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Protecting Religious Freedom

Al-Qaida terrorists and others have chosen to hide behind a distorted version of Islam. The U.S. rejects such identification of terrorism with religion. President George W. Bush has said the teachings of Islam "are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah." Mr. Bush has also said that "terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists."

The challenge for democratic societies is to continue to uphold the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion while stopping terrorism. Consider the situation in Central Asia and Russia's North Caucasus region where governments face violent extremists. Unfortunately, authorities in these regions have found it difficult to establish a balance between security and respect for human rights.

Uzbekistan has long repressed its Muslim citizens under the pretext of fighting terrorism, jailing thousands for their peaceful religious observance. Such repressive actions have only led to greater political instability at the cost of lives and freedoms. Counterterrorism activities are both necessary and legitimate. But religious freedom is an important antidote to terrorism.

Government control of religious organizations rarely works to limit the spread of extremist ideology under the guise of religion. Repressive policies against religious communities can foster dissent and force groups underground, removing them from public scrutiny and religious debates.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.