Terrorists Twist Islam for Selfish Ends
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2004 Osama bin Laden and other terrorists are using Islam as a means to usurp power for themselves, an Egyptian anti-terror specialist noted here July 26.
"These people have a political goal they want to achieve, and they are just misusing religion and misinterpreting (Islam) to do it," an Egyptian Army major said during a break from attending anti-terrorism briefings at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
The major was taking part in a field trip to Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., with about 60 other international students in a five-week Program on Terrorism and Security Studies course sponsored by the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany.
The center's mission, according to its Web site, is "to create a more stable security environment by advancing democratic institutions and relationships, especially in the field of defense; promoting active, peaceful security cooperation; and enhancing enduring partnerships among the nations of North America, Europe and Eurasia." The center opened in June 1993.
After attending classes in Germany, the students traveled to the United States for three days of anti-terrorism briefings provided by the State, Homeland Security and Defense departments, the FBI, and other government agencies, explained course director Nick Pratt. The class, he noted, is slated to go back to Germany for graduation July 30.
The major, whose name isn't given for security reasons, believes bin Laden's influence has waned since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, with the al Qaeda leader now boxed in somewhere near the Afghan-Pakistani border. "I think bin Laden's days are over," he noted, however adding that Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi's power is "growing."
The major said both U.S. and Middle Eastern television networks and newspapers may not be producing balanced coverage of the war on global terrorism, noting the media's tendency to sensationalize in order to attract audiences. "What bleeds, it leads," he pointed out.
The major reiterated that the type of Islam professed by bin Laden and Zarqawi "is not true," and asked Americans not to "judge a whole religion" by the actions of ruthless terrorists. "That's not what Islam is," he insisted, "and that's not what Muslims believe."
The major had high marks for the PTSS course, noting students from around the world are exchanging their opinions about what terrorism is and how to combat it. "It's really nice to know how other people think about the problem and how they attack it," he pointed out, adding he's also gathering a list of contacts for the future.
Another PTSS student, Lauri Lugna, a government civilian security policy adviser from Estonia, also had kudos for the course. "It's a great course," he said, noting the curriculum covers the definition of terrorism, how it occurs, how it is financed, and more.
Lugna applauded the course's global approach in addressing the current terrorism threat. Yet, he added, it's also important to look ahead for other challenges. "What are going to be our troubles in 2014, in addition to terrorism?" Lugna asked.
The Estonian said he "learned a lot" from the course and would take that knowledge back home with him. "It gives me new perspectives to the counterterrorism fight," Lugna explained, "and to the terrorism phenomena."
Pratt, a retired Marine colonel, and another Marshall Center employee, Mike Schmitt, originated the idea of establishing the PTSS course after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This PTSS class, the first, includes European-based counterterrorism experts like Lugna, Pratt pointed out, as well as specialists from the Arab world, like the Egyptian major, and students from Peru and South Africa.
"The gentleman from Peru has been involved in counterterrorism and teaching it for over a decade," Pratt explained, while the South African has specialized in anti-terrorism "all of his career."
The PTSS course, Pratt said, provides its students with an understanding of the origins and goals of today's global terrorism, while providing an introduction to anti-terror specialists from other countries.
The students, he continued, also learn about international terrorist organizations that want "to get a hold of weapons of mass destruction" and have the ability to mount global attacks. "The class has come to an appreciation that this is a very, very dangerous adversary," Pratt pointed out.
Like the Egyptian major, Pratt believes that Islam "has been hijacked by a very, very small minority of people" who "are militant, fundamentalist, radical Muslims."
One key to confronting this global terrorist threat is getting moderate Muslim leaders and teachers "to go after the problem," Pratt noted.
"And that's happening now," he concluded.