Tony Jones: You have actually said in the past that Osama bin Laden is a very great man for some of his actions.
Sheik Mohammed Omran: This is as I said. When you look at the man from some part of his life, yes, he is. From another part, well, again, what action we are talking about? I dispute any evil action linked to bin Laden. Again, I don't believe that even September 11 - from the beginning, I don't believe that it has [been] done by any Muslim at all, or any other activities.
Lateline ABC TV, Monday 11th July, 2005
Already, I can hear the chorus from wider Australia: why are Muslim clerics in such denial? In fact, I've been hearing it since a radio producer woke me early Tuesday morning with a phone call seeking my reaction to Sheik Mohammed Omran's comments. My phone has not stopped ringing since.
Such concerns are justified. Lateline host Tony Jones pointed out to Omran that there was an "overwhelming body of evidence ... proving that Osama bin Laden was responsible for September 11." Omran's response? Given that such terrorism harms Muslims and besmirches Islam, any Muslim could not possibly commit it. In other words, Omran refuses to believe Muslims could commit such acts of terrorism. This is not merely a rejection of the evidence brought forth and tested in US courts or bin Laden's own apparent triumphant admission; it proceeds from quixotic assumption.
Of course, it is true we do not know who executed the atrocities in London last week. It is possible they were executed by some unspecified non-Muslim organisation. And while every group claiming responsibility is ostensibly a Muslim group, it remains true that we must resist jumping to easy conclusions without more definitive evidence.
But it is also true that Muslim groups have done similar things in the past and continue blowing up fellow Muslims in Iraq. Whoever is responsible for the London blasts, there are clearly Muslims who are capable of this kind of criminality.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, high-profile and influential American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf said: "Many Muslims seem to be in deep denial about what has happened." He was referring to the mentality that led to fabricated Jewish conspiracy theories: what Cambridge Islamic scholar Abdal-Hakim Murad calls "a kind of Islamic McCarthyism". And this, despite the warnings of the late grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Baz, well before September 11, 2001, that Muslims should guard themselves against bin Laden's ideology.
Bin Baz (who would hardly be given the meaningless label of moderate by contemporary political taxonomists) condemned bin Laden's actions unequivocally, thundering: "My advice to ... bin Laden and all those who traverse [his] way is to leave alone this disastrous path, and to fear Allah and to beware of his vengeance and his anger, and to return to guidance and to repent to Allah for what has preceded from them."
An emotive confusion drives denial and this is demonstrated by the inconsistency of the reasoning that accompanies it. Too often, those who deny that Muslims are in any way responsible for terrorism also blame a belligerent Western foreign policy towards Muslim nations for the terrorist backlash. Such Orwellian doublethink destroys the necessary credibility to inspire honest engagement with the very real slaughter visited upon innocent Muslims caught in the crossfire of US policy.
To be sure, with the passing of time and the tragic familiarity terrorism has inherited since September 11, such beliefs have increasingly shifted to the margins of the Western Muslim conversation. The overwhelming majority are sick of finding excuses for terrorists and have confronted within themselves the fact that elements of barbaric criminality exist within some Muslim populations.
Before, they were defensive. Now they are just angry and tired of being held hostage by the acts of other Muslims. They recognise there is a liberation in following the examples of clerics such as bin Baz in identifying, and openly reclaiming their tradition, from the criminal element.
Some people suspect that Omran, because of his apparent support of bin Laden, supports terrorism. On the evidence of his Lateline comments, however, this is unfair. Omran's comments proceed on the basis that bin Laden has never committed a terrorist act. That may be a difficult assumption to sustain on the evidence, but it cannot be construed as supporting the actions of a terrorist.
Australians are free to find Omran's comments delusional but, without more evidence, they cannot find them sinister.