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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Blogs on the bombs II
The Magazine's review of weblogs
By Alan Connor

When Tony Blair described the London bombers as followers of a "dreadful perversion of the true faith of Islam", the immediate response was good.

Among fears of religious and racial strife on the streets, a unifying statement got a warm welcome. But in the week since, in the semi-private, semi-public online conversations, the "perversion of Islam" line has been hugely divisive.

Mustapha's Arabs and Moslems Against Terrorism banners for weblogs
On the one hand, there are US weblogs which attracted a lot of attention during last year's presidential election, such as Aaron's CC, which argue in their vociferous way that the problem lies in Islam itself.

And on the other, there are many, such as this commenter at Beirut Spring, who aim to place the bomb attacks in a context that's geo-political, rather than religious.

Over the past week, the buzz-phrase has been "the Muslim community". But with a billion Muslims worldwide, and two million in the UK, it's no surprise that "the Muslim community" hasn't given the single snappy soundbite many commentators seemed to hope for.

Looking into the blogosphere, the question of how Muslims should respond keeps coming up, among the the usual inconsistent mess of people talking about iPods and posting holiday snaps.

Taking one example: of all the arguments thrown up by the London bombings, most of them can be found in a post at the splendidly named Blogistan, a weblog kept by a South London driver called "Yusuf (or Matthew) Smith".

The Gandhi of Islam

The post is a response to an article in the Telegraph called Where Is The Gandhi Of Islam?, in which Charles Moore demanded that Islam get its house in order.

If one topic has dominated Muslim blogs, it is whether Muslims should be condemning the bombings more vociferously. Moore says yes; Smith says no:

    "There is no reason why the fingers should be pointed at 'the Muslim community', given that we have no reason to support actions like this. If we are not forthcoming with information on the 'terrorists in our midst', it's because they don't tell us who they are."

Criticism of the "Muslim" response keeps coming though, both across commenters, many of them from Americans and/or non-Muslims, and also from bloggers such as Iraqi Expat:

    "We have to fix it. We have to stand up to those who hijacked our religion. Why are we unwilling to acknowledge that it is our problem? We some think [sic] that we don't have to show our opposition to the terrorists? Is it the fake-pride? What is it, because I don't understand?"

Who started it?

It's important to note that this argument ("is it a Muslim problem?") doesn't cleave to the same lines as the debate over whether the West was complicit in the creation of militant groups.

After a decent pause immediately following the explosions themselves, the question came back as unanswered as ever: how far back does this problem go?

A comment on the Gandhi post at Blogistan acknowledges the importance of Palestine and of UK/US foreign policy to many Muslims, while arguing that "[w]e should look into our own hearts on this matter"; the UK-based Persian Students looks back to Margaret Thatcher's relationship with Ronald Reagan and Abbas Kadhim writes: "this is exactly what Iraqis suffer almost every day for the past two-and-a-half years".

From some American blogs, we hear an argument that offering any context is an attempt to excuse the bombings, but these posts are in marked contrast to the conspiracy theories collected at Unpolitically Correct, or the e-mails and web radio broadcasts of sites like the Party for Islamic Renewal, as described in articles linked to by Juan Cole.

Condemning for whose benefit?

While that debate continues, there are other, more immediate reasons being offered for resisting the compulsion to repeatedly condemn the bombers.

Another repeated theme is the everyday life and public perception of Muslims: Serdar Kaya writes: "Muslims today are not only guilty until proven innocent but also a permanent suspect after proven innocent."

Among others, one response to the Gandhi post backs this up: ("you need to fix your religion yourselves. If you don't, we'll fix it for you"); in this context, some Muslim bloggers are worried about, as Mustapha's readers put it, "auto-stigmatization". From Cairo With Love puts it stronger: "I won't sit and take the blame for something that I have nothing to do with."

Still other posts argue that the message is not for non-Muslims, but for those who might be considering become bombers of the future. Abu Aardvark concludes his post:

    "If the condemnations by the Islamist moderates can accomplish that - keep the jihadis and the takfiris isolated from the wider mainstream - then that really matters a lot for the big picture."

As more material appears, like Mustapha's "Arabs and Moslems against Terrorism" banners and the new blog United Muslims Against Terror, the same questions raised in the Gandhi post continue.

Just as the defiance shown by London bloggers covered a diverse range of views about what to do next, so it is among "the Muslim community": no love lost for al-Qaeda, but no easy answers. The communication channels, however, are wide open.

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