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Why Extreme Islamic Fundamentalism Is on the Rise


KOPPEL: You and I were chatting on the phone, and you said how struck you were by how popular Osama bin Laden is.

DR. AHMED: Yes. Before we began the journey, we used to discuss the role models and the important figures in the Muslim world. And my role model, of course, is Mr. Jinnah. And I grew up with this great image of a modern Muslim state. That was to be Jinnah's vision. And we discovered on the journey that that model is in trouble. It is in serious trouble. The vision of a modern, liberal, humanist tradition is in trouble. Alternative models like mysticism -  in trouble. Orthodox, literalist Islam -  emerging. Why? Because there's a relationship between these three. There's a struggle within Islam. And this struggle has been going on long before 9/11. Nine-eleven complicates things. And what it does is every time the United States, through the media, attacks - or is seen to be attacking - Islam, the mystic who talks of love and compassion is marginalized. Think of it. I have been talking, say, of Rumi. Rumi's verse, - I go to the synagogue. I go to the church. I go to the mosque. I see the same altar, and I see the same spirit. This is Rumi. And for the Christians amongst you, read his Jesus poems. They're as passionate as any Christian could write in terms of Jesus and his love for Jesus. This is Rumi - a Muslim. And yet, when I quote Rumi, Muslims will tell me, "You're quoting Rumi. It's totally irrelevant. We're being killed here. We're being killed there. We're being attacked. The prophet is being attacked. We need warriors. We need someone to stand up and fight back." So, the mystic is further marginalized. The modernist is seen as a kind of sellout, Uncle Tom, whatever you like to call him. But he's marginalized, because it's failed. The modernist vision has failed into corrupt democracies - incompetent bureaucracies. That's the second model. The third model remaining - which we thought, when I was growing up as a young man, would be marginal and remain marginal - is now center stage.

Excerpt from a program with Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University from an interview on June 22, 2006.