Ever since Sept. 11, there have been several consistent themes in the mainstream media's coverage of Islam. There have also been some interesting holes, as GetReligion keeps pointing out, and there have been some interesting contradictions. One of the major themes has been that Islam is a religion of peace.
Another major theme is that there is no "one Islam," because this faith has no central authority system that says what is right and what is wrong.
Thus, it is wrong to say that Wahabi evangelists in the mountains of Pakistan are preaching the same sermons as peaceful Sufi mystics in Kashmir. Not all Muslims believe precisely the same things, when it comes flying airplanes into buildings and, as shown in new headlines from Egypt, blowing up Israeli tourists and Coptic Christians (hours after Pascha, no less).
I thought about these themes yesterday when reading Richard Serrano's latest Los Angeles Times piece on Zacarias Moussaoui, entitled "Life of a Terrorist: Seeking, and Finding, His Jihad."
You see, "jihad" is one of those words, isn't it? It has different meanings to different believers and that is what this piece is all about, as a young man in London is recruited into a radical form of Islam that is not -- let's face it, reporters -- a religion of peace.
Had Moussaoui not surrendered to the spell of the radicals, his life might have been different. After all, he had broken away from his impoverished childhood in France, as well as his violent, alcoholic father. He had made it to London. He was smart; he earned a master's degree in business.
But that was the road not taken. At the Brixton mosque, he began wearing military camouflage and black boots. He criticized fellow Muslims as too soft. "Where's the jihad?" he kept asking. "Where's the jihad?"
In other words, Moussaoui was trying to find out which Islam is the real Islam, because there was conflict over key doctrines.
Note the contradiction. It is hard to say, like a White House mantra, that "Islam is a religion of peace" and then turn around and say that there are many different Islams. So which Islam is a religion of peace? If journalists (and White House talking heads) then say, "The real Islam is a religion of peace," isn't that a rather simplistic statement? Imperialistic, even?
Who, in global Islam, gave President George W. Bush, the editorial board of the New York Times or even the Islamic studies faculty at a place like Georgetown University the right to decide which is the real Islam and which is the false one? What if the people who taught Moussaoui have their own doctrines, their own traditions, their own schools and their own definitions of words like "peace"? What if they think they get to define which Islam is the true Islam?