According to Wikipedia, Abdul Nacer Benbrika is an Australian Muslim convicted, in 2008, of organizing a terror cell within Australia:
The trial of Benbrika began in February 2008. The charges against him included, “intentionally being members of a terrorist organisation involved in the fostering or preparation of a terrorist act.” . . . The prosecution in opening remarks outlined the details of 500 phone conversations, recorded by telephone intercepts and hidden listening devices, between Benbrika and the 11 men in his group also on trial. Prosecutors claim that phone records revealed the groups plans; “to cause maximum damage. To cause the death of a thousand…. by use of a bomb.” They allege that the group led by Benbrika was “bent on violent Jihad” and “planned terrorist attacks on football games or train stations to maximise deaths” and that Benbrika said that in some cases it was theologically permissible to “kill women, children and the elderly.”
Adul Nacer Benbrika came to my attention via a thread poster here, who linked to the video below as a way of supporting R. Rex Parris and Sherry Marquez in their ongoing rhetorical jousting with the Islamic community living in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles County. R. Rex Parris, Lancaster’s mayor, and Sherry Marquez, a Lancaster councilwoman, have been alienating Muslims in their area by making surprising public comments against them (see here and here). So I’d ask you to watch this video and then ask yourself this question: does the video lend support to the idea that all Muslims are like Adul Nacer Benbrika, and that we should treat anyone who professes to be Muslim with deep suspicion and prejudice? Upsetting and inflammatory as this video is, I say no:
Why do I say no?
First, I think that when people express alarm about Muslim immigration to the United States—or other Western countries—that they are afraid of precisely this sort of “home grown” terrorist phenomenon. But this fear, in turn, is too readily turned to prejudice against Muslims in general. It needs to be emphasized—and Wikipedia does—that Abdul Nacer Benbrika is not representative of Muslims as a whole:
Islamic Council of Victoria board member Waleed Aly said Benbrika’s group was “a splinter of a splinter of a splinter. Most Muslims had never heard of him until he appeared on the ABC.” Waleed Aly was quoted as saying. “…He formed his own group with a handful of young men who he calls his students.” Benbrika’s students included a number of those arrested along with him in November, one of whom is alleged to have undergone military training in Afghanistan.
Second, I think that the proper response to people like Abdul Nacer Benbrika is to identify them, gather evidence of their plotting, and intercept any wrongdoing that they might attempt. This is exactly what Australian law enforcement did in Abdul Nacer Benbrika’s case, and it is, obviously, what agencies in the United States, like the FBI, do. The wrong response is to treat Muslims as a group with suspicion and prejudice, assuming that the average Muslim living in the West has views that are secretly in accord with fundamentalist Islam’s most violent and fanatic elements. Sherry Marquez might indulge the darker angels of her psyche in this fashion—projecting her worst fears onto a whole group of people—but the rest of us needn’t be so hysterical and immature. We can make distinctions and keep our heads about us—and make friends with our Muslim neighbors.
But here’s the reality: sometime over the next two decades fanatic jihadists possessed of the same passions as Abdul Nacer Benbrika may well succeed in getting a nuclear weapon and detonating it in a major city in the Western world. Such an event might kill hundreds of thousands of people—perhaps millions. And if we do not start making distinctions now between the fanatic perpetrators of violence and moderate Muslims, the horror of the event will be compounded by additional and widespread vigilante violence against still more innocent people. This is why it is evil to indulge, as Sherry Marquez recently did, in the prejudicial habit of making Islam’s most fanatic elements stand in for Muslims as a whole. And it is why we should avoid making government appear to favor one religion over others (as Mayor Parris recently did).
Should this tragic day ever come, in which a nuclear weapon is detonated in an urban area by jihadists, the cycles of aggression and irrationality will have to be given the brakes by each one of us individually. We will all be confronted with the same choice: will I be among the first to move toward calm, human solidarity, and reason—or will I join and fuel the blind passions and hatreds that I observe around me?
I vote for calm, human solidarity, and reason. And contra R. Rex Parris and Sherry Marquez, it can begin now. It must begin now. There may be dark days ahead, and if they come they won’t be the fault of Islam qua Islam, but of a cult that has sprung up from within one of the world’s three great monotheisms: the cult of the fundamentalist jihad. How people living in the West respond will be a measure of our commitment to rationality and human rights—the two greatest treasures that our civilization has yet to produce. We will need to keep our heads about us and not engage irrationality with irrationality.