FOR MONTHS, ARAB- AND MUSLIM-AMERICAN lobby groups have passionately spoken out against war with Iraq, citing the potential for everything from the mass murder of Iraqi babies to the creation of tens of thousands of baby bin Ladens. Warnings of dire consequences have flooded underground Internet chat rooms frequented by the most vitriolic voices in these groups.
Rarely did any of these activists cite the destruction Saddam Hussein has wrought on the Iraqi people or condemn his terror-enabling Baathist regime. Rarer still was there condemnation of the extremist rhetoric emanating from Islam's lunatic fringe, including the ethereal ruminations of public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.
Citizenship Before Civil Rights: The Silent Majority Must Speak
BUT THESE VOICES do not represent the majority of Americans who hold Islamic religious beliefs or hail from Arab ancestries. Indeed, they represent a fraction, probably less than five percent, of the total Arab- and Muslim-American population. And this lobby's funding often comes from the pockets of wealthy, demented men in far-off deserts who are blinded by the ambition to defend Islam in the belly of the infidels.
Which is why now, when our armed services are asked to defend the very Constitution and Bill of Rights that enable minority dissent in this great land, all Arab- and Muslim-Americans share a moral responsibility to join together in support of the men and women who put themselves in harm's way for our right to speak. To do otherwise is simply no longer acceptable.
It is also high time the leaders and activists that represent these lobby groups learn the meaning of citizenship before demanding the civil rights that such an honor bestows. The silent majority of America's Arabs and Muslims--silent for too long--must now speak up.
We bear a greater responsibility to stand now because we understand the religious and ethnic motivations that have created the Middle East's tyrannical and autocratic regimes, and thereby spawned threats to U.S. security. We must bear the burden of teaching our brethren in that part of the world what freedom and democracy can mean for them, and why our military actions are designed for their liberation, not invasion or occupation.
The Structural Problem of America's Arab and Muslim Communities
UNFORTUNATELY, there is a chasm between responsible Arab- and Muslim-American voices and those of activist immigrants from the Arab and Islamic world who come to our shores in search of civil rights protections before accepting the responsibilities of citizenship.
Most of the immigrants who founded and formed our communities landed on U.S. shores in the mid-to-late 1970s. They were talented, often highly educated people who made valuable contributions to America's professions--doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, and, yes, even some of our best taxi drivers. Today these people represent perhaps as much as one-third of the total U.S. Arab and Muslim population.
There's just one problem with these pioneers. They brought with them their prejudices and ethno-religious rivalries. Whether on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Kashmir, Kosovo, or Iraq, they have spent the past three decades lining the pockets of our political leaders with cash earned from their very successful American enterprises, and then lobbying them with virulent, unproductive agendas.
They have used their resources to build our nation's mosques, a noble deed in its own right, but have too often allowed these mosques to be filled with hatred and animosity towards Jews and Christians and even Muslims who refuse to toe their line. And most dangerously, they have infected the minds of their children with the same prejudices and rivalries.
American-born Arabs and Muslims, who represent over half the population of our communities, are still in the building phases of life--getting an education, finding a job, paying the mortgage and getting the kids to school every day. They have neither the time nor the financial resources to play power politics with our "what have you done for me lately?" politicians, nor are many of them willing to challenge the Muslim traditions of questioning their elders even when they're wrong. And therein lies the structural problem--when and how to pass the baton of responsibility to the next generation for developing voices of reason.
The Silent Majority Speaks
THE MAJORITY of hardworking Arab- and Muslim-Americans want to speak out in the vivid colors of patriotism that define our nation in times of war. But many fear either being labeled as traitors by zealots who know little about Islam or being disowned by their parents for disavowing the antiquated beliefs of elders.
America's Arab and Muslim leaders, regardless of their views on the U.S. decision to disarm Saddam by force, need to make important changes in how they lead the community during times of peace, but especially so in this time of war. Rooting their activism in the principles that define citizenship is a good place to start. There is simply no room in American life for those Arabs and Muslims who believe they belong to some higher Ummah, or global Islamic community without borders.
Whether these leaders are imams in our nation's mosques or teachers in our public schools or activists in special-interest groups, they must publicly voice their support for our men and women serving in the armed forces. Imams, in particular, have this responsibility since they have spewed forth so much of the venom that afflicts our communities.
At today's Friday prayers, every imam in America who is a citizen or permanent U.S. resident has a moral obligation to ask his congregation to pray for the safe return of all our soldiers doing battle to rid the world of a menace to peace. They should invite U.S. media outlets to witness their prayers, so Americans can understand the unity of purpose we all share during this sobering time.
The highest honor an American ever holds is the title of Citizen of the United States of America. It is high time American Arabs and Muslims learn what that really means and use its lessons to raise up Muslims in far-off lands so they will not be so desperate to tear us down.
I, for one, will start by setting the example. I ask Almighty Allah to give the men and women of our armed services the courage to do right, the strength to forgive when wronged, and the wisdom to free a nation from the scourge a madman brought upon its citizens. God Bless you for defending my freedom and for defending our nation. May you come home safely, and for those of you who make the ultimate sacrifice, may God grant you peace in heaven.