Rupert Murdoch stirred up a Twitter dustup by suggesting Muslims be "held responsible" for "their growing jihadist cancer."
Drew Angerer/Pool/Getty Images
Rupert Murdoch stirred up a Twitter dustup by suggesting Muslims be "held responsible" for "their growing jihadist cancer."

Story highlights

Frida Ghitis: Rupert Murdoch tweet: Muslims must be accountable for jihadist 'cancer'

J.K. Rowling, Aziz Ansari tweet: Are all Christians accountable for evil done by some?

Ghitis: Both extremes wrong. All Muslims not guilty, but must play role in fighting jihadists

Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.” Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

Rupert Murdoch threw a grenade. J.K. Rowling caught it in midair and lobbed it back. The explosion – in the battlefield of social media – injured the truth.

Murdoch, the conservative media magnate, never afraid to ruffle liberal feathers, tweeted that Muslims “must be held responsible” for “their growing jihadist cancer.”

Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, deployed her rhetorical mastery. “I was born Christian,” she tweeted back. “If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” At last count, more than 20,000 people had re-tweeted her.

The comedian Aziz Ansari shot back, “Rups can we get a step by step guide? How can my 60 year old parents in NC help destroy terrorist groups? Plz advise.”

There are few subjects as sensitive – as easy to get wrong – as the role of Islam and the responsibility of the world’s Muslims in the terrorist barbarism plaguing much of the world today.

Murdoch is wrong. Muslims, all Muslims, are not responsible for what happened. But that’s not the end of it. Rowlings, Ansari and the tens of thousands who favorite their tweets are right in saying this is not the fault of all Muslims, nor is it exclusively up to them, all of them, to take on the battle. But the tweets leave out a fundamental part of the problem.

Muslims have a crucial role to play in fighting extremist acts committed in the name of their religion and, indeed, many of them are doing it. From social media to the highest spheres of power, there are Muslims demanding reform, demanding reaffirmation of individual freedoms and rejecting violence.

Ansari’s parents need not drop everything they’re doing and head for the fight against ISIS. But individuals, in this era of high connectivity, can argue for their beliefs. Ansari, for one, with a large following and gift for communicating his views, has the ability to advance the conversation away from both extremes.

There are people to persuade on all sides, not just that Murdoch is wrong, but also that the ideology of the terrorists is wrong.

A Pew poll of 14,244 people in 14 countries with large Muslim populations revealed a few months ago, significant minorities of Muslims believe suicide bombings are “justified to defend Islam from its enemies.” In Bangladesh 47% said suicide bombings are acceptable, in Gaza 62% agreed, in Egypt 24% did. Those are alarming numbers, a sign that murderous extremism is indeed a problem, one that Muslims should view with urgency, not least because the vast majority of suicide bombings, of terrorism of all kinds, kills Muslims.

Thousands of Muslims, including Europeans, have joined the viciously violent ISIS which, by some accounts, enjoys the support of a rather large minority of French and European Muslims.

That is excellent news for Europe’s extreme right-wing politicians, who have built their careers on racism and religious prejudice – most recently against Muslims and immigrants from Muslim countries – and have found a populist sweet spot in the carnage.

After the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent siege and murder of Jewish shoppers at a Paris Kosher market, the stage is set for anti-immigrant parties to make gains in Europe.

And the barbarism ranges well beyond: Hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name applies the Islamic term “Haram” – what is forbidden – to Boko, a word used to described a Western education. Even as the media was focused on Paris, Boko Haram slaughtered thousands more in Nigeria, including many children, wiping out entire villages.

These attacks should bring together a coalition spanning the political spectrum, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, conservatives and liberals, the overwhelming majorities of whom favor the defense of personal freedoms. And Muslims should stand in the vanguard of that coalition, with their arms thrown across the shoulders of Jews, signifying rejection of the intolerance that has made itself at home among far too many of their coreligionists.

There is a war of ideas raging in the Muslim world. The prize is the soul of modern Islam. It’s not enough to say this is not my fault. Terrorists say they fight on behalf of Muslims. Muslims cannot be mere bystanders.

But there is a well-meaning segment of the population, particularly among the left, that stubbornly tries to deny the religious context of the terrorist attacks and the need for it to be addressed within Muslim communities.

By doing this, the left and the center push people to the right – that is, people who agree with Murdoch’s views. This is because many voters know the denial is dishonest or blind. Those who close their eyes to the religiously-inspired motivation of the killers, and of their religion-inspired goals, are just as mistaken.

Are all Muslims responsible? Are they guilty? No, of course not. Do they have a responsibility to help fight this growing threat? Yes, absolutely yes.

In some respects, it is reminiscent of the role of the German people in the aftermath of World War II. Today’s Germans are not guilty of what their parents and grandparents did. But they have a special role in preventing a resurgence of those odious and dangerous views.

It’s not Islamophobic to acknowledge that most of the terrorism we see today is being perpetrated by people who say they want Sharia, Islamic law, that they want a Muslim caliphate, that they reject modernity in favor of life in the way of the Prophet Mohammed’s day.

We have seen ISIS – the self-styled caliphate or “Islamic State” – kidnapping, raping and enslaving women; beheading hostages, Europeans and Americans – but mostly Muslims. Islamist terrorists, organizations committed to imposing their views of what their religion commands, are killing without mercy in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Pakistan, India, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

Only the perpetrators, their supporters and their enablers are guilty. Don’t let anyone use the tragedy to score political points or to denigrate Muslims as a whole.

But don’t deny the truth: There is a dangerous problem within Islam that must be addressed by Muslims with the support of the rest of the world. Both extremes in this discussion have it wrong, and by perpetuating their distortions they harm efforts to protect tolerance from the intolerant; to make the world safe for Muslims and non-Muslims – for everyone, including those lobbing grenades backs and forth in social media.

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