In the pain-filled atmosphere after Sept. 11, I was one of the Muslims who took a public and critical stand regarding the way both my co-religionists and our government were handling the crisis. As a result, I started to receive death threats from Muslim and non-Muslim fanatics alike. The stress my family endured became unbearable when police noticed that my home was being "staked out" by "unknown and suspicious parties."

A friend of mine, an Orthodox rabbi, urged my family and me to stay with him, saying, "My friend, whatever befalls you let it befall me--we are one!"

I have lectured with this rabbi, and we disagree on practically everything related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in his offer of sanctuary, at great personal risk to himself and his family, he represented the best of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. He represented what, in my view, is the true soul of our country, the United States of America. Today, that soul is endangered.

I fear that in the aftermath of Sept. 11 the terrorists will succeed in placing the American tradition of tolerance and sanctuary under siege. The social barrier against intolerance that traditionally acts to muffle religious bigots in our country has been ruptured. In one year, more than 20 hate-filled books, with titles such as "Islamic Invasion," "The Truth About Islam" and "The Enemies Among Us," have been published. Some voices that gained a public platform went as far as urging the U.S. to rid itself of all Muslims through deportation or other means.

One thing fueling this rise in public bigotry is the anger expressed by some Americans about the Muslim reaction to Sept. 11. On this matter, I think that American Muslims should take a hard look at the Muslim organizations that claim to represent them or speak on their behalf.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the leadership of these organizations has failed to establish its credibility and to convince the American public of the outrage felt by most Muslims over the tragedy of Sept. 11. Various individuals and particular organizations have issued isolated condemnations, but to date there has not been something unified and overwhelming. Muslim leadership has failed, and it has blamed everyone but itself for this failure.

American Muslims must demand that either this leadership reform itself or be changed. There are three concrete steps that already should have been taken but would still be healing and powerful.

  • All major Muslim organizations should agree on a unified statement unequivocally condemning terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks in the harshest language possible. All major American Muslim organizations and intellectuals should sign this statement.
  • Muslim organizations should establish a unified task force that provides information and assistance to the federal government with the purpose of preventing further terrorist attacks against the U.S. and apprehending anyone involved in facilitating or carrying out such attacks. The point is that Muslims themselves should dedicate a considerable amount of money and effort to assisting the government in the war against terrorism committed on American land. They should also invest significant funds in independent investigation and inquiries for the purpose of combating terrorism.
  • These organizations should organize a massive march to ground zero in New York to express the unequivocal opposition of American Muslims to the terrorism of Osama bin Laden and his like. As an expression of solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attacks, the marchers should each deposit a flower or card at the site of the murders. We Muslims must send a clear message to terrorists that they do not speak for us and that they are not welcome in our midst. I even wonder why this leadership has failed to undertake such simple steps as printing and distributing bumper stickers saying, "Muslims Against Terrorism!"
  • Most important, whatever we do must be united, compelling and convincing, not because we fear retaliation or harm by bigots or Islam-haters but because this is what Islamic morality teaches us. And because this is our country, and we must be at the forefront of the war against those who wish to terrorize it into abandoning its traditions of tolerance and sanctuary.

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