Muslims must engage fellow Americans on terror

January 25, 2007|By Kamran Memon

CHICAGO -- The nuclear bomb that exploded during a recent episode of Fox's 24 did not raise new questions about whether Islam and Muslims pose a threat to America. Instead, the blast just reinforced and amplified the questions that many Americans have been asking since 9/11.

Polls show that many Americans believe Islam encourages violence, and they suspect that Islam and Muslims pose a threat to this country. They hear al-Qaida calling on Muslims to kill Americans. They hear about verses in the Quran relating to subjects such as violence and loyalty, and they have real questions about whether Muslims are commanded to be violent and about whether Muslims can be loyal to a secular state like America. Unfortunately, these fears have led to discrimination and hate crimes against innocent American Muslims.

American Muslims should go beyond condemnations of terrorism and slogans such as "Islam means peace." They need to address the real, post-9/11 questions that many Americans are asking. For example, Muslims should regularly hold public forums where articulate Muslim scholars can provide detailed analysis of all the verses at issue and answer every question that is asked.

Of course, there have been some isolated and sporadic efforts along these lines. Various Muslim groups have published materials and held occasional limited discussions about certain verses from the Quran. But these groups have not made the dissemination of such information a priority, so the vast majority of Americans, Muslims as well as people of other faiths, have not seen these materials or heard these discussions.

In addition to answering America's questions, American Muslims must actively engage in the national discussion about how to make America safer. Since 9/11, American Muslims have focused more on civil liberties than on security, because law enforcement efforts have been targeted at Muslims in America.

It's important to protect the civil liberties of Muslims who pose no threat to America. However, American Muslims must remember that future terrorist attacks could kill innocent Americans of all faiths (including Muslims) and lead to more hate crimes, discrimination and governmental scrutiny directed at American Muslims. If American Muslims have concerns about particular security measures -- such as ethnic and religious profiling, the monitoring of mosques and Muslim charities, and informers who pretend to encourage violence -- they should propose better alternatives to keep the United States safe without infringing unnecessarily on civil liberties.

On the other hand, American Muslims who believe no such security measures are needed -- because they believe there is no real terrorist threat -- should make that argument to the American public. It's important for Americans to understand that these Muslims are not opposed to efforts to make the U.S. safe.

Answering America's questions and actively working to make America safer are the best ways for American Muslims to reduce anti-Muslim hostility and to make sure that fictional depictions of nuclear explosions on 24 and elsewhere don't lead to discrimination and hate crimes in the real world.

Kamran Memon, a civil rights attorney who grew up in Bethesda, is the founder of Muslims for a Safe America. His e-mail is kamran@muslimsforasafeamerica.org.

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