Fault lines showing in Muslim world

Posted: Monday, November 15, 2004

The two events in settings as different as tidy and prosperous Holland and a tropical rubber plantation in southern Thailand bear similarities suggesting new flash points in the global struggle against radical Islam.

A note impaled on Van Gogh's body by the alleged Muslim killer threatened further attacks against Dutch politicians in the name of Islam. The body of the 60-year-old Buddhist worker in Thailand also was found last week with a message: ''More will be killed'' in revenge for the deaths of 85 Muslim protesters last month in a region with a mounting Islamic insurgency.

''The fault lines are growing,'' said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronx-ville, N.Y. ''It's not just between the Muslims and non-Muslims. It's also within Islam itself. It's a battle between moderate Muslims and extremist forces.''

The most recent hot spots zigzag around the atlas from Liberia in West Africa to the Netherlands to Southeast Asia. They join a growing roster of places already feeling the strains of religious conflict and terrorism along the edges of the Islamic world regions as diverse as Chechnya, Nigeria, Spain, Central Asia and the Philippines. Even China is worried about separatist sentiment in its vast and mostly Muslim western province of Xinjiang.

''The militant voices on the street are gaining credibility in more and more places,'' said Gerges. ''That's a worrisome trend.''

Part of the reason, many Islamic experts say, can be traced to global communications that forge common points of reference such as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's defiance or the guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. But even more powerful rallying cries come from firebrand imams and opinion-shapers: that Islam is under threat and it's the duty of followers to take a stand.

In Amsterdam, a moderate imam, Abdel Eillah, feared the scales were tipping in a troubling direction among Muslim immigrants in Europe who fail to adapt.

''When I hear young men praise violence in the name of Islam, I fear for my faith and I fear for the world. We must fight it before it's too late,'' he said after the Nov. 2 slaying of Van Gogh, whose work included harsh commentary against traditional Islam. ''I didn't like what Van Gogh said, but he should not pay with blood.''

In West Africa, a rare outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence in Liberia last month stunned authorities and drew comparisons to nearby Nigeria, where more than 10,000 have been killed in sectarian clashes since 1999.

At least 16 people were killed and more than 200 others injured in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, where five churches and two mosques were set ablaze. U.N. troops stepped in to restore order.

''We are seeing more tears in the fabric between Muslims and non-Muslims,'' said Mohammad Khalil, who researches Islam and modern society at the Middle East Institute in Washington. ''In too many minds, violence has replaced dialogue; calls for separation have replaced efforts at coexistence. These are not good signs.''

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