Islam's holiest month, Ramadan, has just ended with the celebration of Eid ul Fitr around the globe. The President's Ramadan 2003 message, "America is a land of many faiths and we honor, and welcome and value the Muslim faith" contrasts powerfully with the "Attack your enemy with ferocity this Ramadan" statement by the Saddam fedayeen in Iraq. Between those two statements is a choice to be made by Arab- and Muslim-Americans, a choice already muddled horribly by their spokesmen, but still within reach should this community lift the veil of collective silence through collective action. Silence in the war on terror is something Americans of Arab and Muslim descent cannot afford anymore.
While it is only in the last few weeks that Abdul Rahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council (AMC) has been arrested on federal terror charges, his dubious preferences have been public for long. In tune with his known sentiments, he had thundered at an October 28, 2000 anti-Israel rally in Washington that ‘I wish they added I am a supporter of Hizbollah.’ Advocacy groups similar to AMC have had a history of dubious pronouncements as well:
· Nihad Awad, executive director of Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), "I am in support of the Hamas Movement." (Barry University, March 22 1994)
· Wagdy Ghuneim, keynote speaker, "No to the Jews, descendants of the apes.’ (Brooklyn College, May 24, 1998, conference of the American Muslim Alliance)
· Maher Hathout, senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), "We [the U.S.] are the terrorists…" (Friday sermon, August 21, 1998, on American strikes at al-Qaeda bases)
A vast majority of America’s three million Muslims, some of them my relatives and friends, do not subscribe to that nonsense. They passionately love the country that has given them the chance to reach their dreams and they grieve for their friends and family lost in terrorist attacks. They hope their children grow up in a safe America, and they resent the stigma attached to their faith as a result of Islamist terror. Nonetheless, it does not help matters when millions of good, ordinary Muslims delegate their voices, by default, to self-proclaimed advocacy groups whose recent past suggests questionable loyalties. These organizations
· cannot condemn terror unequivocally (AMC director Erfan Vickers on Fox News on June 19, 2002 refused to condemn Hamas, Hizballah or even al-Qaeda)
· will not divulge their foreign sources of funding (Alamoudi was arrested for secretly channeling Libyan donations to American Muslim charities)
· dare not stand with America unconditionally (in the aftermath of 9/11, CAIR’s website advised Muslims not to voluntarily talk to the FBI).
It is unfortunate for every decent person concerned that the American Muslim community is defined through the likes of CAIR and MPAC. The power to change that unflattering image, however, is in the hands of Muslim America. By making the civic decision to actively join the front ranks in the American struggle against senseless terror, American Muslims make America’s fight undoubtedly their very own. Anyone, like myself, who has traveled widely in the Islamic world and America will notice the paradoxical difference in terms of Muslim religious freedoms. Unlike Pakistan or Iran or Saudi Arabia where smaller Muslim sects are ruthlessly suppressed, the United States provides a haven for all varieties of Islam to be practiced freely. Defending this freedom is not just George Bush’s fight, it is rightly American Muslims’ fight as well.
The first order of business in this fight ought to be to reclaim Islam’s transcendent beauty by reclaiming America’s mosques, cultural centers, charities, and civic organizations from self-styled leaders who lack moral clarity on the defining issue of terrorism. Apart from creating a solid moral foundation for an essentially moral struggle, such an internal cleansing of Islamic institutions will send a much-needed message of reassurance to the rest of America.
Secondly, America’s Muslims can use their strong transnational links to help build global social resistance against the petty merchants of religious bigotry. The prestige and social and familial networks that many successful immigrants have in their former homelands can be harnessed to turn up the heat on individuals and institutions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East that condone terror.
Thirdly, perhaps most importantly in the short term, Muslim America can and must become the first line of defense in the uprooting of those in the United States whose anti-American hatred is shielded behind a community’s religious faith and traditional hospitality. In their homes and hearts, amidst their councils and convocations, ordinary Muslims can make a huge dent in the ideological foundations of terror by simply saying, "If you don’t like America, you are not welcome amongst us."
Finally, as befitting any comprehensive struggle, America’s Muslims can and must become full partners in her direct confrontation with those who engage in terrorism and those who support or finance it. Apart from active service with the military and intelligence communities, Muslims here can play other key support roles. Be it as eyes and ears of law enforcement in ethnic neighborhoods, as cultural advisers to FBI field offices, or as public cheerleaders of terror-fighting agencies, American Muslims can contribute vitally to the nation’s pledge to uproot terrorism.
Putting their hearts, souls, minds and resources on the line in this great American undertaking, this country’s Muslims can forever put to rest the nagging doubts about their loyalties. A true jihad against the al-Qaeda types could be the winning shot in the arm that the war on terror needs. Not to mention that in purely theological terms, defending America may well be something that is incumbent upon every Muslim in the United States.
Just ask U.S. Army PFC Lana Sbitani, a Muslim American Military Policewoman in Hawaii who follows the timeless words of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Patriotism is an unbreakable part of your faith.’
‘I find no conflict between my religion and the idea that I must defend my country’, says Sbitani.
America’s Muslims have an active choice between the ideals of Lana Sbitani or the ideologues of CAIR and AMC, a choice where silence passivity is construed as an endorsement of the latter. This vital choice will decide the place of Islam at America’s diverse family table.