Friday, September 15, 2006

Norwegian Imam: «Bush behind 9/11 Attacks»

On 11 September, the leader of the Norwegian imams Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni caused a controversy in Norway claiming that George W. Bush and the US were behind the 9/11 attacks. Moreover he denies that there exists something like al-Qaeda, and he says the video messages that are supposed to be from Osama bin Laden are recorded in a studio. The controversy didn't exactly calm down when it became clear that the imam received support from other imams in Norway and ordinary Muslim people in the street.

The Norwegian national newspaper Aftenposten invited imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni for an Internet discussion at the occasion of the commemoration of 11 September 2001. During the discussion, the imam said that according to him, not Muslims but George W. Bush and the US were behind the attacks of 9/11. Islam stands for peace, and does not permit citizens to be killed or wounded, and therefore the 9/11 attacks cannot be done by Muslims. Furthermore, he doubts whether Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden really exist, and thinks that the video messages that are supposed to be coming from Osama bin Laden in reality are recorded in some studio. Finally he refers to the movie Loose Change that argues that Muslims aren't responsible for the attacks of 9/11. In relation to this, he stresses the point that the movie is in fact American.

Now imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni isn't some imam pulled out of an obscure mosque, but the leader of the United Ulama of Norway (Jamiat Ulama-E-Norway). In fact, the imam is supportedby other imams, among them imam Hafiz Mehboob-ur-Rehman of the Islamic Cultural Center and imam Syed Ikram Shah of the World Islamic Mission. The latter claims that even if the hijackers had Muslim names, the West cannot prove they really were Muslims. Another imam, imam Nehmat Ali Shah of Central Jamaat-e Ahl-E Sunnat points out that even after five years, nobody has been found guilty for the attacks by an independent court, and therefore he cannot know whether the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslim or not.

Street interviews showed that ordinary Muslims aren't really convinced that Muslims were behind the 9/11 attacks either. On the other hand, some immigrant politicians have clearly distanciated them selves from the imam's statements, like e.g. Afshan Rafiq of the conservative Right (Høyre) and Khalid Mahmood of the social democratic Labor Party. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Integration, Jonas Gahr Støre and Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, both social democrats, said they were very skeptical about the statements of the imams. Jonas Gahr Støre told Aftenposten that the freedom of speech must be respected, but at the same time the statements of the imams are speculations he doesn't share.

According to the cultural historian Kari Vogt, one of the best experts on Islam in Norway, the statements of the imams show a double problem: on the one hand there is the discomfort and the shame connected to the fact that Muslims are linked to such crimes, and on the other hand their distrust towards Western politicians who feel there is clear prove that Muslims planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. She also notes that these kinds of conspiracy theories have been around since 2001, not only in the Muslim community, but also elsewhere in Norway and the rest of the world. But she also thinks that only a small minority actually does believe in those theories, also amongst Muslims, and that most Muslims have a political feeling and sense of reality that functions well.

If the latter really is true, it is remarkable that prominent imams and Muslim leaders can make such statements that for the larger majority of their supporters must look like complete nonsense, without it having any considerable impact on their position within the community. Also, it is striking how easy they can get away with it, which cannot be said of pope Benedict XVI who seems to have angered the complete Islamic world by simply making a quote from which he distanciated himself in the same sentence. Tasnim Aslam, the spokeswoman of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was even quoted with a contradictio in terminis one doesn't read every day:
Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence
A religion that's truly tolerant wouldn't cause any problems when it is described as intolerant, let alone that such a statement would encourage violence. And that's even more so true if the statement was made in good faith and doesn't describe the religion as intolerant at all. If it does result in violence though, as is the case here, one can wonder whether maybe something is very wrong with the at least the leaders of that religion.