A former jihadist stopped by my office last week with a solution to the threat from radical Islam: more baseball and more sex.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is not being flip. The physician and author believes the repressed passions of young Muslims, particularly Sunnis, make them susceptible to the promise of a heaven filled with pleasures of the flesh, and eager to blow up themselves and others to get there.
"I was 8 years old when I first entered this powerful brainwashing system," says Hamid, who grew up in affluence as the son of a Cairo doctor. "At first, my head was filled with images of a paradise of chocolates and lollypops. Later, it was of women."
Though his father was an atheist, Hamid lusted for the nirvana he was taught to envision in a secular Egyptian school.
"We used to pray and imagine these beautiful women in tents," he says. "At the same time, our sexual repression was overwhelming. We were taught that even masturbation would deny us our reward."
Eventually, Hamid joined the Jamaha Islameia, a jihadist organization, where he fell under the tutelage of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No. 2, and was schooled in the art of terror.
He left when he was asked to go to Afghanistan. "I could not kill," Hamid says. "I could not put the theory into practice."
So he became a jihad dropout, fled to the West for safety and began examining the roots of a movement that aims to subjugate the entire non-Muslim world.
Islamic Reformation needed
Hamid passionately refutes theories that Islamist terror is rooted in politics, oppression, ignorance or poverty. He grew up wealthy, educated and free, and yet he fell under the jihadist spell.
This is about religion, he says, and even though the West is squeamish about categorizing the war on terror as a religious struggle, it has to be fought that way.
Hamid scoffs at the Bush administration's strategy of combatting Islamism with democracy.
"The only solution is a reformation of Islam," he says. "We should be encouraging and supporting religious reformers."
Hamid believes a reformation will lead to the more enlightened practice of Islam, as it did with the Christian and Jewish reformations. The essential ingredients of reform, he says, are rejection of the principles that apostates must be killed; women can be subjugated and enslaved; Jews are subhuman, and Islam can be spread through violence.
The challenge, he says, is that no Islamic Martin Luther has emerged. "Show me where Muslims are speaking out against these beliefs," he says.
"Only a small number of Muslims are jihadists, but many, many more sympathize with their goals. They are passive terrorists."
Hamid's book is "The Roots of Jihad." He remains a practicing Muslim, but wants his religion to become more free, more tolerant, more open to secular pleasures -- like baseball -- and more accepting of criticism.
The West, he says, could help with the latter.
"You are so willing to criticize your own religions," he says. "You must do the same for Islam."
In other words, instead of walking on eggshells for fear of roiling the wasps' nest, both East and West would be better served by a vigorous critique of Islam.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The Detroit News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (313) 222-2064. Watch Nolan Finley at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on "Am I Right?" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56