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.
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.