Don't indict community for one act
By SHAMSHAD AHMAD
First published in print: Saturday, May 29, 2010
Muslims make up one-fifth of the world's population. About 58 sovereign countries ---- all in the Third World, where conditions and standards are very different than in the West ---- have a Muslim majority. Until about half a century ago, most of these countries were ruled by European colonial powers. Muslim immigrants in Europe have a strong connection with this history; they are often looked down upon as the "subjects" of former colonies, and in turn, many carry resentment toward the countries in which they live.
American Muslims have a more positive attitude. The Muslim presence in America goes back to the early period of slavery, when many slaves captured in Africa or bought in trade were Muslims. A noticeable Muslim presence in America did not become apparent until the 1960s, when Congress liberalized immigration laws and the number of Muslims entering the country increased greatly. Many decided not to go back to their home countries after completing their education or training, and professionals decided to immigrate here. The number of immigrants, children, and local converts swelled to more than 6 million by the 21st century.
Since Muslim immigrants have, in general, enjoyed fair treatment on almost every level of American society, there is no antagonistic relationship between Muslims and their new country of residence. Some elements of American foreign policy -- such as support for oppressive rule and dictatorships in Muslim countries, unconditional support for Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territories and, more recently, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- cause discontent in the Muslim community. Yet for the most part, American Muslims don't feel that such views take them outside the tapestry of freedom of thought and opinion. Overall, Muslims appreciate the opportunities they have found here, and strive day and night to realize the American dream.
But 9/11 changed America, changed the world and changed the American Muslim. In the wake of 9/11, the eyes of suspicion turned to all Muslims in the U.S., and their institutions and mosques became the focus of scrutiny. 9/11 succeeded primarily because of an intelligence failure. In response, the government allocated tremendous money, and manpower to law enforcement. Intelligence agencies felt extra pressure to produce visible results. Based on suspicion only, thousands of Muslims across the nation were detained and questioned. Their property seized. Many innocent people fell victim to this aggressive policing, and many families, communities, mosques and Islamic institutions suffered. Entrapment and pre-emptive prosecution became commonplace. This, coupled with new legislation that permitted government surveillance of its own citizens without judicial oversight and the unprecedented use of classified evidence at trial that defendants were not permitted to see, further empowered the authorities.
American Muslims hoped that nine years after 9/11, the media hype and government policing would take a more rational turn. We hoped that terror-related events would be treated as criminal acts rather than as wholesale indictments of the entire Muslim community and of Islam. Unfortunately, the sensationalism of such events remains the same; the purposeful obscuring of facts remains the same; and the general assumption of guilt before innocence remains, unfailingly, the same. A government attitude that upholds just, fair, and honest legal conduct still seems to be off the table.
American Muslims are weary of being equated with terrorists. Terrorism is not only against the central beliefs of our peaceful religion; it is against basic common sense for those of us who wish to live and flourish in this country. We exclude any discussion of violence in our mosques where it is inappropriate. For this reason, extremists often shun Muslim community centers and mosques as being too apologetic, and instead favor a radical path that can only be found online, on the websites of those who are Islamically illiterate but dangerously persuasive. Yet we and our mosques are still under surveillance. We feel depressed, confused and frightened, with the government's unjust policing on one side and a handful of criminals carrying Muslim names on the other.
American Muslims want to live here with pride. We pray that we will be accepted as citizens of America, without our patriotism being weighed against our religion.
> Shamshad Ahmad is president of Masjid As-Salam mosque in Albany and a physics professor at the University at Albany. He is the author of "Rounded Up -- Artificial Terrorists and Muslim Entrapment After 9/11." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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