Monday, October 22, 2007

Aaron Mannes in AP on Intra-Muslim Violence

Associated Press quoted me for this story about terror attacks by Muslims on Muslims. The story was in the wake of the attack on Bhutto in Karachi. One note, I wasn't checking my notes and said Pakistan's population was 200 million. It isn't yet, it is only 145 million. Still, my basic point stands.

Muslims killing Muslims
In the aftermath of the deadly attempt on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's life, asap's OTIS HART examines the notion of Muslim extremists murdering fellow Muslims.
Friday, 19 October, 2007, 17:05 EDT, US

There were no foreign dignitaries Thursday night in Karachi. No Americans on parade, no "infidels." The convoy belonged to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a Muslim who hopes to reshape Pakistani politics.

Just like the bombers who tried to kill her.

Yes, the intra-denominational slaughter that has characterized Iraq's descent into what some call a civil war hit Pakistan especially hard, killing up to 136 people and injuring another 250. Bhutto said Friday that she believed the Taliban and Al-Qaida initiated the attack.

The assassination attempt highlights the fractured state of Islam, a religion defined these days by its degrees of faith. Extremists target their moderate brethren as if they carried crosses. Sects quibble violently over interpretation of Islamic law.

But this is hardly religion's first deadly identity crisis.



Intra-denominational wars have raged for ages, according to Dr. Henry Munson Jr., the chairman of anthropology at the University of Maine.

"Historically, it has happened a lot in other religions," he said. "Christians have slaughtered each other for centuries. For instance, there was the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) between Catholics and Protestants. Muslims certainly do not have a monopoly on this sort of thing."

For an example closer to home for Americans, look no further than the Ku Klux Klan, Munson said.

"The KKK was very much engaged in violence against fellow Christians," he said. "In the 1920s it was very much a fundamentalist movement that would go around attacking people accused of adultery and such. It wasn't just a matter of race."

More recently, Israel has had to deal with schisms in Judaism, with Orthodox Jews threatening to attack then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon if he gave up the Gaza Strip. A right-wing fanatic assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 for his moderate views and compromises with the Palestinians.

"You find in most religions, virtually all, that it's permissible to kill people of your own religious grouping if they are deemed in some sense to be heretics," Munson said.



When Muslims kill Muslims today, it's tempting to simplify it as moderates vs. extremists, said Aaron Mannes, author of "Profiles in Terror: A Guide to Middle East Terrorist Organizations." But while that is in some cases true, Mannes believes there is much more to these crimes.

"Islam is in a complicated phase now," Mannes said. "Pakistan is in many ways a tribal society, ridden with all types of ethnic tensions. When human nature is at its best, perhaps religion counteracts some of these things, but often it goes the other way, where religion becomes an exacerbating factor."

Fundamentalism can sometimes take a back seat to more elemental issues, like land rights, food and (surprise!) money.

"Religion provides a convenient excuse, but if you look at Somalia, it's not clear that Islam is what tore it apart," Mannes said. "There's always a mix of issues."



Suicide attacks resonate for nearly everyone, most often in a negative light. Mannes cited Pew Research Center studies that suggest that countries who are hit by suicide bombers tend to come to that negative view even more readily than those who observe at a distance.

However, it only takes one impressionable young man to pick up where a previous "martyr" left off and continue the wave of terror in the name of Islam, for example.

"Overall, there'll be a revulsion (after a bombing)," Mannes said. "But Pakistan is a nation of 200 million people ... so if 1 percent are inclined to be thinking a certain way, that's a pretty huge number. The fringe remains formidable."

That's something Bhutto knows all too well.


Otis Hart is an asap staff reporter in New York.

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