It has also tarred Muslims with suspicion and helped feed prejudice against them. Especially in the West, many Muslims felt pressured to denounce a man they never identified with.

“The link he made between violence and Islam made people think this was a religion of terrorists,” said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. “In Western countries, we’ve had to show on a daily basis that Islam is not violent and Osama bin Laden does not represent Muslims,” he said. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority of about five million people.

Muslim leaders have issued many denunciations of the radical Islamist violence championed by bin Laden. Mainstream scholars have drawn up declarations and fatwas to counter his arguments with opposing views from the Koran. While these may have influenced some undecided Muslims, they had little apparent success in shaking a view that bin Laden represented an important current within Islam.

The recent wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world has gone some way to weakening the perceived link between Islam and violence. The world’s media have shown pictures of young Muslims campaigning for civil rights without resorting to religious violence.

“In public and private discussion on the main issues facing the Muslim world, violence through radical religious means used to be quite prominent,” said H.A. Hellyer, a fellow at Warwick University in Britain. “That has disappeared in recent months.”

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