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Understanding Islam

The Dec. 2 issue of the Monitor carried several pieces on Islamic Revivalism or Islamic Fundamentalism. Unfortunately, their merits were outweighed by their narrow focus on one aspect of revivalism -- violent confrontation. Thus the emphasis was on ``political instability,'' ``radicals,'' ``extremists,'' and ``violence.'' The article ``Islamic renewal troubles Southeast Asian leaders'' was particularly disturbing. It referred to isolated incidents of political violence in Malaysia and Indonesia in an attention-getting but misleading manner. There was little attempt to provide a context within which these events can be properly understood. Little is said about the nature of Islamic revivalism in Southeast Asia -- a broad-based movement that is complex and consists of many groups -- the majority of which are neither radica l nor violent. Indeed the former leader of one such influential group is currently a Malaysian Cabinet minister. Even less is said about the nature of Indonesia's Suharto government and its attempt to control, as well as suppress, the role of Islam in public life.

Would the Monitor report on Catholic liberation theology and its movements in Latin America or the role of religion in South African opposition movements with stories that simply focus on violent confrontation? Such reporting would not do justice.

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Unfortunately, our continued ignorance of the Muslim world, our recent experience of threats against American interests by terrorist groups, and the lack of a significant Muslim presence or lobby too often prevent a balanced perspective in media and government perceptions of events in the Islamic world. John Esposito, Professor Worcester, Mass. College of the Holy Cross

The only way the USSR will agree to withdrawal from Afghanistan is if the present (communist) government is assured of continued power [``Seeking solutions to Afghanistan,'' Dec. 13]. If that is not achieved, the USSR will maintain troops and fight ``to the last Afghan.'' The US denounces communism and even supports covert military actions against such governments. At the same time it profits from trade with the USSR and other similar entities, e.g., China. To carry on this two-faced attitude at the expense of the Afghans is immoral and unethical. Treffen Deutch Redwood City, Calif.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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