Muslims not yet accepted as genuine Americans

July 13, 1999|By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- It was only a coincidence last week that on the day Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel, an American Muslim was kicked off a congressional counterterrorism commission. But you would have to be pretty dim not to notice that in some matters some Americans are more equal than others.

Mrs. Clinton was only doing her duty. If you run for office in New York, city or state, you say Jerusalem is the capital. "Eternal and indivisible," she said, which means Arabs need not apply for any shared rule of the city sacred to three religions. The U.S. government, run by Mrs. Clinton's husband, says Tel Aviv is the capital, the theory being that one side of divided cities cannot be declared capitals unilaterally. But what do the folks who run the government know?

Some call it pandering; we call it politics. Jewish New Yorkers are at the core of the Democratic Party in the state, and this is a relatively minor way to acknowledge that demographic and electoral fact. It was even more important for Mrs. Clinton, now on her pre-victory lap of the state, to do that right away because she has been known to say she favors a Palestinian state. That's a no-no in New York, but when she said it years ago, who knew?

Meanwhile, the Muslim whose Americanism offended or whose Islam frightened Rep. Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, is named Salam Al-Marayati. He is the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, and Jewish groups immediately denounced him as condoning Muslim terrorism against Israel.

As the world turns, ironies abound. Mrs. Clinton's curtsy to New York politics was rejected by some Jewish leaders as not good enough. They want her to pledge to push Jerusalem legislation in the Senate. In Mr. Al-Marayati's case, he is a member of the Los Angeles Human Rights Commission and his wife, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, is a member of the official U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Another irony is that there are now more Muslims than Jews in the United States. Granted, that statistic is misleading because not many of them are politically powerful yet, and they are not concentrated in a few places, as Jews are in New York City. America's Muslim population is young now and many of the adults are not seeking U.S. citizenship because property laws in the countries they left prohibit land-owning by foreigners.

If Mr. Al-Marayati, whose family came here from Iraq when he was 4 years old, is not acceptable to serve his country, what Muslim is? The troubling thing about his case is not that some Jewish groups or spokesmen or would-be leaders might object to him. You would expect that. But the opposition was immediate, knee-jerk, from great organizations, including the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.

Hasn't anyone considered that Mr. Al-Marayati may be the one being defamed? To be more specific, the example of Mr. Al-Marayati's anti-Americanism is that a magazine published by his organization said this almost three years ago: "Because the Palestinian people have no avenues to redress their grievances, some of them have been pushed beyond the margins of society and have adopted violent reactions to express their despair and suffering."

Maybe the guy, who is certainly well spoken of in Los Angeles, where I teach, is a secret terrorist. That's why we have an FBI.

We're headed for trouble here at home. It's time to grow up, America. Look around.

I keep waiting for the day some Muslim-Americans start to demand prayer rugs and arrows pointing to Mecca in the corners of public school classrooms. Consistency being a virtue, I'm sure the Christian Coalition will push for that. And I'm sure a future president will make the rounds apologizing for official and unofficial bias against Muslims, as Mrs. Clinton's husband is now doing on the lands of Native Americans.

Until then, the best advice for Americans with Islamic names is to forget about public service and practice their jump shots.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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