While the U.N. has long been awash in its own depravity—as evidenced by Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent “warning” to Coalition forces to avoid an assault on Fallujah, not to mention the burgeoning oil-for-food scandal—from time to time, opportunities still arise for that feckless institution to accomplish some good.
The latest one is a petition by several liberal Arab and Muslim thinkers advocating the creation of an international tribunal that would prosecute radical Islamist clerics whose sermons contain incitements to violence and terrorism.
The authors of the proposal, which originated in late October on the liberal Arab websites www.elaph.com and www.metransparent.com, hope to eventually acquire 10,000 signatures, which they will then present to the U.N. Over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries have signed on thus far.
However, given that the petition does not call for severe measures against their favorite target, Israel, Annan and his minions will likely show little interest. This is unfortunate, because at alarming rates, Islamist clerics continue to encourage their followers to wage global jihad against non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike.
In November, a group of 26 Saudi clerics and so-called “scholars” released a letter urging Iraqis to support “militants waging holy war against the U.S.-led coalition forces.”
The letter, which was posted on the Internet, described terrorist attacks on U.S. troops and their allies in Iraq as “legitimate” resistance and declared “fighting the occupiers is a duty for all those who are able.”
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., quickly condemned the letter and said that it did not represent the views of the Saudi government. Yet several of the signatories hold teaching positions at state-run Saudi universities, and another, Safar Al-Hawali, has worked for the Saudi government as a “mediator” in its negotiations with Al-Qaeda—despite his close ties to Osama bin Laden and several of the 9/11 hijackers.
Thanks to his work with the House of Saud, Al-Hawali, who openly preaches the destruction of the U.S. and Israel and is thought to have maintained contact with bin Laden even after the 9/11 attacks, is now regarded as a moderate voice by media outlets like the Associated Press, BBC and Reuters.
Another extremist cleric who has been embraced by the mainstream press is the Egyptian-born Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a leader of the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood movement and a vocal advocate of suicide bombings.
In August, Al-Qaradawi, who was given a hero’s welcome by the mayor of London during a visit there last summer, issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling for the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq. In response to the ensuing uproar, Al-Qaradawi, in an effort to maintain his moderate image, released a statement claiming he had been misquoted.
Yet, that same month, Al-Qaradawi was one of 93 sheikhs to sign a petition calling on Muslims around the world to join with the Al-Mahdi Army of extremist cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in its fight against American forces in Iraq. It was Al-Sadr’s jihadist incitements that spearheaded a bloody, months-long campaign by terrorists against Coalition forces in Najaf that only recently subsided.
In a similar vein, during the recent U.S.-led assault on Fallujah, a powerful group of clerics in that city denounced Iraqi troops who also took part, warning that, “we will stand against you in the streets, we will enter your houses and we will slaughter you just like sheep.”
But this inflammatory language isn’t limited to clerics in the Middle East. In recent months, France has deported several radical imams, and Britain continues to host some of the most incendiary preachers this side of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, leaders of the recently disbanded Al-Muhajiroun group, which sought to transform Britain into an Islamic state and even held conferences honoring the 9/11 hijackers (whom it called “The Magnificent 19”), continue to preach freely in London.
In Germany, authorities are considering requiring Muslim clergy to deliver sermons in German instead of Arabic. This after an imam in a Berlin mosque was captured on tape recently saying that, “Germans can only expect to rot in the fires of hell because they are non-believers.” For good measure, he even decried Europeans’ supposed lack of personal hygiene, proclaiming, “these non-believers, these Europeans, they do not even shave under their armpits, so sweat gathers in their body-hair and makes them stink.” The sermon, which was translated and broadcast on state television, has caused an uproar across Germany.
Canada is having similar difficulties. In a lecture posted on the website of Vancouver’s Dar al-Madinah Islamic Society in October, one Sheikh Younus Kathrada called for an “offensive jihad” and labeled Jews “the brothers of monkeys and swine.”
It’s clear that the kind of hateful rhetoric espoused by Kathrada and other radical clerics—which is broadcast regularly on Al-Jazeera and other Arab networks for millions of impressionable young Middle Easterners to digest—inspires Islamist terrorism. Now that the U.N. is going to be presented with a petition that would hold these preachers of hate accountable, it will be interesting to see how it responds.
If the U.N.’s reaction to Yasser Arafat’s recent death is any indication (flags outside the U.N. building in New York flew at half-mast, while inside, Kofi Annan led an hour-long tribute to the deceased terror master), the petition won’t go very far.
To defeat terrorism, one must be prepared to confront not only those who practice it, but also those who preach it; unfortunately, these are two steps which the U.N. has never shown the slightest interest in taking.
Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counter-terrorism research institute.