It might be politically correct to say that the waves of fundamentalist terror gripping the Middle East and leaving their mark on the blood-stained offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, have nothing to do with Islam, but the ludicrousness of that comment is obvious to anyone who can turn on a television or read a newspaper.

Although this is neither our neighbors’ Islam nor that practiced by most Muslims throughout the world, to say that it has nothing to do with Islam, that no wild-eyed imam preaches it, is to hide from reality.


The bitter truth is that while this is a perversion of Islam, it is a problem not just for non-Muslims but for everyone, including the Muslim communities throughout the world. After all, most of the victims of this violent strain are Muslims. The fighters that were born and bred in the West and seduced into this violence, torn away from their loved ones and communities, are  largely Muslim.

Certainly Muslim parents in the West no more want to see their children run off to join the radical jihadists than non-Muslims parents do.

President Obama’s hackneyed refrain that this is not Islam rings increasingly hollow because it fails to confront the problem. And, now, all the more so as the British Communities Secretary Eric Pickles along with Lord Tariq Ahmad, a Muslim member of the House of Lords, have taken a more realistic approach.

Together Secretary Pickles and Lord Ahmad wrote to more than 1100 Muslim religious leaders in the United Kingdom and urged them to denounce the extremists.  As their communiqué stated, “We must show them the multitude of statements from British Muslims; we must show these men have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and they do not speak for the Muslims in Britain or anywhere else.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron called the letter’s message “reasonable, sensible, and moderate.”

One would have thought the Muslim community of Britain would have embraced it, for it vindicated them by separating the larger Muslim community from the extremists.  But for some, that was not the case. The Muslim Council of Britain responded that the letter was offensive and required Muslims to prove their loyalty to their country.

The Muslim Council of Britain is not an extremist organization. It represents over 500 Muslim groups and was quick to denounce the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as a greater insult to Islam than the caricatures they drew of Mohammed. It also extended its sympathies to the Jewish community for the jihadi attack at the kosher butcher shop in Paris.

Some Muslims asked why the churches are not contacted about denouncing violence committed in the name of Christ. But such acts today are almost non-existent and when they have occurred, as they did in the Balkans decades ago, they were not only denounced, their perpetrators were bombed by other Christian nations into submission.

But not all Muslim institutions were so put off by the letter. Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think tank, challenged his co-religionists to consider how necessary it is for the Muslim community to be actively engaged in denouncing extremism.

Whatever one might think of the efforts of Secretary Pickles and Lord Ahmad, at least they have started a meaningful debate within the Muslim community itself about its relationship to and role in fighting extremism.

Such a debate is also necessary in America. It is not just European Muslims who are answering the call of jihad and traveling to the Middle East to become members of radical groups. In Minneapolis, the Somali Muslim community has faced the same problem.

Extremism is not just a Muslim problem or a non-Muslim problem; it is everyone’s problem. Despite cultural differences and religious sensitivities, it is necessary for Muslims and non-Muslims to join together. This problem will not be solved in the absence of the participation of the Muslim community.

If Obama had the capacity for leadership on this issue, he would have found the fortitude to send out a similar letter. Such a communication is not an insult to our Muslim neighbors but an opportunity for them to join all people of good will in denouncing the perversion of their religion.

As French Muslims paraded against the violence committed at Charlie Hebdo, the camera’s lens was cast elsewhere. Muslims need to seize opportunities to have their voices heard and their images changed. Obama should embrace the example the British set to help this occur.

Miller is an emeritus professor, University of Cincinnati, a former counterterrorism consultant to the National Institute of Justice, and a Senior Fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.