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Self-criticism in Arab media follows school siege

Muslims worldwide are the main perpetrators of terrorism, and such acts are harming Islam, a prominent Arab media executive wrote Saturday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Muslims worldwide are the main perpetrators of terrorism, a humiliating and painful truth that must be acknowledged, a prominent Arab writer and television executive wrote Saturday, as Middle East media and officials expressed horror at the bloody rebel siege of a Russian school.

Unusually forthright self-criticism followed the end of the hostage crisis, along with warnings that such actions inflict more damage to the image of Islam than all its enemies could hope. Arab leaders and Muslim clerics denounced the school seizure as unjustifiable and expressed their sympathy.

Russian commandos stormed the school Friday in Beslan, Russia; it had been taken over by rebels demanding independence for Chechnya. Russian officials said Saturday that the death toll was at least 250, with twice as many wounded. Many of the casualties were children.

Images of terrified young survivors being carried from the scene aired repeatedly on Arab TV stations. Pictures of dead and wounded children ran on front pages of Arab newspapers Saturday.

“Holy warriors” from the Middle East long have supported fellow Muslims fighting in Chechnya, and Russian officials said nine or 10 Arabs were among militants killed.

“Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television wrote in his daily column published in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, “The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists are Muslims!”

'Humiliating, painful' picture
Al-Rashed ran through a list of recent attacks by Islamic extremist groups — in Russia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen — many of which are influenced by the ideology of Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the al-Qaida terror network.

“Most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims,” he wrote. Muslims will be unable to cleanse their image unless “we admit the scandalous facts,” rather than offer condemnations or justifications.

“The picture is humiliating, painful and harsh for all of us,” al-Rashed wrote.

Contributors to Islamic Web sites known for their extremist content had mixed reactions on the hostage crisis, with some praising the separatists. Others wrote that people should wait until the militants had been identified before implicating Arabs in the drama.

Ahmed Bahgat, an Egyptian Islamist, wrote in his column in Egypt’s leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, that hostage-takers in Russia as well as in Iraq are only harming Islam.

“If all the enemies of Islam united together and decided to harm it ... they wouldn’t have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations, and misunderstanding of the nature of this age,” Bahgat wrote.

'A new low'
The horrifying images of the dead and wounded Russian students “showed Muslims as monsters who are fed by the blood of children and the pain of their families.”

An editorial in the Saudi English-language Arab News put some blame for the bloody end to the school siege on Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he couldn’t afford to lose his “tough-man image.” But it added that “the Chechens, with the choice of their targets, had put themselves in a position where no one would shed tears when the punishment came. They reached a new low when they chose toddlers as bargaining chips.”

Heads of state from Egypt, Lebanon and Kuwait offered their sympathy Friday to Russian officials and to the families of people caught up in the hostage drama. A prominent Muslim cleric also denounced it.

“What is the guilt of those children? Why should they be responsible for your conflict with the government?” Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, was quoted as saying during a Friday sermon in Banha, 30 miles north of Cairo.

“You are taking Islam as a cover and it is a deceptive cover; those who carry out the kidnappings are criminals, not Muslims,” Tantawi, who heads Al-Azhar University, the highest authority in the Sunni Islamic world, was quoted by Egypt’s Middle East News agency as saying.