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“A Task That Cannot Be Avoided”: The Necessary Task Of Integrating Islam Within The West

In what is both a reflection and an amplification of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, Donald Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s xenophobic statement and the popular fears it reflects have to be addressed intelligently and forcefully. We should begin addressing them by admitting that there are unique challenges with integrating Muslims and Islam itself into polities shaped by Western liberalism. But it is a task that has to be done. It cannot be avoided even by the most extreme restrictions on immigration or travel, because Muslims are our already our neighbors. And in an age of decentralized authority and instant digital communication, Islam will remain a way of life available to anyone in the West.

A particularly intense example of America’s Trumpian Islamophobia was captured at a town meeting in Virginia over plans to build a mosque. A man erupted at a Muslim who was speaking, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period.” Others at the meeting applauded the erupting man for saying that he didn’t want Islam’s “death cult” in his town.

That is ignorant and wrong. But if you will, consider a more thoughtful and advanced version of this argument: The Prophet Muhammad was a military leader and conqueror, a militant posture that shapes Islam to this day. The Grand Ayatollah was telling the truth when he said “Islam is politics or it is nothing.” Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against America was totally consistent with the texts and spirit of early Islam. Today’s millions upon millions of non-violent Muslims could reasonably be described as lax Muslims.

It’s easy enough to dismiss that argument as bigoted, too, and to note that it fails to recognize the very real variety within Islam. At the same time, we should recognize that our culture entertains similarly structured arguments against more familiar religions.

People argue that Christianity is inherently sexist. Or that Catholicism’s view of authority makes it resistant to civil law. We see and sometimes nurture the same preening, vandal spirit of the “Draw Muhammad day” when we call a condom-portrait of Pope Benedict art. Some of the right-wing criticisms of Islam or the customs of immigrants from Islamic countries can have a distinctively secularist flavor, for instance, their fear about the spread of female genital mutilation. It’s possible that the discomfort some progressives have with criticizing Islam itself forcefully would disappear if Muslims seemed like a less vulnerable minority than they are. How do we get there?

Some say that today’s anxiety around Muslim immigration is as irrational as previous fears about integrating immigrant Catholics in American life. That’s too glib. While even the highest authorities in Catholicism of the 19th century did occasionally declare itself hostile to liberal society, the truth is that liberalism itself was shaped by its Christian inheritance. Islam’s tensions with the West run much deeper than Catholicism’s tensions with America ever did. Islam differs in important ways from Judaism and Christianity. There is Islam’s emphasis on jurisprudence over theology. And Islam’s form of triumphalism, which has more difficulty reconciling itself to a world in which Islamic ideas are marginal.

But Western Christians or secular people should not presume to tell Muslims that true Islam is violent. It is easy to find quietist strains of Islam that impress with their piety and devotion to the texts that are at the heart of Islam. A number of scholars and Islamic commentators, from Muhammad Abduh to Fazlur Rahman, have preached an Islam that is in creative tension with the West, rather than outright conflict.

Besides, America’s liberal bargain, more than Europe’s, is capacious and could accommodate a variety of expressions of Islam, just as it accommodates a variety of other religions, some of which build communities that strike us as illiberal. The challenges this represents may be truly awkward, but they are nonetheless necessary.

Consider the community of Samtar Hasidic Jews at Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York, which has historically fallen within my own Congressional district. This community of Jews sees huge increases of its population because of its incredible fertility rate and welcome attitude to its own co-religionists. Nearly 90 percent of the community speaks Yiddish at home. Nearly half cannot speak English competently. It is widely reported that religious authorities in Kiryas Joel can swing the vote of the town and with their vote, the divided Congressional district in which it sits. Kiryas Joel’s residents have an awkward and sometimes legally combative relationship with their Monroe neighbors over planning and development.

There in Kiryas Joel is much of what people claim to fear about Islamic integration, a separate, “unmeltable” group, one that keeps to its own language and folkways. And yet Kiryas Joel’s peaceful existence with its neighbors is a testament not only to that community’s genius, but the genius of America as well. There is simply no pressing reason for New York to tear up its very generous legal settlement to assimilate Kiryas Joel on its own terms.

Similarly, there is no inherent reason for America to tear up its legal settlement in response to Islam itself. There may be good reasons to limit immigration from Muslim nations. I believe there are. But they are not substantively very different from reasons to limit immigration from any or all nations.

And finally, if the anti-Muslim chauvinists really cannot handle any of the above arguments, the final argument for finding a way to better integrate Muslims should be to prove the superiority of the West itself. Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have existed within Islamic civilization for over a millennia, not without incident, and not without awkward or painful compromises. If the West is better and stronger than Islamic civilization, it should be able to tolerate religious minorities better than Islamic civilization, too.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Muslims, Western Civilization | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Defines Islam In America?”: Muslims Must Learn To Define Themselves

You may have heard by now about the event over the weekend where more than 1,000 Muslims joined hands and formed a “peace ring” around a synagogue in Oslo, Norway in sub-zero temperatures. Why? Because the Muslims in that city wanted to make it clear they oppose anti-Semitism. As one of the Muslim organizers, Zeeshan Abdullah, explained: “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

So with the Muslims standing side by side with Jews, Norway’s chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional song marking the end of the Sabbath. The head of Norway’s Jewish community organization, Ervin Kohn, added, “It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope… particularly as it’s a grassroots movement of young Muslims.”

This was truly an inspirational event. One that helps define Islam accurately, as opposed to the way ISIS and al Qaeda are striving to define the faith.

This story, happily, did end up going viral. But another story about Muslims this weekend made bigger headlines and top-lined media websites across the country. That was the threat made by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab that it was targeting shopping malls in North America, including the Mall of America in Minneapolis. The Norway event got loads of play in social media, and to some extent the traditional media. But the mall threat was top-of-the-hour news everywhere.

And that is a perfect example to explain who defines Islam in America: The media. The adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” can be updated to “If threatens to cause bleeding, it leads.” So a story about Muslims doing what Islam calls for doesn’t hold a candle to one where Muslims act in violation of the faith is glorified.

We constantly see wall-to-wall coverage of the tiny percent of bad Muslims. Keep in mind that if ISIS is truly 30,000 fighters that means it represents .02 percent of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. We are talking less than a third of 1 percent of Muslims.

Yet our media barely covers the stories about the other 99.98 percent of Muslims. How often have you seen segments in the news about the interfaith work in the United States, such as the efforts of Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali? Or Muslim groups denouncing terrorism, or even stories about the millions of other Muslims simply living their lives?

Here’s another example of the media defining Islam more than the faith does. Last week, The Atlantic ran a front-page story telling readers: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The article’s conclusion was based on interviews with a handful of extremist Muslims, including Anjem Choudary, a person with no following of note and who has been continually denounced by mainstream Muslim leaders.

This would be the equivalent of relying on the Christian pastor in Arizona who in December called for the mass killing of all gays, which he claimed is mandated by the Bible, as revealing what Christianity is truly about.

Still the Atlantic story was extensively covered in media in the framework of being accurate. However, when over 120 Islamic scholars and clerics released a letter in September detailing in specificity how the actions of ISIS—such as beheading aid workers and forcing conversion to Islam—violated the principles of Islam, that received far less media attention.

Same goes for when Muslims are killed by terrorists. In the Charlie Hebdo attack, the police officer we saw shot and killed while lying wounded on the sidewalk was Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim who gave his life defending freedom of expression. While some media outlets covered that angle, it was a minor part of the story. The result is that the two terrorists defined Islam far more than Merabet.

And while our media rightly covered the recent despicable murder of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS, why don’t we see similar coverage of the literally daily slaughtering of Muslims by ISIS? The media’s failure to cover the Muslim men, women, and children killed by ISIS furthers the narrative that this is a war by Islam against the West, as opposed to what it truly is: ISIS versus everyone, Muslims included (and indeed on the front lines), who won’t submit to them.

While we hear other minority groups in the United States also bemoan the media’s obsession with covering their worst examples, the Muslim American community is unique. We are far more dependent upon the media in defining who we are since we are tiny, clocking in at about 1 to 2 percent of our nation’s population. And only 38 percent of Americans, per a Pew poll released last summer, actually know a Muslim.

So what can be done to change the media’s coverage? Well, complaining might have a slight impact, but I doubt it will change much.

But I did learn a valuable lesson this weekend. I tweeted out the article about the Muslims in Oslo, which ultimately made its way to Rush Limbaugh’s younger brother, David. (He’s also conservative.) He then tweeted out the link to the story with the words: “Bravo. Credit where credit is due” and included the link to the story. In turn, others shared the story.

The lesson is that to change media coverage, we, Muslims, need to strategically plan how to attract media coverage in a way that enables us to tell people what we are truly about. To date, we have focused on denouncing terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. But that isn’t working. First, not many people hear it because the media barely covers press events of Muslims condemning terrorism.

But more importantly, simply focusing on telling people what we are not does little to define who we are. Consequently, many of our fellow Americans don’t know what Islam is truly about and have no way of knowing that the terrorists are the exception, not the norm. We must change that.

True, it’s unlikely we can eclipse the coverage of the terrorists given the business model of the media. But perhaps we can at least create a counter narrative that chips away little by little at the inaccurate image created by the terrorists. I know that is a tall order, but it’s better than simply complaining and hoping things will change for the better.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Media, Muslims | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Gingrich’s Intolerant History: A Presidential Bid Built On Divisiveness And Name-Calling

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and latest entrant in the Republican presidential field, has money, experience and name recognition. His introductory videois all serenity and hope, a deceptively calm way for many voters to meet a splenetic politician with a long history of slashing divisiveness and intolerance.

He refers to himself as a historian, but apparently his personal study of history has primarily taught him about the effectiveness of demagogy. Donald Trump, fiddling with birth certificates, is an amateur compared with Mr. Gingrich at sliming the Obama administration — as well as Democrats, Muslims, blacks and gay men and lesbians.

The Democrats who won in 2008, including President Obama, are “left-wing radicals” who lead a “secular socialist machine,” he wrote in his 2010 book, “To Save America.” He accused them of producing “the greatest political corruption ever seen in modern America.” And then the inevitable historical coup de grâce: “The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

The slurs don’t stop there. He compared the Muslims who wanted to open an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan to the German Reich, saying it “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” He is promoting the fringe idea that “jihadis” are intent on imposing Islamic law on every American village and farm.

Last year, he called for a federal law to stop the (nonexistent) onslaught of Sharia on American jurisprudence and accused the left of refusing to acknowledge its “mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” This nuanced grasp of world affairs was reinforced when he said that Mr. Obama displayed “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.”

In his world, advocates for gay rights are imposing a “gay and secular fascism” using violence and harassment, blacks have little entrepreneurial tradition, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court is a “Latina woman racist.” (He kind of took back that last slur.)

Despite all this, not to mention the ethics violation when he was speaker, Mr. Gingrich’s real liability among the conservative and fundamentalist groups that dominate the Republican primaries is his personal history of infidelity that led to two sordid divorces. (Much of which took place while he was denouncing President Bill Clinton for moral transgressions.) That may explain his endless calls to restore Judeo-Christian values.

It is sometimes difficult to know what some Republican candidates stand for, as they pander to the far right without alienating the center. It is not difficult to know what Newt Gingrich stands for, and to find it repellent.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, May 12, 2011

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, Conservatives, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bin Laden Was Not A “Muslim Leader”

The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.

However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.

That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”

In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.

Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.

As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.

The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.

By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Egypt, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terrorist Or Martyr?: Not Releasing bin Laden Death Photo Is Smart

It was inevitable, with the emergence and escalation of the “birther” campaign, that we would experience the same bizarre skepticism when it comes to Osama bin Laden. If there are a group of conspiracy theorists who insist on seeing proof of U.S. birth for President Obama, is it any surprise that there would be a concurrent call for proof of death for bin Laden?

President Obama has decided not to release a photo of the dead bin Laden. True, it would perhaps appease those who don’t really believe that the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, under Obama’s direction, completed the task of killing the hated bin Laden. But releasing a photo or video could also rally terrorist forces around the world, buttressing any movement to turn bin Laden into a martyr.

We’ve become unfortunately accustomed to a YouTube, reality TV, cell phone photo approach to living–a world where privacy and dignity are sacrificed for hyper-transparency and more commonly, pure voyeurism. But images matter, and sending provocative images or videos around the world can have a destructive effect. The Internet posting of a video showing the burning of a Koran in Florida is one such example, giving amplified attention to a local pastor whose narrow-mindedness and ignorance does not deserve to be promoted.

What would be the purpose of releasing a photo? Would it really reassure Americans that bin Laden is really dead? Or would it just provoke a new wave of conspiracy theories about doctored photos and lies? There are people, remarkably, who still don’t believe Obama was born in Hawaii, despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. Why would a picture of a dead bin Laden be any more effective? At best, it would give some satisfaction to those of us who want to see the face of hate bloodied and lifeless. At worst, it will incite would-be terrorists around the world.

And at its heart, the demand for pictures of a deceased bin Laden are not much different from the demands for further proof of Obama’s domestic birth. In both cases, we are dealing with people who simply cannot believe that a mixed-race man became president, and further, will refuse to believe he could have accomplished something so great. The Obama haters will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what is shown them. Releasing photos won’t change their minds.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | 911, Birthers, Islam, Journalists, Middle East, Muslims, National Security, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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