Thomas Friedman’s Muslim Problem

In his op ed, “If It’s a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution”, in the July 8 edition of the New York Times, Tom Friedman called on Muslims around the world to condemn the violence committed under their name by al Qaeda jihadists. Friedman’s call is based on two false assumptions. First, he alleges that “to this day – to this day – no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden. For Mr. Friedman’s information, hundreds of esteemed Muslim scholars and influential theologians have categorically condemned al Qaeda terrorism as unIslamic. They have repeatedly questioned the authority of bin Laden in issuing fatwas and the legitimacy of his so called jihad. It is not hard to find references to these condemnations. Here are few useful links, and I hope Mr. Friedman will check them out: and .

There are many articles about fatwas against bin Laden posted on the following website: .

Yesterday in Tehran, the imam of Friday prayer, ayatollah Imami Kashani, also denounced the attacks in London as unIslamic. In his sermon, he reiterated the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ denunciation of the bombings in London and proclaimed that “the killing of innocent men, women, young, and old is neither conscionable nor a virtuous human quality.” “These terrorist acts,” he decreed unequivocally, “are not Islamic, they are savagery.”

The second false presupposition Mr. Friedman puts forward is that bin Ladenite jihadism is a Muslim problem that begs Muslim solutions. I wonder whether throughout the years that the IRA terrorized Britons in London any pundit ever called the predicament of the Irish a “Catholic problem with Catholic solutions.” It is so convenient for Mr. Friedman to burry the historical facts of the emergence of al Qaeda with the aid and assistance of the Reagan administration and Pakistani intelligence services. The problem of violence wrapped in an Islamic cloak does not make it Muslims’ problem. It is true that Islam, like any other religion, is understood in competing and at times contradictory ways. But each of these competing interpretations of Islam corresponds and reacts to particular situations in which Muslims find themselves. One cannot understand violent interpretations of jihad outside the violence to which Muslim majority nations have been subjected. In other words, Islam is not innately predisposed to violence; it does not breed savagery ex nihilo, thus the fallacy of terrorism as a “Muslim problem.” Somehow it is easier for many western pundits to understand that rather than a “Catholic problem,” violence in Northern Ireland had much to do with British Empire.

Mr. Friedman declares that “When jihadist-style bombings happen in Riyadh, that is a Muslim-Muslim problem. That is a police problem for Saudi Arabia. But when Al-Qaeda-like bombings come to the London Underground, that becomes a civilizational problem.” Then he rushes to position himself as a defender of Muslims’ rights in the West by observing that these attacks would harm their civil liberties and will turn each Muslim into a suspect. With friends like Tom, who needs enemies! As a zealous advocate of unregulated globalization, Mr. Friedman ought to know that jihadists fighting the Saudi police on the streets of Riyadh is hardly an internal matter of Saudi Arabia. Fighting a police force that is trained by American advisors, armed by American-made weapons to protect the interests of an oppressive Royal Family supported by the United States is far from a mere domestic dispute. What Mr. Friedman wants is a war away from home, where the casualties are unknown and the costs hidden.

“Jihadist-style bombings,” in London, Madrid, and any other European or American cities are not inherently different from the same kinds of attacks on civilians in Baghdad, Tehran, Bali, Riyadh, or anywhere else in the Muslim world. They are neither civilizational nor do they have anything to do with Islam. An al-Qaeda attack on innocent civilians is as much part of Islam as Timothy McVeigh was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.
Mr. Friedman declares that “The double-decker buses of London and the subways of Paris, as well as the covered markets of Riyadh, Bali and Cairo, will never be secure as long as the Muslim village and elders do not take on, delegitimize, condemn and isolate the extremists in their midst.”

Mr. Friedman’s prescription hides the historical and political roots of terrorism. It does not matter what the Saudis teach in their primary and secondary schools about Christians and Jews so long as every Saudi citizen understands which world powers support their corrupt regime, which countries seal their mouth against injustices in their country to keep open the flow of oil. It does not matter how much the “Muslim village and elders” condemn bin Ladenites, so long as the U.S. government continues to support tyrannical regimes of Central Asia, and builds military bases on soils tainted by the blood of innocent people. A just solution to the plight of Palestinians and the end of Israeli occupation of their land contains terrorism more effectively than hundred decrees against violence and the promotion of the peaceful nature of jihad. These murderous atrocities are perpetuated only by the global network of terrorism and the warmongering Anglo-American administrations who have substituted violence for critique, bullets for words, destruction for change, and occupation for liberation.

BEHROOZ GHAMARI is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. He can be reached at:


















Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi is an Iranian-born American historian, sociologist, and professor.