Then last month came the arrests of 17 Canadian Muslims who allegedly were plotting to commit acts of terror and even behead the Prime Minister of Canada. Another blight for Muslims all over. And now we have learned of another terrorist plot that has been foiled: Seven men are accused of planning to blow up the Sears Tower in my home town of Chicago and an FBI building in Miami. Initially everyone said it was Muslims until the facts showed otherwise.
That is what is so frustrating. Almost every time a terrorist plot is exposed, the assumption is that Muslims are responsible. Unfortunately there is sense in this--almost every major act of terror in recent years have been attributed to some extremist Muslim (if you can call them Muslim) group. And even when a terrorist plot is the work of a group who's not Muslim (like the Miami seven, who were followers of a group called Seas of David), you can bet the finger is first pointed at Muslims.
But this is not about why radical Islamists continue to give the rest of the world’s Muslim population a very bad name. This is about the claims by some in our society that Muslims are "not doing enough" to combat the extremists among them. It is so frustrating. I have lost count of how many times people have asked why Muslims haven't condemned the terror committed in Islam’s name. Some have even told me that this apparent "silence" by the majority of Muslims either means that they are cowed by the extremists or are accepting of "Islamic terror."
What Muslims Are Doing
This is patently false. Muslims are essential to the global fight against terror, and there is quite a bit that we are contributing to this noble fight. First of all, many individual Muslims and Islamic organizations have condemned acts of terror over and over again. Just because it is not reported by the media does not mean it didn’t happened. In the wake of the Toronto arrests, Canadian Muslims publicly expressed gratitude that the plot was foiled and even called for a summit on extremism among Muslim youth, a move which I laud greatly.
In 2004 the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched the “Not In The Name of Islam" campaign. This is a petition drive designed to distance Islam and Muslims from the violent actions of fringe extremists. It was started in the wake of the horrific beheading of American Nicholas Berg in Iraq. CAIR has also launched a series of public service announcements of the same name.
Now of course there are many pundits who angrily say that Muslims are just talk. And what good is just saying that these acts of terror are bad and that the terrorists are not Muslims? But I know that Muslims are doing much more than just issuing press releases and signing petitions.
Also in 2004, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) officially launched the National Anti-Terrorism Campaign, a three-pronged plan to teach mosques and Muslims how to prevent and report hate speech and hate crimes. More than 600 communities across the country have joined this campaign since its inception. (In fact MPAC's communcation director Edina Lekovic reported that the 2002 arrests of an alleged al-Qaeda cell at a mosque in Buffalo, NY came as a result of the mosque's participation in an early version of this program.)
MPAC, in fact, has worked closely with Federal law enforcement officials for quite some time on such programs, and their close collaboration led to the formation of CREST--Community Relations Executive Seminar Training--by the FBI. This is a pilot program designed to build trust and create a bond with Muslim, Sikh and other South Asian communities across the United States so they will feel comfortable to approach the FBI with any terrorism suspicions.
One of the key factors that attracts some Muslims to an extremist form of Islam is isolation and alienation from the surrounding world and society. Fostering more understanding--as opposed to more distrust and suspicion--between Muslims and the West will go a long way toward defeating the extremist ideology and heading off an unnecessary and mutually destructive "clash of civilizations."
And the work is not just occurring in North America. Professor Akbar Ahmed met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and discussed the country's madrassas, or religious seminaries. Although most madrassas are not "jihad factories," as many Westerners are wont to believe, there still is a robust effort in Pakistan to modernize these schools, as was mentioned by Professor Ahmed in his travelogues. In addition, an article in the most recent issue of the Muslim Public Affairs Journal highlights the vigorous debate among Pakistani religious scholars over the scope and nature of this reform.
And let's not forget the ongoing efforts of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid-- whose Wahid Institute is working to promote a moderate and tolerant Islamic viewpoint--and Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens (who, among other things, promotes financial transparency in his Islamic charitable organizations as an example openness), in helping promote peace and tolerance around the world.
So there is quite a bit that Muslims are doing to help combat terrorism. But of course all these efforts are not as newsworthy as Muslims torching a Danish embassy, or a Muslim cleric issuing a fatwa against the Danish cartoonists who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or the heinous acts of the barbarian "holy warriors" in Iraq, or even the radical speeches coming out of some mosques here in the U.S.
What's worse, those who wish to smear Islam take these examples and project them over the entire Muslim community of 1.2 billion people in order to claim that Islam itself is a religion of violence and terror. The truth is, there are many more people who take inspiration from Islam to fight against terror than there are Muslims who use Islam to justify terror.
The Fight Never Ends
But with the world as it is now, we can always do more. We can never become complacent. Every single Muslim community in North America should have a good working relationship with local and federal law enforcement. Such relationships are essential to the fight against terrorists--of whatever persuasion--who seek to do harm to innocent people. Muslims, in fact, are commanded by their faith to do so.
There are many in the Muslim community who are concerned that collaborating with law enforcement is aiding the very agencies trampling upon their civil rights. MPAC has an excellent answer to this: "Actually, it has been MPAC's experience that working with local FBI field offices helps protect our civil liberties. In working with these offices (or local law enforcement in general) MPAC has found the office becomes educated about the community and Islam and ultimately moderates their viewpoints. Engagement of local law enforcement and local FBI field offices is absolutely critical in protecting our civil liberties. It counters the basic human weakness to make assumptions about a person/community which they have never been in contact with before."
Moreover, our mosques must never allow hateful and violent rhetoric to be disseminated from the pulpit. This is not a free speech issue. Just as freedom of speech does not allow one to maliciously yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, there is a big difference between saying "The Iraq war was a mistake," and "We must kill all the infidels!" The latter has no place in any house of worship. I know that this sort of hate speech is rare in American mosques, but Muslims still should be vigilant against it.
American Muslims are in a unique position. They can play a pivotal role in promoting justice across the world, as America is the only true superpower left on the world stage. Consequently, the American Muslim community should continue to expand its already excellent engagement in the political process to help bring about that elusive peace and justice. Injustice is the life-blood of violent extremism. Eliminate injustice, and the cancer of terrorism will melt away.
Terrorism is a threat to the whole world's population, not just Americans. And many Muslims all over are actively engaged in the fight against global terror. But many is not enough. We should all do our part in whatever small--or big--way we can. Muslims are not looking for the limelight in this fight. Muslims should be doing this, and they don't need to be patted on the back for what they are doing.
But when we keep getting accused of being complacent, then I think it is only fair to acknowledge our contributions to the war on terror. And I pray the Lord helps and strengthens all who work against the scourge of violence against the innocent, wherever it may be across our world.