"The long-simmering internal debate over political violence in Islamic cultures is swelling," writes NYT reporter Neil MacFarquhar. Secular intellectuals of the Islamic world are "breaking previous taboos by suggesting that the problem lies in the way Islam is being interpreted."
Secular writers and teachers, as well as blue-collar Muslims, are "dismayed by the ever more bloody image of Islam around the world. They are determined to find a way to wrestle the faith back from extremists. Basically the liberals seek to dilute what they criticize as the clerical monopoly on disseminating interpretations of the sacred texts."
MacFarquhar's piece is essentially an illustration of the Gilles Kepel thesis of Jihad Backfire. According to that argument, jihadis set out with the goals of challenging the West and overthrowing the corrupt leadership of Muslim lands, but their actions have set back their cause and alienated millions of fellow Muslims.
Thus, according to MacFarquhar, the muted reaction in the Arab world to the U.S.-led assault on Fallujah, because of its association with Zarqawi, and thus this "swelling" debate over Koranic interpretation.
In a sense, the story is also a quick take of the emerging Arab liberal voice in the post-Arabist world that is taking shape. The journalist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, for example, is becoming a go-to guy for a liberal Arab quote. There are also the liberal scholars dissenting from Al Azhar. But the most interesting quote in the story comes from one Ibrahim Said, interviewed while delivering pastry in Cairo. His is the only blue-collar voice in the piece, and it makes the debate at the story's center a bit less rarified.
"Resistance was never like this—to kidnap someone and decapitate him in front of everyone," Said told MacFarquhar, then quoted from the Koran. "'Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.' That means nothing will change unless we change ourselves first."