Israeli terrorism expert Yigal Carmon’s remarks about the religious roots of terrorism met opposition from some in a standing room-only crowd in the Marvin Center Wednesday night.
“What happened on September 11 is a mystery to many,” he said to a crowd of about 100 people, which included Jewish and Muslim students. “What happened on September 11 and happens in the Middle East and elsewhere is not kamikaze or suicide or madness. It is an act of extreme faith.”
The Student Alliance for Israel, a subgroup of the Jewish Student Association, sponsored Carmon, founder of the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute. The lecture kicked of Israel Week, which lasts until Tuesday on campus.
Muslim students in the audience attacked Carmon’s stance on Islamic reform after the lecture, which called for moderate members of the faith to stop the teaching of martyrdom and jihad.
Carmon explained that it is often difficult for Americans to understand actions motivated by strong faith in religion.
“In America there is a separation,” he said. “Religion is what people do in church on Sunday, and the rest of the week is real life.”
Carmon stressed that Islam is not the only religion prone to violent extremism. He drew parallels to the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century and forced conversions in Latin America in the 16th Century as examples of historical Christian violence.
Carmon said Baruch Goldstein is an example of Jewish extremism. In 1994, Goldstein opened fire in a Hebron mosque, killing dozens of praying Muslims.
Modern Christians and Jews have taken responsibility for past acts of violence while confronting extremism, Carmon said, but Islam has not. He said Muslims should acknowledge that attacks like the Sept. 11 plane crashes were committed in the name of Islam.
Carmon pointed to Islamic reform attempts in the ’50s in Egypt and Sudan as ways that Islam has attempted to move away from extremism.
“Religions are very difficult to reform,” he said. “Christianity changes a few millimeters in a century. Judaism changed at a slow and painful pace. Islam has not changed.”
Although violent extremists represent a minority of Muslims, members of Islam need to address the problem, Carmon said.
“No one should take Islam of the seventh century as one and only legitimate interpretation,” he said.
Carmon said some modern groups that follow seventh century Islamic doctrine teach an extremist philosophy advocating jihad against “infidels,” or non-Muslims.
He then cited new Palestinian Authority fifth-grade textbooks as examples of how jihad and martyrdom are currently being taught as admirable, idealistic concepts to Palestinian children.
An audience question-and-answer period that followed the lecture brought out different viewpoints.
Namir Hourani, Georgetown University student who was born in Lebanon and grew up in the United Arab Emirates, said he disagreed with Carmon’s depiction of Arab students being taught about martyrdom and jihad.
“I was there; I never was taught anything (violent),” Hourani said.
Freshman Mike Haar said he came to the lecture to learn about the history of Islam.
“(Carmon) is a fair source,” Haar said. “He’s opinionated but a lot less ruled by emotions than some people.”
Haar also said he was surprised to hear opposition from the audience, describing some of the questions as “hostile.”
“The educational aspect was damaged by people not listening,” Haar said. “The audience should have opened up a little.”
Freshman Michael Schachtman said he came to “gather information.”
“People on both sides often do not hear viewpoints from the other side,” Schachtman said.
He described the audience questions as “passionate” and said he felt the event was very educational.
“Any time people express their views, it is good for education,” he said.