Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Thank God They Were Caught

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Thank God they were caught. Two men – with extensive criminal backgrounds – were arrested on charges of plotting to attack a military processing center in Seattle, Washington. According to the complaint:

Both men are U.S. citizens and converts to Islam, according to the charges. Abdul-Latif is a felon who spent 2 ½ years in prison on robbery and assault charges. Mujahidh had been living in Los Angeles, but came to Seattle as the plan developed, according to the charges. He has no felony criminal history, although he was named in a civil domestic-violence protective order filed in King County in 2007 by his wife.

The men are charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. officers, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (a grenade) and other firearms-related counts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler ordered them held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. The maximum penalty for the crimes is life in prison; however, the firearms-related counts carry 30-year mandatory minimum sentences.

There are a number of important points that must be made.

First, thank God they were caught. If what is alleged against them is actually true, it would have been a heinous crime, such as that in Fort Hood, Texas. This is not the way to change policy, and in no way does Islam sanction such methods. If you disagree with our nation’s foreign policy, then you work peacefully to change that policy – not kill and maim people. Period.

Second, the men are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While the charges are serious, we must let due process take its course. Third, it is important to point out that the actions of these men are an aberration, the actions of a criminal mind (if what is alleged against them is true). They are not representative of the Muslim community, or Islam, or Muslims in general. As the U.S. Attorney said:

These are the actions of individuals who adhere to a violent and extreme ideology and do not represent and should not reflect on the Muslim community as a whole. We hope there is no backlash here. That would not be fair or what we stand for.

Fourth, and most importantly, the plot was foiled by another Muslim. As reported in the complaint:

The complaint details an escalating plot discovered by police on May 30 after Abdul-Latif approached another man who he believed shared a radical Islamic ideology.

The charges allege that Abdul-Latif had known the man for several years and believed he could help him obtain weapons he wanted to use to attack the U.S. military because of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The man, however, went to Seattle police. The complaint does not identify the informant by name, but describes him as a five-time felon who was paid for his efforts.

True, the informant was not a model citizen. Nevertheless, this shows the fact that – rather than being complicit in terror plots, as Congressman Peter King (R-NY) alleges – the American Muslim community is an active participant in the fight against terror. Many plots, in fact, were foiled by the Muslim community itself.

We love this country, and we are against anyone – Muslim or otherwise – who seeks to harm this country and her people. Thank God these men were caught, and if what is alleged against them is true, may they receive the judgment and justice they deserve.

May God protect our country and protect the Muslim community from barbaric criminals who would do something like this. Amen.

Drive On, My Sisters!

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Perhaps inspired by the “Arab Spring,” women in Saudi Arabia are beginning to challenge the decades-old ban on their getting behind the wheel. According to the Associated Press:

A campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving opened Friday with reports of some female motorists getting behind the wheel amid calls for sustained challenges to the restrictions in the ultraconservative kingdom.

It started after a 32-year-old woman, Manal al-Sharif, who was detained after posting a video of herself driving. She was only released when she reportedly pledged that she would not drive again.

It is about time. It baffles me as to how clerics can justify, based on Islam, that women should not be allowed to drive. They claim that having women driving may spread temptation because women will mix with men. But, this view is completely against the letter and spirit of Islam. There is nothing in Islam that says that women must remain at home and not participate in society at large, out of fear of temptation. If men and women practice Islam properly, there should be no problem at all when they interact in society.

The Prophet Muhammad’s own wife, Khadijah, was a very prominent businesswoman, and after he became Prophet, he did not mandate that Khadijah stay at home. Women were prominent members of society during the time of the Prophet, with some even fighting on the front lines alongside the Prophet (pbuh). His later wife, A’isha, even led an army during the civil war that ensued after the Prophet Muhammad’s death.

This is the reality of Islam and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. This ban on women driving has nothing to do with Islam. The fact that clerics in Saudi Arabia use Islam to justify such a repressive restriction is an aberration. It is high time for our sisters in Saudi Arabia to challenge this ban, based on the principles of Islam itself.

Although I don’t want to see upheaval where people will get hurt, I am in support of more freedom for Saudi women, and all people everywhere. Drive on, my sisters! May God help you in your struggle, your jihad.

Golf and Fatherhood: Like Oil and Water, Sometimes

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I can always tell that Father’s Day is coming when the newspapers become suddenly full of ads for golf products: clubs, shoes, shirts pants. That’s because quite a few dads play golf–including yours truly. I discovered the game only about two years ago. In fact, I found God on a golf course. I also became hooked on the game. I try to play a few links at all the staff outings at the hospital where I work, and I also try to play with friends and family when I can.

If I can watch golf tournaments on television, I do. I also talk golf all the time with friends and colleagues at the hospital. I even took some golf lessons offered by my village park district and found them enormously helpful. Don’t even ask me about the driving range. I try to hit at least one bucket of golf balls there at every opportunity afforded me. In fact, if I come home early and my notice that my wife and children aren’t home, I don’t even pull into the garage. I put my car in reverse and head to the driving range.

I have never felt this way about any sport before, and even though I am an absolutely terrible golfer (I’m usually in the running for “Highest Scorer Award”), I keep coming back for more. More golf, that is. And the more I come back for more golf, the more guilty I feel as a father.

My job is very demanding on my time. I am at the hospital at 8 a.m. every morning at the latest, and sometimes I don’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m. Every other weekend I am on call for our physician’s group, which means that I have to see all of our patients already at the hospital and take any new patients that we are asked to see in consultation. Add to that the committee meetings at the various hospitals at which I am also on staff, medical conferences and the like, I have very little time to spend with my family.

For that reason, the moment I finish all my work, I consider myself to be on “family time.” I feel I should spend every moment when I’m not on the job with my three young daughters and my beautiful wife. In addition, my middle daughter plays baseball, so I try not to miss a game. These moments are very special to me, and I don’t want to be an absent father.

Many Muslims believe that a man’s role is to be the provider and sustainer of the family. That mostly means financial support; a man’s job is to “bring home the beef brisket” (we can’t bring home bacon) for the rest of the family. I also believe that as a Muslim father, I need to be there physically. I need to be a presence in the lives of my wife and children. I also have a duty to raise my children as upright American Muslim citizens, because I don’t believe that’s merely “the woman’s job.” Parenting is a team effort, and, although I am not home as much as my wife, I still have a role to play in the rearing of my children. I believe that Islam demands no less of me.

But I can’t shake the golf bug; it’s in my system. My clubs are in the trunk of my car 24/7, 365 days a year. One day, I took my eldest daughter to the driving range with me. Right after my purchased second bucket of golf balls, my daughter said, “Dad, can we go home now?” I turned to her and grunted, “Soon, honey, soon.” I have even taken my 3-wood and my 7-iron to my middle daughter’s baseball game and have taken some practice swings while her team was practicing. If I could, I would book a permanent tee time every Sunday.

But I can’t. I feel guilty playing golf on family time. On the occasions that I do play golf on Sunday, it is during the wee hours of the morning–at 6 a.m.–when my family is still sleeping. I play only nine instead of eighteen holes because eighteen holes of golf would take too much time away from the people I love. I also try to squeeze my driving range time into my commute home from work instead of after I get home. The only time I allow myself to play a full eighteen holes is at the hospital outings that I consider part of work time (thankfully, my wife feels the same way about it).

In fact, this is probably why I am still a terrible golfer. The game of golf requires a lot of time. A really good golfer needs to be at the practice range every day. He needs to have frequent lessons and to play at least once a week if not every day–after hitting about 200 golf balls at the range. I simply am not willing to sacrifice that much time away from my family in order to become the golfer I really want to be.

But you know, I would never trade my family time for a round of golf. In 2006, my family and I took a trip to Egypt, and I had to come back two weeks earlier than my wife and daughters in order to go back to work (so I could pay for said trip). “Great,” I thought to myself, “I will have all the time in the world to play guiltless golf!” And play several rounds of guiltless golf I did. Yet I was miserable. I missed my family terribly, and I was filled with loneliness during those two weeks. The joy I felt when I saw my wife and kids on the warm Saturday afternoon when they returned was indescribable, and even though I could no longer play as much golf as I could when they were gone, my life felt all the more sweet knowing that my family was with me safe and sound.

Such is the life of a Muslim father who also wants to be a golfer. I am often forced to choose between the two (fatherhood and golf, that is), and almost every time I choose to be a father. I have absolutely no regrets about my choice. Although I admit it–I’ll still be thinking about playing golf.

Collective Blame Never Good

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The radicalization of citizens in our prisons is a real potential threat. Protecting the country against this and other threats is very important. Violent extremism must be stopped wherever it may be. But, to blame it wholly on Islam and single out American Muslims does no one any good.

Yet, that is exactly what Congressman Peter King (R-NY) did during his recent hearing about the radicalization of Muslims in American prisons. To hear Congressman King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, talk about the issue, one would think the problem is rampant in American prisons. The truth, however, is quite different.

George Zornick, writing in the Nation, summarized the hearing well:

The problem, however, is that there is no real problem. Bert Useem, a professor at Purdue University who was the lone panelist not sympathetic to King’s cause, noted that of the 1.6 million people currently incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, there have been only 12 terrorism cases with some evidence that the offender became radicalized in prison. “If prison was a major cause of jihadi radicalization, you’d expect to see more,” he told the committee.
King and his panelists had their own evidence. They didn’t offer any pesky statistics, but rather florid descriptions of terrorists who, while incarcerated, turned violent under the influence of prison Islam — or “prislam,” as it came to be known during the hearing.
But even this anecdotal evidence falls apart under closer inspection. For example, King raised the case of James Cromitie, who will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in planning attacks on an Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY and two synagogues in New York City.
According to King, Cromitie “was radicalized in a New York State prison.” He is “not alone,” King warned. But in fact, the government has made no claim that Cromitie nor any of his co-conspirators hatched their plot in prison, nor that their prison experience contributed to their crimes. Inmates and chaplains at the New York state prison where Cromitie was incarcerated said he did not take part in any of the Islamic prayer meetings.
Moreover, Cromitie’s lawyers have portrayed him as the victim of an altogether different kind of recruitment. They allege that a government informant paid Cromitie $250,000 to plan the terror attacks. When Cromitie expressed reluctance, the informant pressed on, according to court documents. “I told you…I can make $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you?” he said.
King was equally dishonest when he invoked the case of Jose Padilla, who was convicted of trying to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States. King’s version of events, as described in his opening statement, is that Padilla “converted to Islam in a Florida jail,” and that “while on the inside, Padilla met a fellow inmate who led him to a radical mosque.”
In reality, the Broward County Sheriff said at the time there was no record of Padilla requesting to meet with an imam, attending Islamic classes, or requesting a name change while incarcerated there. A family friend told CNN that he converted to Islam after he married a Muslim woman in 1996 and moved to the Middle East.
King failed to prove statistically or even anecdotally that Islamic radicalization in prisons is a serious problem worthy of a high-profile Congressional hearing. And even if King were right, it would be an odd focus solely on that brand of recruitment and not also on the well-documented problem of white supremacist groups who also recruit and radicalize inmates to commit crimes, along with similar efforts by violent street gangs. Several Democrats made this point during the hearing, but were sharply dismissed by Republican colleagues. “The political correctness in this room is astounding,” scolded Rep. Dan Lungren.

Just as with his last hearing about the radicalization of American Muslims, this hearing really did nothing but stoke fear and single out American Muslims. Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), who actually lived in an internment camp during WWII, called out the negative effect of his hearing:

In one fell swoop of his discriminatory brush, King, in his apparent attempt to root out radicalization, marginalizes an entire American minority group, making enemies of them all. To add insult to injury, King has quipped (again, speciously) that America has too many mosques and that extremists run 80 percent of them. We can only hope that Congressman King does not completely undermine all the goodwill established across this country between Muslim Americans and law enforcement officials. You can be certain that few will want to work with King going forward.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the Homeland Security Committee examining “radicalization” in this country, and in our prisons, provided it is a comprehensive review, not a discriminatory one that targets only one subgroup of America. I support the committee examining “violent extremism” in this country, including an examination of militias and the 30,000-plus gun-related deaths occurring each year. I support a committee chair that is keen to keep our homeland secure.
This is not the case with King. These hearings do little to keep our country secure and do plenty to increase prejudice, discrimination and hate. I thought we learned a lesson or two from my internment camp experience in Colorado. I hope I am not proven wrong.

I echo that hope, Mr. Honda.

Now, let me be clear: I am thankful for the Committee’s resolve to keep our country safe. And if there are American Muslims who are plotting terrorist attacks, they need to be found, stopped, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But, these are not reprsentative of the whole. They are a tiny, aberrant minority. And the facts show that there is no problem of radical Islam in American prisons. The incidents are just that: anectodal incidents. Singling out my community, however, like Congressman King did, did not help things at all. It will only hurt the cause of American unity, and that is truly sad, indeed.

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