First, it's been said a million times, but terrorism is a tiny, insignificant portion of the billion Muslims on the planet. Regarding terrorism, the Muslim majority has uniformly spoken out against it. In fact, the Council on American-Islaimic Relations (CAIR) put out a 65-page collection of statements by Muslim scholars and organizations around dealing with this.
But, I think the question of what role "Jihad" and violence has within the accepted texts of Islam is a valid one. The article I've chosen to share was written by Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. (His CV here; he's qualified to talk about this stuff.)
"From Defensive to Offensive Warfare: The Use and Abuse of Jihad in the Muslim World" is an article about how historically, Jihad was always used in defensive terms, but has recently been abused by leaders in the (radical) Muslim community to promote offensive warfare.
I'm sorry in advance; the article is long and takes some academic slogging... but he makes some good points. His ultimately argues that Muslim jurists need to correct the misinterpretation of Islamic law that has been used by terrorists. Here (a few) general points
- "Jihad" is often used as a term referring to national liberation. (We should be careful about applying the label of "Islam" to what is essentially a political movement.)
- In response to Osama Bin Laden's fatwas calling for "Jihad" against the West, Sachedina says "This argument for terrorism as a legitimate means of conduct in war is a clear departure from the classical rulings which regard the ethics of war as important part of jihad."
For some lighter reading, here is another decent article basically saying the same thing: "Terrorism Is at Odds With Islamic Tradition," by Khaled Abou El Fadl (a law professor at UCLA). It's a really great article (originally published in the LA Times), and especially interesting since it was written pre-September 11th.