In his contribution to a web forum organized by the SSRC immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Robert W. Hefner wrote:
Directed as they were at the United States, the attacks of September 11 prompted a blizzard of speculation in the media on the nature and scale of the “Islamic” threat. The boldly-lettered title on the cover of the October 15 edition of Newsweek captured this concern vividly: “Why They Hate Us: The Roots of Islamic Rage and What We Can Do About It.” In the aftermath of a tragedy as great as the September 11 attacks, America-centric reflections of this sort are understandable and necessary. Nonetheless, it would be a shame if the focus on threats to our own freedom led us to overlook the fact that the violence was directed, not merely against the United States, but against moderate and democratic-minded Muslims around the world. The attack was but the latest chapter in a long struggle between moderate Muslims and Islamists hardliners for the hearts and minds of Muslim believers.
There is no clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The really decisive battle is taking place within Muslim civilization, where ultraconservatives compete against moderates and democrats for the soul of the Muslim public. The globalization so widespread in our age will never bring about a world-wide homogenization of culture and identity. What the process has done is make the interests we share with the great majority of Muslims all the clearer. One hopes that we Americans will not forget this fact as we move beyond the events of September 11. The lesson to keep in mind is that our suffering and outrage were shared by millions of Muslims. They look to us now to remember just how deeply we share political challenges and a common humanity.
Read Hefner’s full essay here.