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Responses to the murder of Paul M. Johnson:

The concept of collective responsibility

News items rarely mentioned in the media

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Sponsored link.

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About hate Emails, and the concept of collective responsibility:

Engineer Paul M. Johnson, an employee of Lockheed Martin, was kidnapped and beheaded by Al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia on 2004-JUN-18.

During the first two days after the murder of Paul Johnson in cold blood by militant, radical, extremist, and Fundamentalist Muslims, this web site received over a dozen unsolicited E-mails expressing hatred towards Muslims. Those originating these E-mails spotted one of our  essays on Islam, and apparently incorrectly assumed that we are a Muslim site. We certainly would have received more responses, except that a Google search for "Islam" places us at the bottom of the first page.

The hatred in most of the E-mails was not directed at the handful of fanatics who murdered Johnson, but to all Muslims everywhere. In our opinion, the writers were following the same fallacy as did the murderers -- the concept of collective responsibility.

bulletThe terrorists consider all Americans equally responsible for injustices in the world. Thus, they felt free to pick an American victim at random, hold him or her responsible, and kill them in cold blood. Any one would do.
bulletThe originators of Emails consider all Muslims equally responsible for the murder Thus all Muslims are equally responsibile for the execution, because they happen to share the same religion as the perpetrators.

Answering these Emails collectively was too difficult. So we prepared a form letter. It suggested that, by the same logic, we should hold all Christians responsible for the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina which was perpetrated during the 1990s by some Serbian Orthodox Christians. We doubt that our responses had much effect.

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Responses to the atrocity:

We received one letter from a visitor to our site who had always assumed that Al Qaeda were "an aberration" among Muslims. But the visitor noted that: "I have yet to see any Muslim priest or spiritual leader of consequence speaking out and condemning these actions in the strong terms that are demanded." A good point.

A Google search for the string "Paul Johnson beheading" revealed dozens of pages of quotes reflecting the opinion of western leaders:

bulletPresident George W Bush said: "The murder of Paul shows the evil nature of the enemy we face. These are barbaric people. There's no justification whatsoever for his murder. And yet they killed him in cold blood. And it should remind us that we must pursue these people and bring them to justice before they hurt other Americans. See, they're trying to intimidate America. They're trying to shake our will. They're trying to get us to retreat from the world. America will not retreat. America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs. May God bless Paul Johnson."
bulletSecretary of State Colin Powell described Johnson as an innocent person who "was just trying to help people and trying to do his job. [His murder] will cause us and, I'm quite confident, it will cause our Saudi colleagues to redouble our efforts to go after terrorists wherever they are trying to hide."

Also reported by many media were comments by other political leaders:

bulletGerman Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the beheading: "...a barbaric act that is in no way justified."
bulletBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "This shows the nature of the people we are fighting day in, day out, around the world."
bulletFrench President Jacques Chirac said he was "horrified" by the slaying of Johnson. He denounced the act as inhuman and shameful.
bulletUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "these kinds of brutal acts do not help anybody....My sympathies go to his family and loved ones, and I hope the perpetrators would eventually be brought to justice because we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior in today's world."

However, there was considerable response from other Muslim sources that was underreported in the media:

bulletThe Washington DC-based group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued an information bulletin on JUN-18, titled: "CAIR Condemns Murder of American in Saudi Arabia" 2 It said:

"The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today condemned the murder of American civilian Paul M. Johnson Jr. in Saudi Arabia who had been held since last week by kidnappers linked to Al-Qaeda."

In its statement, the Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said:

'We condemn this act of senseless violence and repudiate all those who believe such murderous behavior benefits the faith of Islam or the Muslim people. We call for the swift apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators.'

CAIR recently launched an online petition drive, called 'Not in the Name of Islam,' designed to disassociate Islam from the violent acts of a few Muslims. Individuals and organizations representing more than 600,000 Muslims worldwide have already signed the CAIR petition. 3

The 'Not in the Name of Islam' petition states:

'We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him'."

The CAIR web site page that discusses the petition states: "We hope this effort will demonstrate once and for all that Muslims in America and throughout the Islamic world reject violence committed in the name of Islam," said CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad. "People of all faiths must do whatever they can to help end the downward spiral of mutual hostility and hatred that is engulfing our world." 3

bulletA few hours later on JUN-18, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued an information bulletin titled: "MPAC Condemns Murder of Paul M. Johnson Jr. In Saudi Arabia: MPAC condemns in the strongest possible terms the barbaric murder of American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr. in Saudi Arabia today." The bulletin said:

"Such outrageous and despicable behavior can not be justified in the name of Islam, and we continue to categorically reject any assertion by al-Qaida that its terrorism is sanctioned or in anyway supported by Islam or the vast majority of Muslims."

"MPAC thanks various media outlets that have made the distinction between Islam and these barbaric acts of terrorism, and for reporting the outrage of the American Muslim community in response to this terrible event.
" 4


The Washington DC-based group, the Arab American Institute, also issued a bulletin on JUN-18. United Press International quoted it as saying that the execution of Paul Johnson "sickened and horrified us....Our hearts go out to the Johnson family, who have suffered so much. Like so many other Americans who have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, Paul Johnson was doing his best to support his family, working in partnership with Saudis who respected his skill and his contribution to building their country...[He] came to appreciate Saudi Arabia, its people, and the religion of Islam. Those who captured, held, and killed Paul Johnson in this most gruesome manner, are guilty of a horrible crime. They, like the murderers of Nicholas Berg and the bombers and murderers of innocent expatriates working in the Middle East, are guilty of murder, racism, and degrading the religion, culture and history of the Arab people." The Institute expressed the wish that those responsible be located and punished. 5


Arab News describes themselves as "The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily." 6 They reported on JUN-20:

Jordanís King Abdallah told Jordan Radio: "These evil acts are not only aimed against the United States and the West, but also against Islam and humanity. I stand with Johnsonís family in such a difficult situation."


United Arab Emirates' President Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan sent a cable of condolences to President George W. Bush, expressing deep sorrow at Johnsonís death. He stressed the UAEís firm stance against terrorism.


Sheikh Zayed also sent a cable to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for the "great accomplishment achieved by the Saudi security forces" against the terrorist group responsible for Johnson's death.


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh phoned Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah also congratulating the achievements of Saudi security forces.


King Hamad ibn Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain also called Prince Abdullah to denounce the killing of Johnson.


Ahmad Haj Ail of the Syrian Information Ministry called Johnsonís murder "a horrible crime that is alien to Arabs and Muslims." He emphasized the need to "...search for the circumstances that have led to it and what leads to terrorism."


The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) condemned the execution. They issued a news release stating that: "...the act is not in keeping with its religion's practices and teachings. Mr. Johnson was not a warrior but engaged by a contractor for the Saudi Arabian government. We share the grief of the Johnson family, who have suffered so much." 7


Abdul Quayyum, chairperson of the Kentucky chapter of CAIR wrote a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader on JUN-20. It said, in part: "The Quran (4:135) states: 'Oh you who believe, stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Do not follow any passion, lest you not be just. And if you distort or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.'

We hope this effort will demonstrate once and for all that Muslims in America and throughout the Islamic world reject violence committed in the name of Islam. People of all faiths must do whatever they can to help end the downward spiral of mutual hostility and hatred that is engulfing our world.
" 8


The Islamic Society of Toronto, Canada stated that its members: "...strongly condemn the murder of American hostage Paul Johnson in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the hands of terrorists. Johnson's killing is an affront to Islam and to Muslims in Canada and abroad. It is in no way a reflection of Islamic teachings, which advise Muslims to preserve and protect life. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who  commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We offer our sincerest condolences and prayers to Johnson's family at this time of great sorrow and distress. 9


The CAIR newsletter "Islam-Infonet" of 2004-JUN-21 carried a series of excerpts from various newspaper articles and letters in which Muslim groups from East Texas, West Virginia, Chicago, New Jersey, and Bridgeview, IL expressed condemnation of the terrorist act.

We have not been able to find references to either condemnation or approval of the execution by any Muslim religious leader in the Middle East. They probably do exist. However they are probably few in number. It is often a life-threatening act to oppose terrorist acts there.

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  1. "Bush Calls Johnson's Killers Barbaric. Says American's Beheading Was Meant to Shake U.S. Will," Associated Press, 2004-JUN-18, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  2. "CAIR Condemns Murder of American in Saudi Arabia," Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2004-JUN-18, at: http://www.cair-net.org/
  3. "CAIR launches 'Not in the name of Islam' petition drive. Rights group urges Muslims to sign online petition against terrorism ," Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2004-MAY-13, at: http://www.cair-net.org/
  4. Quotation taken from MPAC's mailing list on 2004-JUN-20. The home page of their web site is at: http://www.mpac.org/
  5. "Arab Americans Condemn Saudi Killing," UPI, 2004-JUN-18, at: http://interestalert.com/
  6. "Beheading Evokes Revulsion," Arab News, 2004-JUN-20, at: http://www.arabnews.com/
  7. "Islamic society based in Indiana condemns beheading," Associated Press, 2004-JUN-20.
  8. Abdul Quayyum, "True Muslims reject violence and terror," Letter to the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, 2004-JUN-20, at: http://www.kentucky.com/
  9. Meesum Ashraf, "Islamic Society Condemns Killing," The Toronto Star, 2004-JUN-21.

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUN-29
Latest update: 2004-JUN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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