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Key allies: mainstream Muslims

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists," Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, general manager of the Al Arabiya television station, wrote in a commentary for a pan-Arab newspaper, "but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."

Rashed exaggerated only a bit. Americans know from their painful memories of Oklahoma City, Columbine and the Southern bombing spree attributed to Eric Rudolph that terrorists are not limited to any religion or nationality. But it is true that, in the modern world, adherents of a virulent strain of Islamic extremism have been most systematic in adopting terrorism as a tactic for achieving their political and religious ends.

Rashed was among the many prominent Muslims who reacted with horror to the deaths of hundreds of children in the siege of a Russian school, which apparently was carried out by Islamic extremists advocating Chechen independence. Unfortunately, many Muslim opinion leaders remained mute in the wake of earlier terrorist attacks around the world. Even worse, others strained to find ways to rationalize or even glorify such attacks.

The images of almost incomprehensible inhumanity in Ossetia may have marked a turning point. The cold-blooded mass murder of schoolchildren can have that effect.

The headline on a column in a Saudi newspaper read "Butchers in the Name of Allah." A Palestinian columnist wrote that "there are no mitigating circumstances for the inhuman horror" of the attack.

The broad revulsion to the Ossetia siege throughout the Muslim world may signal a new diplomatic opportunity for the Bush administration, whose words and actions over the past three years have squandered much of the international support that came our way after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

To win the upper hand in the war against terrorism, our government and its allies must find common purpose with mainstream Muslims. Even those Muslims who vehemently disagree with U.S. policy in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and elsewhere _ and most of them do _ recoil from the barbaric tactics of terrorists who claim to act in their name. We need their help in identifying and marginalizing terrorists who hide and plot in their midst. We also need their help in upholding the civilized standards most people cherish, whatever their faith, nationality or political philosophy.

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