Medical Team Murders Require Wise Response


Two recent sickening examples of Taliban extremism demonstrate the darkest side of religious hatred, repression and intolerance. Sadly, such incidents make it that much more difficult for peace-minded believers to persuade the world of their intentions and sincerity.

A group of 12 doctors, nurses and technicians were returning home from a three-week trek on foot to deliver free medical eye care to a remote and dangerous region of Afghanistan. According to a chilling account by Rod Nordland in the New York Times, the group, comprising six Americans, a Briton, a German and four Afghans, were accosted by Taliban gunmen who marched them into the forest, stood them in a line and shot 10 of them, one by one.

The aid group was working for the International Assistance Mission, a Christian aid group that has operated in Afghanistan since 1966 under the leadership of Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist and widely respected humanitarian. The Taliban claimed the group were “spies” trying to gain converts to Christianity. The group had never engaged in attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity, and has operated during every regime in Afghanistan since 1966, except when previously expelled under the Taliban leadership regime.

Another reminder of the Taliban’s brutality was the cover photograph of the Aug. 8, 2010 edition of Time, one of the most shocking in the seven-decade history of the newsmagazine.

Depicted is Bibi Alisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman, whose nose and ears were cut off by her abusive husband, with full Taliban approval. The photo shows the woman’s beautiful face horribly disfigured by this cowardly act. The woman has now arrived in California, where she will be given treatment by a team of doctors who will reconstruct her face.

When such stories appear in the media, the temptation is great to extrapolate the horrific behavior and lay it at the feet of an entire religion. As we wrote about two weeks ago, the despicable acts of a small number of Islamists have resulted in condemnation of the construction of new places of worship for American Muslims.

So how does the supposedly “silent majority” of Muslims get its perspective across? The sad answer is, they cannot if people are unwilling to listen and the media are unwilling to give such voices the attention they deserve.

Typical of this attitude was a recent story in the New York Times headlined, “A Persecuted Muslim Sect Uses a Brochure Campaign to Push for Peace.”

While a story this week in the Times about opposition to Muslim mosques and worship centers across the United States garnered front-page status, this “On Religion” feature by Samuel C. Freedman regrettably appeared on page 13 of the lesser-read Saturday edition.

The article describes the efforts by members of the moderate Ahmadi Muslim community, who describe themselves as “Muslims for Peace.” Freedman profiles Qasim Rashad, who handed out brochures promoting peaceful resolutions of international issues and opposing terrorism, to attendees at the Wisconsin State Fair last week. Rashad, a law student, and two companions handed out 210 such brochures, asking passersby, “Sir, can I offer you a free ‘Muslims for Peace’ brochure?'” Rashad and his fellow Ahmadi Muslims are in the midst of a month-long effort to present Islam as a religion that abhors violence.

In truth, there are vastly more Muslims in the U.S. who support the Ahmadi moderation than anything resembling Taliban or Al Qaeda extremism, and they are feeling the heat of religious skepticism, suspicion and condemnation on a daily basis.

The efforts of those such as our local Jewish Community Relations Council and several local synagogues, temples and Jewish day schools – who have mutually respectful joint programs and dialogues with members of the local Muslim community – are critical to dispel hatred and build constructive interfaith communities.

When we receive horrific news of examples of extreme violence done in the name of a religion, we must take extra care not to engage in the kind of stereotyping which have in the past caused such grave tragedies to Jews, African-Americans and other minority groups. Following those generalizations to their illogical conclusion leads to the types of action engaged in by the Taliban against not only Christians, but fellow Muslims who are not deemed “pure” enough in their religious views.

As we express outrage over the misdeeds of the Taliban, let us also enthusiastically embrace the efforts of the Ahmadi “Muslims for Peace” and others who share our quest for interfaith harmony and justice. Reacting with stereotypes to acts of extremism only gives extremists an additional victory against mutual respect and community harmony.