Immediately after the terrorist attacks, websites sponsored by major Muslim organizations in the West expressed strong condemnation and sympathy for the victims, as could be seen on http://www.icna.com (Islamic Circle of North America), http://www.mcb.org.uk (Muslim Council of Britain), http://www.islam.de (Central Council of Muslims in Germany) or http://www.uoif-online.org (Union of Islamic Organizations of France).
The online condolence registry opened by http://www.islam.de filled with hundreds of names. This was similar to non Muslim websites, except for the fact that it was coupled with an obvious fear that the attacks would give rise to unpleasant consequences for innocent Muslims residing in Western countries. Muslim websites also asked their readers to report “incidents of harassment, threats or violence.”
The attitude was a defensive one: Islam should not once again become associated with terrorism. Muslims were called to remain calm and patient in case of verbal attacks. As part of that defensive attitude, the Islamic Circle of North America, http://www.icna.com, emphasized that there were Muslims (including one member of their team) among the victims too.
But not only moderate Muslim voices are found on the Internet. According to Gary Bunt, author of “Virtually Islamic” (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), “an individual’s first experience of Islam in cyberspace is as likely to be a so-called ‘schismatic group’ or a ‘radical’ organization,” as a mainstream orthodox one There are Muslim websites highly critical of the West (including websites based in Western countries) and openly calling for jihad.
Some even proudly supported Osama Bin Laden, such as http://www.supportersofshariah.org, mouthpiece of a group based in London, or http://www.azzam.com, a site “for Jihad and Mujahideen”. Expectedly, those websites became the focus of attention from media and other parties. After a few days, several of them disappeared from the Web (temporarily or permanently). Pro-Bin Laden sites still operational in early October, such as http://www.al-haqq.org, seemed to be based in non-Western countries.
Several cases of hacking were reported, actually targeting not only “radical” websites, but moderate ones as well. A hacker managed to get the entire mailing list (about 500 names) of a German website supporting jihad in the Caucasus, and posted it in several newsgroups. Among the first subscribers, the name of one of the suspected hijackers was found. Although some radical Muslim websites did not hide their satisfaction to see America struck, none seemed ready to approve unreservedly what had been done (if only from the viewpoint of negative political consequences) or to accept that Osama Bin Laden could be the man behind the attack.
The website http://www.azzam.com (named after Bin Laden’s late mentor) published a picture of the damaged Pentagon under the title: “The Monumental Struggle of Good Versus Evil”, but it was immediately followed with a quotation attributed to Bin Laden: “The terrorist act is the action of some American group. I have nothing to do with it. The United States had invited Allah’s wrath because it is trying to control the entire world by force.”
The tone of a number of comments on these sites were similar: the USA reaped what they had sowed, but Muslims did not do it. Chechnya’s Shamil Basayev expressed condolences and claimed that Russia was probably behind the attack (http://www.dagestan.org). More widespread, however, were conspiracy theories claiming that Israel was behind the attacks and that “4,000 Israeli employees in WTC [were] absent on the day of the attack” (http://www.manartv.com).
The issues also became mixed with a debate which has been raging for months among Muslim clerics, regarding the permissibility of suicide attacks (called “martyrdom operations” by those who support them, while other ones consider them as suicides, which lead straight to hellfire). Some Muslim scholars who had spoken approvingly of the “martyrs” in the context of the fight against Zionism in Palestine, condemned the attacks in the United States.
“There is a big difference; in Palestine it is a question of self-defense, being the only way Palestinians can drive the Israelis into a security impasse,” commented the Lebanese Sayeed Fadlullah in an interview with the Al-Liwaa daily (http://www.bayynat.org.lb).
— By Jean-François Mayer, a lecturer in religion at the University of Fribourg who has researched and written on religious violence.