Jan. 13, 2007, 7:03PM
STOP THE SCAPEGOATING
Where are all moderate Muslims?
An answer to what has become a ubiquitous question
By JILL CARROLL
I have given hundreds of talks and lectures throughout the Houston area in the past few years on issues of world religion and religion in public life. The question that always comes in the Q&A no matter what the topic, no matter if the audience is liberal or conservative, is "Where are all the moderate Muslims?"
The ubiquity of this question is deeply problematic. Not because the desire for so-called "moderate Muslims" is bad. (It isn't.) Not because the people who ask it are bad or bigoted. (They usually aren't.) The question is problematic because of what it assumes: that Islam is naturally predisposed to extremist interpretation; that most of the up to 10 million Muslims in the United States are not moderate, but radical; that those who claim to be moderate aren't because they don't stand up and denounce the extremists. None of these assumptions is supported by evidence. In fact, evidence exists to the contrary.
Muslim condemnations of terror abound, as even the most rudimentary Google search indicates. Plug in "Muslims condemn 9/11" and take an hour or so to just get started. Or read the Fiqh Council of North America's fatwa against terrorism declared in July 2005 and endorsed by 120 organizations and groups in the United States and Canada. Or go to the Council on American-Islamic Relations Web site to view the 30-second TV public service announcements they created and ran in English, Arabic and Urdu. "Why haven't we seen these things before?" you ask. You might direct that question to your local news outlets. And, given our access to the Internet, maybe we all could take more responsibility for being accurately informed citizens.
We have not had so much as a backpack bomb in this country since 9/11, and it's not because our security measures are so foolproof. Our largely terror-free experience comes because we have a free, prosperous society governed by a stable rule of law that offers tremendous opportunities for life and happiness, including religious expression. Muslims, like so many other religious, ethnic and racial groups in America, are integrated into all areas of life in all parts of the country, all sorts of neighborhoods, in all sorts of professions. They go to work, pay their taxes, raise their kids and participate in faith communities like most other citizens and residents of this country. They peacefully co-exist with others in this demographically pluralistic nation, just like almost everyone else does. They are our neighbors, co-workers, clients, friends and in-laws.
Yet, we act like they've come straight from the burning streets of Baghdad or the caves of Tora Bora with plans to blow us up. We see imams praying in the airport and have them taken off the plane. We see women wearing a hijab get on a bus or subway, and we feel ourselves tense up. Or, as happened recently when I attended a large interfaith dinner here in Houston and the well-known president of a respected Muslim organization got up to bless the food in Arabic, someone at a nearby table said, "We'd better hope he's not calling for jihad!" And in recent days we have seen the ugly episode in Katy with the pig races to protest the construction of a mosque in the area. While concerns about flooding, traffic congestion and building permits are legitimate, the Web site set up to protest the mosque is a virtual tutorial in Islamophobia.
Such things border on the hysterical. According to a recent USA Today article, more than a third of Americans think U.S. Muslims sympathize with al-Qaida and should have to carry special ID cards. This is just a hop, skip and jump from what we did to our Japanese residents and citizens after Pearl Harbor — we rounded them up indiscriminately and sent them to internment camps, a shameful and often hidden episode in our modern history.
We have to stop this. We in Houston and in America are bigger and stronger than to give in to such outlandish demon-izing and scapegoating. We must resist this irrational fear mongering with regard to our Muslim residents and citizens, as we must with all groups who for whatever reason become targets of hatred and bigotry. We cannot allow ourselves to be pawns in the manipulative hands of the most sensation-alist media outlets in our cul-ture. We must stand up for each other in the spirit of decency, tolerance and mutual respect. The very fabric and cohesion of our society is at stake.
Where are all the moderate Muslims? All around us.
Carroll is associate director of the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice University.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html