Thing I would like to tattoo on Bill Maher’s forehead inre: Islam.

 

That in reply to this.

And if you’d like to see just a little of the endless stream of Muslim condemnation (to which no one seems to listen) of extremist violence, click here.

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A post for 9/11: Muslim American heroes.

In honor of all we lost on that terrible day, a short list of just a few Muslim American heroes. I don’t know the first man’s name, but aside from being a hero, it would seem he’s also a very good friend.

  1. 9/11 first-responder

  2. Mohammad Salman Hamdani, 9/11 first-responder – A 23 year old paramedic, Mohammad Salman Hamdani died trying to save lives at the World Trade Center. After his death, Hamdani’s Muslim faith was seen as reason to suspect him of collaborating with the terrorists — thankfully, the truth of his life and death eventually came out. Rep. Keith Ellison evoked Hamdani’s memory at Peter King’s hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, breaking down in tears as he did so.
  3. Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, US Army – Twenty years old when he was killed by an IED in Iraq, Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s military awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, a bronze star, and a good conduct medal. His unit was scheduled to ship home a month before he was killed, but the 2007 surge extended Khan’s combat tour. His story came to the forefront of America’s discussion of Muslim patriotism when Colin Powell discussed Khan’s sacrifice at some length on Meet the Press in 2008.kareem-rashad-sultan-khan
  4. Rep. Keith Ellison – This country’s first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Ellison (D-MN – see above) is sharp, compassionate, and a dedicated advocate for the civil rights of all Americans. On a personal note, I will forever be grateful to him for being one of the very few members of Congress to ever travel to the Gaza Strip, and for defending the good name of Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the much-maligned but little-read Goldstone Report on Israel’s 2008/09 war in Gaza.
  5. Farhana Khera – President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, Farhana Khera previously served as Counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee. She also worked for six years under Sen. Feingold (D-WI), Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee at the time. Her areas of expertise include racial and religious profiling and American civil liberties, about which she has said: “After the horrific attacks of 9/11, and the realization that the American-Muslim community was bearing the brunt of new, overly broad laws and policies, and some of our fellow Americans feeling perfectly fine abridging our rights, it was incumbent on us as Americans and as Muslims to step forward and fight for the founding values of our country.”
  6. Farouk El-Baz – Today the director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing, Dr. El-Baz served as the Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo Program from 1967-1972, and then went on to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. Perhaps of even greater weight and import, however, Dr. El-Baz had a shuttle named after him in Star Trek: The Next Generation (!):

el-baz-shuttle5And finally a video that I just love, the work of of Muslim-American country singer Kareem Salama and filmmaker Lena Khan. To learn more about the clip (which won the grand prize in the One Nation, Many Voices short film contest in 2008), read this post by my friend Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt.

If you have some names you’d like to add, I’d be very grateful if you did so in the comments. 

السلام عليكمas-salamu alaykum – peace upon you, and on us all.

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If you’re interested in reading some Muslim responses to terrorism (spoiler: they’re against it), click here.

For my thoughts on how we write about terrorists who happen to be Muslim, click here.

And finally, please note that the above is an edited version of a post I first ran in 2011.

Writers need to learn to write differently about terrorists who happen to be Muslim.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/Salat_Salah_%22Muslim_Prayer%22.jpg

How to pray as a Muslim.

The first thing I read on the morning after the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a well-written, well-constructed, and very informative piece about Chechnya, Chechens, and the Tsarnaev brothers written by David Remnick (a hell of a writer) in The New Yorker (a hell of a publication).

Yet in the midst of all this quality, Remnick fell into a particularly pedestrian, non-quality trap: He used simplistic conventional wisdom as shorthand, and in so doing, conflated (whether intentionally or not) two very different things that simply are not conflatable.

Throughout the piece, wherever there is reference to the Tsarnaevs’ religion, there is an unspoken assumption that the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior. For instance:

The Caucasus region is multicultural in the extreme, but the predominant religion in the north is Islam…. In 1991, nationalist rebels fought two horrific wars with the Russian Army for Chechen independence. In the end, the rebel groups were either decimated or came over to the Russian side. But rebellion persists, in Chechnya and in the surrounding regions—Dagestan and Ingushetia—and it is now fundamentalist in character. The slogan is “global jihad.” The tactics are kidnappings, assassinations, bombings.

…Members of the [Tsarnaev] family occasionally attended a mosque on Prospect Street in Cambridge, but there seemed nothing fundamentalist about their outlook.

…[Tamerlan, the older brother,] described himself as “very religious”; he didn’t smoke or drink…. Three years ago, he was arrested for domestic assault and battery. 

“He was a cool guy,” Ashraful Rahman said [of the younger brother, Dzhokhar]. “I never got any bad vibes from him…. Dzhokhar went to the mosque more than I did, but he wasn’t completely devoted.”

The problem here is how much is left unsaid, and it’s very hard to quantify or sketch an absence. Nowhere does Remnick (who is, as I say, a hell of a writer, and I believe an unusually honest and careful one) say anything even remotely like “the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior.”

But when you’re writing in a society which everywhere makes just that assumption; a society in which the faith, Scripture, habits, and even clothing choices of Muslims are frequently treated as signs of a violent pathology, you must be particularly careful not to further a conventional wisdom that is not only wildly inaccurate, but physically dangerous to Muslims. Remnick doesn’t need to write “the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior” — far too many of his readers will make the leap on their own.

There is one sentence in the piece in which Islam is mentioned in a context that does not, somehow, end up in violence. Dzhokhar’s friend Essah Chisholm says this:

“Tamerlan maybe felt like he didn’t belong, and he might have brainwashed Dzhokhar into some radical view that twisted things in the Koran.”

“Some radical view that twisted things in the Koran” – nine short words that open a door to the possibility that in order to descend into pathological violence, a Muslim must, in fact, twist the Qur’an, twist his or her faith, leave actual Islam behind and create something awful and new onto which he or she slaps the word “Islam” — just as the KKK, and Westboro, and Scott Roeder call themselves Christians; just as Yigal Amir, and Baruch Goldstein, and the West Bank’s Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva call themselves Jews.

But that door is small, so small as to be missed entirely. In the very next paragraph we read:

Tamerlan’s YouTube channel features a series of videos in support of fundamentalism and violent jihad… [one] provides a dramatization of the Armageddon prophecy of the Black Banners of Khurasan, an all-powerful Islamic military force that will rise up from Central Asia and defeat the infidels; it is a martial-religious prophecy favored by Al Qaeda.

Writers use shorthand all the time, often in order to create space to tell a complicated and complex story. In 21st century America, “he started to pray more frequently” is often shorthand for “this was a Muslim about to descend into pathological violence” — but when we use that shorthand, we are, in fact, denying the complexity of the very story we’re telling.

We can no longer write this way. If our goal is to tell the truth, we can’t let dangerous inaccuracies fill the spaces between our words. We have to seek out sources who can help us clarify to readers that what terrorists call “Islam” is not accepted as such by the vast majority of the faithful; that increased devotion is almost never a sign of hatred but rather a sign of love of God; that 99.999% of Muslims who pray five times a day would no sooner launch a terrorist attack than would 99.999% of faithful Christians or Jews. That terrorists who happen to be Muslim represent not Muslims, but pathology.

Remnick serves as my example here, but as anyone who has spent any time reading about the events at the Boston Marathon can attest, he is far, far from the only writer who has fallen into this trap.

The story of terrorism, and fear, and those who would harm innocent people, and the innocent people they harm is far too important a story for us to get wrong by means of shortcuts. We need to write better.

Boston Marathon placeholder: On Islam and terrorism.

UPDATE – You might also be interested in this post: Muslim American Heroes

(This this is a re-up – given the explosions in Boston, I felt it was important to share the information again, but I’m posting from my phone, so please excuse any wonky formatting). UPDATE: I’ve corrected the formatting and inserted the links that didn’t copy-paste when I posted this from my phone earlier.
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Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the world’s Muslims have been called upon to address the issue of violence perpetrated by other Muslims. On the one hand, this strikes me as unfair — why on earth should person A have to explain person B’s behavior? — but on the other, it also strikes me as pretty human. That day of horror seared us all, and for non-Muslims, the question seems to boil down to: “Hey Muslim person, why I shouldn’t fear you?” Unfair, perhaps, but human.

So, I often write, here and elsewhere, in defense of Islam and Muslims — or, as I see it, in defense of the American values of equality, liberty, freedom of religion, and so on. I have a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and have read and reviewed several shelves-worth of books about the faith and the lands in which Islam is the majority religion, and all this provides me with some useful background. But bottom line: I’m not Muslim, and can’t represent the faith.

Actually, even if I were a Muslim, I doubt that I could “represent the faith” — I don’t imagine, for instance, that I can represent Judaism, Jew though I may be. But of one thing I am certain: As I don’t represent Islam, neither do al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The voices of extremists may be the loudest emerging from the Muslim people, the ummah, right now — or: these voices may be the best amplified by our fears and the people who have reason to feed them — but they don’t represent the ummah.

And here we arrive at my point: Don’t trust me — trust the Muslims who say so in their own words.

Consider first this passage from Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed:

Only 46% of Americans think that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified”…. Contrast this with data taken the same year [2007] from some of the largest majority Muslim nations, in which 74% of respondents in Indonesia agree that terrorist attacks are “never justified”; in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.

And then consider the following, a small (very small) compendium of Muslim responses to extremism that I have found. You’ll note that some are recent, and some date back — because even though we don’t hear much about it, the world’s Muslims have been continuously condemning extremist violence for some time:

  • In March 2010, a leading Pakistani theologian, known and revered around the world, issued a positively scathing fatwa against terrorism: “Terrorism is terrorism,” Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri wrote, “violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs and buts.” I posted about this fatwa at the time; you can read about it here.
  • Three days after the 9/11 attacks, Shaykh Muhammed Sayyid al-Tantawi, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo (one of the Muslim world’s oldest and most influential institutions) said: “Attacking innocent people is not courageous, it is stupid and will be punished on the day of judgment. … It’s not courageous to attack innocent children, women and civilians. It is courageous to protect freedom, it is courageous to defend oneself and not to attack.”
  • Twenty North American imams issued a fatwa against terrorists in January 2010, equating attacks on North American targets with attacks on Muslims themselves: “These attacks are evil and Islam requires from Muslims to stand up against this evil…. Muslims in Canada and the United States have complete freedom to practice Islam…. In many cases, Muslims have more freedom to practice Islam here in Canada and the United States than many Muslim countries…. There is no conflict between the Islamic values of freedom and justice and the Canadian/US values of freedom and justice. Therefore, any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on the freedom of Canadian and American Muslims. Any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on thousands of mosques across North America. It is a duty of every Canadian and American Muslim to safeguard Canada and the USA.”
  • In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, British-Muslim author Shaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad published an essay called “Recapturing Islam from the terrorists,” in which he wrote “Terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible school of Sunni Islam. Suicide bombing is so foreign to the Quranic ethos that the Prophet Samson is entirely absent from our scriptures.”
  • Professor of Islamic Law Khaled Abou El Fadl wrote in late 2001: “It would be disingenuous to deny that the Qur’an and other Islamic sources offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation. Clearly these possibilities are exploited by the contemporary puritans and supremacists. But the text does not command such intolerant readings. Historically, Islamic civilization has displayed a remarkable ability to recognize possibilities of tolerance, and to act upon these possibilities…. [T]he burden and blessing of sustaining that moral trajectory—of accentuating the Qur’anic message of tolerance and openness to the other—falls squarely on the shoulders of contemporary Muslim interpreters of the tradition.”
  • In response to an al-Qaeda bombing of a centuries’ old synagogue in Tunis in 2002, Islamic scholar Dr.Youssef Al Qaradawi told the press: “Anyone who commits these crimes is punishable by Islamic Sharia and have committed the sin of killing a soul which God has prohibited to kill and of spreading corruption on earth.”
  • In 2005, Muslim scholar Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti issued a fatwa against the targeting of civilians, pointing out, among other things that “there are more than 100 Verses in the Qur’an commanding us at all times to be patient in the face of humiliation and to turn away from violence, while there is only one famous Verse in which war (which does not last forever) becomes an option.”
  • And this, my personal favorite: American Muslims speaking directly to American Muslims, rejecting extremism of all kinds: “Injustice cannot defeat injustice.”

*

For many, many more sources on Muslims speaking out against violence and extremism, I highly recommend this site, The American Muslim, starting in particular with this post, “Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism.”

We have collected 105 fatwas from Islamic scholars, 75 statements by Islamic Organizations (many of these signed by anywhere from 50 to 500 scholars from around the world), and 142 statements by individual Muslims.  These are from 30 countries including:  Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Chechnya, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, New Zealand,  Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, U.S., Yemen.

They speak clearly against terrorism, suicide bombing, kidnapping, harming civilians, harming places of worship, weapons of mass destruction.  They clarify the Islamic position on minority rights and apostasy.  Some directly condemn al-Qaeda and bin Laden, and specific acts like 9/11 or the Madrid bombing.

Finally, it seems I should spare some space for the Qur’an itself, and for the Prophet Muhammad:

By God, he is not a true believer, from whose mischief his neighbors do not feel secure. (from the Hadith [sayings] of the Prophet Muhammad, transmitted by Bukhari and Muslim)

Goodness and evil are not equal.  Repel evil with what is better.  Then that person with whom there was hatred, may become your intimate friend!  And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but people of the greatest good fortune. (Qur’an 41:34-35)

Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. (Qur’an 5:32)

Clarification: New information in the Shaima Alawadi case.

When I first wrote about the bloody murder of Shaima Alawadi in her California home, I hedged my bets a little, and then called it a hate crime:

…leaving room for the possibility of new information, [I’m] not the El Cajon police, and I can go ahead and make the leap of judgment. Shaima Alawadi was almost certainly killed for the color of her skin, the accent in her voice, and most importantly, the scarf on her head. The way in which she worshiped her Maker. And it just makes me ill.

Apparently, however, new information has in fact emerged, and it does point in a different direction:

Search warrant records obtained Wednesday in the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman show a family in turmoil and cast doubt on the likelihood that her slaying was a hate crime.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was apparently planning to divorce her husband and move to Texas when she was killed, a family member told investigators, according to the court documents.

The records obtained at El Cajon Superior Court also reveal Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, who called 911 to report the attack, was distraught over her pending arranged marriage to a cousin.
A search of Fatima’s cellphone records shows that while she was being interviewed by investigators hours after the attack, someone sent the teen a text message that read, “The detective will find out tell them (can’t) talk,” the affidavit states.

Alawadi’s death is no less horrible, no matter why she was killed or by whom, and Islamophobia no less prevalent in this country — but the simple truth is that I jumped the gun, in the absence of information. I regret that very much.

To explain my thinking (not explain away the error of judgment): Initially I hesitated to call it a hate crime, because the presence of a single note, reportedly reading “Go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist,” is not actually enough to go on. I wondered if the note might have been placed there in order to throw off law enforcement.

Then I learned that the Alawadi family had just recently moved to their current residence from Michigan, and read that an earlier note with the same message had recently been found outside the house. Given the family’s apparent relative lack of ties to the area, and the apparent fact of an earlier note, I felt pretty confident, and ran with the hate crime assumption.

But you know, when we assume, we really do make an ass out of you and me. We still don’t have all the information, but we didn’t have all the information when I first wrote about the case, either. The old-school reporter in me was warning against drawing too many conclusions, and I ignored her warnings.

I apologize.

When I learn the results of the investigation, I’ll post them here. And going forward, I’ll look not just once, but twice or three times before I leap. And perhaps I won’t leap even then.

A Muslim mother of 5, beaten to death in her home.

Shaima Alawadi

Shaima Alawadi, a 32 year old mother of five, died yesterday as a result of a vicious beating she received earlier in the week in her in El Cajon, California home. Beaten on the head with a tire iron, she was found in a pool of her own blood by her 17 year old daughter, next to a note that a friend has reported read “go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.” Alawadi was an Iraqi immigrant but had lived in the US for nearly twenty years, and had only recently moved to the San Diego area from Michigan. As far as I can tell, the children (aged 8-17) are all American-born citizens. The family reports that a similar note was left on their house earlier in the month, but that Alawadi dismissed the note as a prank. Family friend Sura Alzaidy described Alawadi as “a sweetheart… a respectful modest muhajiba,” meaning that she wore hijab, Muslim head covering, as a matter of course in her daily life.

Unlike in the case of Trayvon Martin, there are (as far as I know) no suspects in the case, there’s no phone record, there are no publicly available facts other than the above. There is a possibility, of course, that the killer actually knew Alawadi and the note was left as a diversionary tactic, and of course, one never knows what the investigation may reveal — El Cajon police Lt. Mark Coit very rightly told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Although we are exploring all aspects of this investigation, evidence thus far leads us to believe this is an isolated incident. A hate crime is one of the possibilities and we will be looking at that. We don’t want to focus on one issue and miss something else.” This is what I want to hear from law enforcement: A willingness to go where the evidence leads, and nowhere else.

Yet having said that, and leaving room for the possibility of new information — I’m not the El Cajon police, and I can go ahead and make the leap of judgement. Shaima Alawadi was almost certainly killed for the color of her skin, the accent in her voice, and most importantly, the scarf on her head. The way in which she worshiped her Maker. And it just makes me ill.

In a country in which entire police departments feel justified in spying on Muslim Americans across state lines; in a country in which entire communities, across the country, are whipped up into a froth over plans to build houses of worship; in a country in which elected officials feel free to call Muslim faith-based philanthropic events “pure, unadulterated evil” — should we, in fact, be surprised that many believe “Muslim” to be  synonymous with “terrorist”? Should we be surprised that some act on the rhetoric?

There is a clear, shining thread between the murder of Trayvon Martin and the murder of Shaima Alawadi: Both victims represented, in their very bodies and in their very being, something, an otherness, that the majority Americans are taught to fear. I do not believe that most people who say reprehensible things or write off the faith of more than a billion followers as “evil” will bash in a young mother’s head — but I do believe that those who are willing to do so are guided by the scripts we provide.

When we normalize vicious hate, when we normalize violent rhetoric, when we normalize dehumanization – the deranged take their cues. It may well be that you have to be deranged to chase someone down in order to kill them “in self-defense” or to take a tire iron to a stranger in their own home — but the bigotry that guides such acts is normative. It is all around us.

And we have seen this all-too-American hate, this all-too-American dehumanization, before. We saw it in 1943 when Lt. Gen. John DeWitt delared that “we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map”; we saw it in 1960, when white Americans stood on sidewalks howling “Nigger!” at six year old Ruby Bridges; we saw it in 1979, when Sikhs and Mexicans were savagely assaulted for looking like Iranians; and we’ve been seeing it ever since September 11, 2001, when a group of criminals who hijacked a faith as surely as they hijacked those planes murdered 3,000 Americans — Muslim Americans included.

I do not believe that this hate, this dehumanization, is more prevalent among Americans than it is among other humans — but as I wrote the other day, Americans are the humans among whom I live. Americans are the humans among whom I am raising my children.

And we Americans are all too willing to blame the clothing, behavior, or supposed co-religionists of victims for their own deaths. We are all too willing to dismiss our own responsibility for creating, nurturing, and perpetuating a climate that supports those who would commit brutal crimes.

This is on us. If we want 17 year old black boys and 32 year old Muslim women to be safe from humanity’s most horrific side, we have to step up. We have to talk, to tell the truth, to write letters, to educate ourselves, to reach out, and above all, to find allies and build community.

As Dalia Mogahed, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think wrote yesterday: “We rightly accept that anti-Jewish rhetoric can lead to violence. When will we make the same connection for anti-Muslim rhetoric?”

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Some more resources:

Muslim responses to terrorism.

Muslim American heroes.

Muslim responses to terrorism.

Update: Yes, this is a re-up, but given the recent discovery that the NYPD has been spying on Muslim students as far away as Yale, it seems rather timely.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the world’s Muslims have been called upon to address the issue of violence perpetrated by other Muslims. On the one hand, this strikes me as unfair — why on earth should person A have to explain person B’s behavior? — but on the other, it also strikes me as pretty human. That day of horror seared us all, and for non-Muslims, the question seems to boil down to: “Hey Muslim person, why I shouldn’t fear you?” Unfair, perhaps, but human.

So, I often write, here and elsewhere, in defense of Islam and Muslims — or, as I see it, in defense of the American values of equality, liberty, freedom of religion, and so on. I have a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and have read and reviewed several shelves-worth of books about the faith and the lands in which Islam is the majority religion, and all this provides me with some useful background. But bottom line: I’m not Muslim, and can’t represent the faith.

Actually, even if I were a Muslim, I doubt that I could “represent the faith” — I don’t imagine, for instance, that I can represent Judaism, Jew though I may be. But of one thing I am certain: As I don’t represent Islam, neither do al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The voices of extremists may be the loudest emerging from the Muslim people, the ummah, right now — or: these voices may be the best amplified by our fears and the people who have reason to feed them — but they don’t represent the ummah.

And here we arrive at my point: Don’t trust me — trust the Muslims who say so in their own words.

Consider first this passage from Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed:

Only 46% of Americans think that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified”…. Contrast this with data taken the same year [2007] from some of the largest majority Muslim nations, in which 74% of respondents in Indonesia agree that terrorist attacks are “never justified”; in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.

And then consider the following, a small (very small) compendium of Muslim responses to extremism that I have found. You’ll note that some are recent, and some date back — because even though we don’t hear much about it, the world’s Muslims have been continuously condemning extremist violence for some time:

(more…)

Report finds that radical American Muslims are not terribly prevalent. Or competent.

Color me shocked.

Professor Charles Kurzman, of the  Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at the University of North Carolina, released a report Wednesday that found that radicalization among Muslim-Americans is “relatively low,” and has been on the decrease since 9/11.

Kurzman also points out that many of the suspects in 2011 “appeared to have been limited in competence.” In one arrest of a Muslim-American for terrorism-related charges, for example, Emerson Begolly, “a 21-year-old former white supremacist who converted to Islam and posted violent-sounding material on the Internet” was tricked by his mother into meeting with FBI agents outside of a restaurant. He then tried fight them off by biting them. In another case, on his way to attack a local Shia mosque, Roger Stockham bragged about the his plan to a bartender when he stopped in to a bar for a drink.

“The limited scale of Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 runs counter to the fears that many Americans shared in the days and months after 9/11, that domestic Muslim- American terrorism would escalate,” the report concludes. “The spike in terrorism cases in 2009 renewed these concerns, as have repeated warnings from U.S. government officials about a possible surge in homegrown Islamic terrorism. The predicted surge has not materialized.”

I wish I had a job that would justify me doing a comparative study of all the kinds of extremist violence perpetrated in this country on an annual basis. I’d like to see how, for instance, the 1 ,002 hate groups tracked by the Southern Law Povery Center compare to extremist American Muslims (individuals or organizations).

If you’d like to know what most Muslims (American and non-) think about such extremism, I gathered some statistics and statements here (spoiler alert! They’re pretty solidly against it).

h/t TPMMuckraker

In which I blaspheme: Monotheism’s biggest failure.

Ok, that’s kind of a grand statement. Maybe I shouldn’t claim to have uncovered the single biggest failure of the world’s monotheistic faiths. But for my money, it’s certainly right up there.

As readers of this blog are surely aware, I believe in God.

I furthermore believe that God is loving and good, and that when we say that we’re made in His* image, we mean the best of us. “Our better angels” are, to my mind, those parts of the human spirit that fly up to meet their Creator and attempt to express His love, His goodness, on this earth.

I also believe, in what I take to be a very Jewish sense, that God is everywhere and yet nowhere. We are not God, but reflections of Him. He can be found in our homes and in our hearts, but He is neither in the heavens nor in the depths. He is not corporeal, and when we speak of His arms, or His voice, we are only making use of the only tools we have to imagine the unimaginable — yet should I call upon Him, His is the still, small voice that is as near as my child’s breath, as she whispers in my ear.

God is ultimately unknowable, because He is so entirely Not Us. Bigger, Grander, More Powerful beyond measure — how can it be otherwise, when He created the world and all that’s in it? And yes, I believe that the Big Bang was an act of God, and I honestly cannot understand how the one could possibly contradict the other.

What is God not, then? Where did monotheism get it wrong?

On the “perfect” part.

I don’t believe God is perfect. I don’t believe God is all-powerful, and I suspect that He is not all-knowing. I cannot, and continue to believe that He is loving.

There is too much broken and wrong in this world, too much pain and too much horror, for me to believe that our Creator has the power to fix it, and yet chooses not to.

But that’s what the world’s three biggest monotheistic faiths would have us believe. We try to explain it away — in Judaism, many say that God does only good, we just don’t always recognize it as such; some say that we call down upon ourselves the world’s horrors with our behavior — but I think that most believers choose not to think about it too much, because if we do, the whole thing shatters at the feet of a starving or murdered child.

The failure, then, is not simply in getting something so crucial so badly wrong — it’s in creating a system that demands that God’s creatures find a way to believe something truly terrible. Perhaps if we posit a Satan (in which I do not believe, but for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and posit) we can lay the world’s woes at Satan’s feet — but then we’re positing a genuine rival to God. We’re saying that there’s someone else out there, as powerful or nearly-as powerful as God, whom God is unable to defeat. Because if God is loving and can save us from Satan’s evil hands — why the long game? Why not just be done with it?

It’s  my experience that when people in the West reject God, they’re more often than not (not always, of course, but pretty often) rejecting organized religion, and more to the point, organized Western religion’s vision of a God who is all-powerful, and yet isn’t overly concerned with starving, bloodied children.

So here’s our choice: God – all powerful, perfect and all knowing? Or loving?

I’m sticking with loving.

(And to those who would argue that I’m going pretty far out on several limbs simultaneously, I can only say: Why do you think they call it “faith”?)

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*I’m comfortable with the English-language cultural convention of referring to the Divine in the male singular, but I don’t for a minute think that S/He/It is actually anything like any human. 

It’s Ramadan. How ’bout those Muslim women?

In honor of Ramadan (which began this week ), and the fact that I have but a little time left with the lovely folks of Feministe, I thought I would aim once again for the overlap in my life’s Venn Diagram.

To your right! The circle labelled “reads a lot of books.” To your left! The circle labelled “academic and professional obsession with matters Middle Eastern.” Up above! The circle labelled “thinks a lot about women’s issues.”

Boom! Right there in the middle, where you would find the book I blogged about on Tuesday, Teta, Mother and Me, you will also find this: Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, by Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Affairs (which I first reviewed when it came out in 2009).

The public discourse among non-Muslims regarding the Muslim community tends to be shaped by stereotypes, possibly most powerfully when the conversation turns to Muslim women — they are hounded, we tend to think, and quite possibly cowering. The very real problems with which Muslim women grapple appear rooted in the nature of the religion, and, we assume, are thus powerfully immune to real change.

By way of counterargument, Paradise Beneath Her Feet presents an engrossing, seemingly counter-intuitive take on the question of women’s advancement in the Muslim world, showing that Islamic feminists are successfully arguing – from within the texts and traditions of their faith – that gross gender inequality flies in the face not just of the spirit of Islam, but also its laws.

Opening with a global examination of the dilatory consequences of gender discrimination – higher infant mortality, lower incomes, even lower agricultural output – Coleman then takes an exhaustive look at the “gender jihad” under way across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia (an indication, in fact, of the inaccuracy of the title — this is not so much “how women are transforming the Middle East” as it is “how women are transforming the Muslim world”). Over the years, the shape of the effort has changed, as Muslim feminists learn from the mistakes of the 20th century — efforts to impose change from above (anti-veiling laws, for instance) are now understood to have “sow[ed] the seeds for decades worth of Islamic backlash,” ultimately setting women back as they struggle to move forward.

Today, Coleman argues, those engaged in the jihad for Muslim women’s rights are trying to work “with the culture, rather than against it,” frequently succeeding where few thought it possible, as they attempt to build “a legitimate Islamic alternative to the current repressive system.” Her findings reflect the countless interviews she’s conducted, with activists who’ve been fighting for decades alongside those born in the meantime, as well as years of comprehensive research. She doesn’t attempt to paint a rosy picture — the challenges are real, and they are immense — but Coleman does present a convincing argument that Muslim feminists have the potential to shape the future of Islam.

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A few links for anyone looking for more on Islam:

  1. The BBC has great background information on Islam (and all kinds of things, really!) on their website, covering all the bases in brief articles — here’s the one about veiling (hijab).
  2. Muslims respond to extremism – a brief compendium that I put together, with links to more information if you want to go deeper.
  3. A Gallup poll finds that Muslim Americans “are by far the least likely among all religious groups to justify targeting civilians, whether done by the military or by ‘an individual person or a small group of persons’.
  4. A short list of Muslim American heroes that I compiled in response to the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the US in recent years.
  5. To learn more about Ramadan, click on the links at the top of the post. They’ll bring you to the BBC & a great, brief video by The Guardian (check out the Indonesian drummers!).

 Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.