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A treatise against religious intolerance by Richard Dixon

Part 2: "Not in my name"

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Some western religious leaders speak of Islam as an evil religion, yet under Christianity the status of world civilization was at its darkest due to the acts of ruthless individuals and rulers. Christianity was used to justify the dark institutions of slavery, which incarcerated up to 300 million Africans (25 percent were Muslims) against their will over a 400-year period. Cecil Rhodes and the Afrikaners used it to support the brutal system of apartheid. And yes there are white Supremacists who have used Christianity to justify the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

It is often charged that the Holy Qur'an is filled with verses inciting violence against unbelievers, the same can be said about the Holy Bible (especially in the Old Testament) or the Torah. However, just as it was done in the past, scripture can be used, changed, and subverted to justify evilness. Unfortunately, Islam is being assailed from the same forces of extremism that is trying to destroy the Christian faith from within as well: the ideology of a one-tract philosophy of religion that is totally devoid of tolerance towards others. It has manifested itself in the hijacking of Islam by radicals who claim to speak for all of Islam. Not subscribing to their particular brand of Islamism makes you an enemy. The end result is that the fanatical acts of a few, condemns the 1.2 billion. 16 plus adherents of Islam who are peaceful. Those extremist, radical Muslims who carry out these acts of terror against innocent civilians and noncombatants should be condemned as despicable heathens who murder against the glory of God.

Organizing acts of terror against innocent people is utterly against Islam.  Muslim groups and individuals are responsible for stopping these people, removing mischief on earth" and bringing peace and security to all peoples all over the world. Islam cannot be reconciled with terror. Just the contrary, it should be the solution to and the path to the prevention of terror. 1

Those who commit acts of terror are actually moving further away from God. The aggressors can commit such violence only with the intention of attacking religion itself. It may well be that those who carried out this violence do so to present religion as evil in the eyes of people, to divorce people from religion and to generate hatred towards those who are religiously inclined. Consequently, every attack on American citizens or other innocent people having a religious façade is actually an attack made against religion. 26

In this context, it doesn't matter if the terrorist attacks on innocent civilians is in the name of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, they are still a terrorist and far removed from the love and graciousness of God. The same standards should be applied when individuals verbally attack the faith of 1.6 billion adherents based on religious falsehoods and dogma. Saying and professing a belief in the name of God and wishing ill fortune on people because they are different culturally, racially, or religiously is very narrow-minded.

People may claim to commit terrorist acts in the name of God or even swear in his name. They may present themselves as very religious. But this does not mean that what they do is in conformity with religion. On the contrary, what they do can be quite against the will of God and the morality of religion. The truth lies in their actions. If their actions are "causing corruption and not putting things right", as the verse reveals, then you can be sure that these people cannot be truly religious, and that their aim is not to serve religion. 3

As we approach the one-year anniversary of 9/11 and the subsequent involvement of our country's war against terrorism in Afghanistan, my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters have had to experience a racial and religious backlash verbally, physically, economically, and religiously.

Unfortunately, as grief gives way to understandable anger, a pattern of collective blame and scapegoating against Arab Americans and Muslims seems to be emerging even before the culpability of any single individual has been established. Even if persons with connections to the Arab World or the Islamic faith prove to have had a hand in this outrage, there can be no reason or excuse for collective blame against an entire ethnic or religious community. Already we have received numerous disturbing reports of violent attacks, threats, and harassment against Arab Americans and Muslims in many parts of the country and the pattern seems to be growing. As a result Arab Americans, in addition to feeling the intense depths of pain and anger at this attack we share with all our fellow citizens, are feeling deep anxiety about becoming the target of anger from other Americans. We appeal to all Americans to bear in mind that crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who committed them, not ethnic or religious groups. 4

The backlash against Muslims and Arab Americans has manifested itself against other ethnic groups whom you consider unpatriotic and un-Aamerican as well by virtual of their race and religious preferences. These groups included Sikhs, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, and even Hispanics.

In Arizona, Bablir Singh Sodhig, a Sikh man and an Indian immigrant, was shot and killed as he worked at his gas station. The same shooter fired at, but miss, a Lebanese-American clerk at another gas station. The gunman also shot into his former home, which a family of Afghani descent now occupies. When finally arrested, the accused killer yelled: "I stand for America all the way." 5

It is crackpot zealots like these who honestly believe that their random acts of violence against law-abiding ethnic Americans will solve, stem, and stop the tide of international terrorism.

Somehow a negative stereotype and misconception has entered among you that all Muslims are Arab and all Arabs are Muslims. Such a belief is the furthest from the truth.

Arabs are those who speak Arabic as their native tongue and who identify themselves as Arabs. The Arab world is not to be confused with the Middle East, a strategic designation developed during the heyday of the British Empire, which encompasses such non-Arab countries of Israel, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. And though Arab history is intertwined with Muslim history, the Arab world does not correspond to the Muslim world. There are significant non-Muslim Arab communities and most Muslims are, in fact, from large non-Arab countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and many of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. There are also large Arab and non-Arab Muslim communities in North America. 6

An intelligent discussion about all Arabs are not Muslims and all Muslims are not Arab seems to fall on deaf ears. Many Christian leaders, such as the individuals mentioned above, seem bent on promoting religious conflict between Islam and Christianity even if it eventually leads to the death of many Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

For a variety of reasons, Westerners including Americans, often assume there is a deep division between Arab and Islamic culture on the one hand, and European and Christian culture on the other. Western civilization is said to be based on the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Orient is thus distinguished from the Occident. In fact, Arab and Muslim societies have much more in common with Europe, Christendom, and the West than is often assumed. Islam recognizes the Judaic and Christian traditions and Arab Christians and Jews have always been integral members of the Arab world. 7

Some Christian leaders, have joined with those opposed to current immigration policiesand treat both Muslim and Arab Americans as new entrants who are deliberately pressing their culture, religion, and ways of life upon the United States. Such philosophical thinking is not consistent with our nation's history of multicultural immigration.

While many people think Arabs are new to the United States, in fact, Arabs have been coming to the United States for hundreds of years. There are reports that Arabs came to the Americas with the Spanish explorers in the 15th century. In the late 1700's, Arabs from Morocco (a North African Country) were discussed in the South Carolina House of Representatives, who decided that they should be treated according to the laws for white people, not the laws for African Blacks. Arab immigrants were a significant part of the Great Migration, the period in U.S. history between 1880 and 1924 when more than 20 million immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe. More than 95,000 Arabs to the U.S. from "Greater Syria" alone. Greater Syria includes present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine/Israel. Smaller numbers of Arabs came from Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, and Egypt during this time. By 1924, there were about 200,000 Arabs living in the United States. 8

This nation was built by the hard work, sweat, blood, and labor by our immigrant forebears, regardless of whether they came voluntarily or involuntarily. Muslim and Arab Americans are very much part of this contribution to American society. They are our retail merchants, business owners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pilots, soldiers, athletes, clergy, and elected officials. They include notable personalities such as Jamie Farr actor, Doug Flutie quarterback, former senator Spence Abraham of Michigan, WWII heroes, Co. James Jabara, Major General Fred Safay, Brigadier General Elias Stevens, General George Joulwan, and Navy Lt Alfred Naifeh. They include both elected and appointed officials like Nick Joe Rahall II (West Virigina), Ray LaHood (Illinois), Donna Shalala, Phillip C. Habib, and former Senator George Mitchell. In Business you have Jacques Nasser former CEO of the Ford Motor
Company, Najeeb Halaby former head of the FAA (Federal Aviation Commission), Paul Orfalea founder Of Kinkos, and Tony Ismail of the Alamo Flag Company which is the biggest retailer of flags in the United States.  Among activists you have the likes of Ralph Nader, Candy Lightner founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), James Zogsby founder of the Arab American Institute, Ziad Asali President & Hussein Ibish who is Communications Director of the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, and Ingrid Mattison Vice-President of the Islamic Circle Of North America. In Entertainment you have the likes of Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas, Frank Zappa, Casey Kasem, Paula Abdul, and Paul Anka. It has included spiritual leaders, clergy, and clerics such as Shaykh Muhammad of the Islamic Supreme Council Of North America (ISCA) and Muhammad Nur Abdullah President of  Islamic Society Of North America (ISNA).

These are men and women who are dedicated to the preservation of this country, their communities, families, and religion. Those who attack their religion, culture, and ethnicity, attack the American idea of fairness.

The terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and Flight 93 by Al Qaeda was not only an attack on this country, but upon the very heart and soul of the religion of Islam itself. Immediately after the horrible attacks on our country, every mainstream Muslim & Arab Group such as the American Muslim Council (AMC), Islamic Supreme Council Of North America, Islamic Circle Of North America (ICNA), The Islamic Institute, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Arab American Institute, Arab American Anti- Discrimination Committee, and Islamic Society Of North America (ISNA) condemned them in the most strongest and possible language. They issued press releases to television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. They participated in interfaith services for the victims of the attacks. They held blood drives, collected money, held open houses at Mosques, and participated in seminars and teachings about the peaceful tenets of the Islamic Faith. They gave their full support to President Bush and the congress in the fight against terrorism. Unfortunately, some Christian leaders did not make an effort to console families of the victims and the wounded in their hour of need. Instead some heaped scorn upon them by blaming the attacks as God's judgment against those groups that didn't adhere to your ideology. Famous television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said that liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters bear partial responsibility for the 9-11 terrorist attacks because their actions had turned God's anger against America. "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," said Falwell, appearing yesterday on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," hosted by Robertson. Falwell said that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has got to take a lot of blame for this. Robertson responded: "Well, yes." Then Falwell broadened his criticisms to include the federal courts and others who he said were "throwing God out of the public square." He added: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad, I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.' " 9

I consider such remarks as pathetic, irresponsible, and unpatriotic. It shows the lack of regard that they hold towards other religious, social, or political groups other than their own.

There were many heroes who gave their lives trying to save people during 9/11. The list included police officers, firemen, soldiers, clergy, and ordinary citizens like you and me. What is not told though, is that of the over 3,000 who died from this terrible tragedy, a great many were Muslims. This is a partial list of the hundreds of Muslims killed during the terrorist attacks:

bullet Rahma Salie, 28, an observant Muslim of Sri Lankan nationality and seven months pregnant with her first child, was a passenger with her husband, Michael Theodoridis, on American Airlines flight 11. They were on their way to the wedding of one of her closest high-school friends in California. Her husband, Michael had converted to Islam before marrying his college sweetheart. (Source: The Independent, U.K.).
bullet Amenia Rasool, a Guyana-born Muslim, was a mother of four children (aged 8, 6, 3 years and 10 months) who also worked as an accountant in the World Trade Center. As a young woman, she had come to America with her parents from rural Guyana, much like her husband. Their marriage was arranged by their parents, and flourished on a mix of Islamic tradition and American opportunity. (Source: New York Times).
bullet Shabbir Ahmed emigrated from Bangladesh in 1982, worked as a waiter in the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. His memorial service was held at the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, New York. (Source: New York Times & Tribune Newspaper Project)
bullet Khalid Mohammed Shahid, son of a Pakistani father and a Colombian mother, engaged to be married in 2001-NOV; a graduate of Montclair State College, a talented tennis player, and a practicing Muslim. (Source: Newsday).
bullet Touri Bolourchi and her husband, Akbar, who immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1979. The couple raised their 2 daughers, Neda and Roya, in Los Angeles, creating a family proud of both its U.S. citizenship and Muslim faith. "True Muslims don't believe in killing to prove what they believe in," said Bobby Turan, Touri's grandson. (Source: CNN.com)
bullet Salman Hamdani loved not only Islam but also the country [the terrorists] hated. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, the 23 year-old laboratory technician, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was on his way to work by train on 11 September. Trained in emergency medical assistance, it appears he climbed aboard an ambulance headed for the World Trade Center. (Source: The Independent, U.K.).
bullet Taimour Khan always identified himself not just as an American but also as a Muslim. The son of a Pakistani couple, he was a commodities trader for the firm Carr Futures and was already hard at work in the World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane hit the building. (Source: The Independent, U.K.).
bullet Ehtesham Raja, a Muslim from Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in Bloomfield, NJ. Like many Muslims from India and Pakistan, Mr. Raja, 28, loved Hindi music. (Source: New York Times). 10

These people weren't the monsters that some purport all Muslims to be. They were victims of a Monster called Osama Bin Laden who has taken upon himself to represent all of Islam. It is no different than Timothy McVeigh or David Koresh claiming to represent all of Christianity.  Such individuals in the eyes of God are evildoers and tyrants of the worst kind. Terrorism is terrorism and doesn't matter if its suicide bombers or indiscriminate shelling in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Columbia, or Africa. To kill and maim innocent people in the name of religion for any reason is morally repugnant. My heart cries out in anguish because the victims of terrorism did not deserve to die because of someone else's misguided religious or political views. It is all about humanity not about what group has brought shame upon America because of their social or political agenda.

I truly believe that the key to a better understanding and acceptance of Islam in American society is that the voices of Moderate Muslims must be heard. Their voices have been drowned out by religious extremists, both Muslim and Christians.

The moderate voice is not an elitist or westernized voice. It is not a lonely or persecuted voice. And it is not a purely secular voice. It is a voice of the Muslim mainstream, grounded in a Qur'anic verse: We have willed you to be a community of Moderation (2:143) and in the admonition of the Prophet Muhammad to stay away from extremism. 11

It is the voices of Moderation within the Islamic community that must be heard not only for a better understanding of Islam in the West, but speaking out for a more balanced American foreign policy in our dealings in the Middle East. Ingrid Matteson who is Vice President of the Islamic Society of North America has said that Muslims have a special duty to speak out on such issues: "Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims against innocent non-Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims. We have to speak against oppressive interpretations of Islam and against emotional, superficial, and violent apocalyptic depictions of a world divided. And in our desire to show ourselves to be Patriotic Americans, we cannot suppress our criticisms of the United States when we have them. We have to do this, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because if we do not, the Muslim world will remain deaf to our arguments that peaceful change is possible, and that revolt and ensuring lawlessness almost always cause the great harm to the people." 12

Anissa Mariam Bouzianne, an Arab-American writer and filmmaker, is also a voice of moderation who chose to speak out in the strongest terms against Islamic fundamentalism after witnessing the World Trade Center destruction from the window of her office: "The terrorists who committed this heinous act, if indeed they were Muslim, as it appears they might have been, are no more 'my people' than Timothy McViegh was 'the people' of Christians... Before the haunting dust from this demonic act settles on Manhattan, as a liberal Arab and Muslim, I must speak out with the clearest and loudest of voices and no longer let fanatics and extremist define me and my community. For we do exist -- we are even in the majority -- Muslims and Arabs who condemn the killing of another human being, who believe that God, that Allah, is compassionate, and good, and forgiving. Who know that the Koran forbids suicide, who see life as a gift that must not be squandered." 13

As a Christian, I call upon my other Christian and Jewish brethren to have an interfaith dialogue with our Muslim colleagues and to counteract the religious intolerance of other religious leaders. Even though we may be Christian, Jew, or Muslim, we are all children of Abraham, and we must realize that no amount of peace will come to our country and the world unless we offer a peaceful alternative. They don't speak for the majority of Americans who look upon favorably the religion of Islam. When the demonic crazed zealots acted out in their violence against Muslim and Arab Americans, we as a nation spoke out. We went to Mosque open houses and stood side by side with our Muslim brethren in Midnight vigils. Instead of a Clash of Cultures that is now being pursued by the religious right, there should be a dialogue of civilization. Presidential Candidate and economist Lyndon LaRouche echoed these very sentiments while speaking at the Italian Institute for Asia: "You must approach it from a missionary standpoint, from an apostolic standpoint, not a doctrinal standpoint. Rather than saying, what are the differences between us, you have to say, what is the agreement among us? It means, there has to be, as Khatami has proposed, the President of Iran, there has to be a discussion of the agreement on an idea, a certain idea of man. And there must be a discussion, with agreement to the idea of man, but a continuing discussion of what it means. You can never unify people except around a common principle." 14

The war on terrorism cannot be fought with guns and tanks alone. It must be fought with ideas, love, empathy, compassion, tolerance, and understanding. These are principles that too many religious leaders have refused to acknowledge.

The lasting legacy that we can leave to our fallen brethren, the victims of 9-11, who were of various races, creeds, cultures, and religions, is to be united as one great nation with a common bond for freedom, justice, and brotherhood. A recent poem written by Neria Harish Hebbar, MD sums up our duty as members of the human race and children of god to speak out against religious fanaticism, bigotry, racism, or intolerance wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. As the poem points out, to ignore the fanaticism around us makes us the next willing target.

Lest Bigotry Consume Us All

Within the secure confines of my four walls,
I watched with detached resentment,
The senseless destruction and pain,
Inflicted by monstrous fanatics, on their brethren.

In the frenzy of religious strife,
Killing and maiming seems justifiable.
To the irrational, even murderous wrath,
Is rational; in their minds, condoned by God.

I remained callously disinterested,
As far as the evil took a detour,
Away from my safe haven,
And, the neighborhood of my kith and kin.

Then the fire and the stench spread,
The sewage, suddenly over flowed.
The distant carnage was close at hand,
At my doorstep, un-invited.

My clothes were bloodied, stature bruised,
My spirits shattered, distraught and dismayed.
The apparent safe isolation, within my four walls,
Had failed to protect my creed.

Like an ostrich, I had my head in the sand,
Pretending not to notice, ignoring the melee.
Like deadly plague, without showing favoritism,
The odious hatred killed - innocent, guilty, and all.

I soon learned to respect all beliefs, to accept,
To admire them, and to tolerate without contempt.
To be concerned, to defuse prejudice, defy racism,
Lest hatred and bigotry devour, and consume us all.

Neria Harish Hebbar, MD, 2002-JUN-2

In this context, radical religious fundamentalists from Timmy McVeigh to Osama Bin Laden will never win. May God Bless America and the whole world. And we should remember that as the sons and daughters of Abraham, that only through God (Allah) will we find total and everlasting peace.

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References:

  1. Yahya, Harun. Islam Denounces Terrorism. Page 20.
  2. Ibid, Page 25.
  3. Ibid, Pages 21-22.
  4. "Statement By ADC President Ziad Asali." American Arab
    Anti-Discrimination Committee. 2002-MAR-21, at: http://www.adc.org/press/2001/
  5. "Sikhs: Targets Of Misplaced Anger." Hate In The News. 2002-MAR-21, 
    Tolerance.org. See: http://www.tolerance.org/news/
  6. Tamari, Steve. "Who Are The Arabs? The Arab World In The Classroom," Center For Contemporary Arab Studies. 21 March 2002-MAR-21, at: http://www.ccasonline.org/publications/
  7. Ibid.
  8. Cainkar, Louise PHD. "The History Of Arab Immigration To The U.S.: An Introduction For High School Students." University Of Illinois-Chicago. Great Cities Institute. Online at Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee's web site at: http://www.adc.org/educations/AAImmigration.htm.
  9. Harris, John F. "God Gave U.S. 'What We Deserve,' Falwell Says," WashingtonPost.com. 2002-March-15, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  10. "Remembering Innocent Muslims Who Died On September 11. White House Coalition Information Center.
  11. "MPAC'S Speech On Moderation At The State Department." Muslim Public Affairs Council. 2002-FEB-25, at: http://www.mpac.org/NEWS/newsitemdisplay
  12. Mattison, Ingrid. "American Muslims Have A Special Obligation." Beliefnet. 2001-OCT-30, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/89/
  13. Bouziane, Anissa Mariam. "First Person: An Arab American Voice Against Terror." Hate In The News. 2002-MAR-21, Tolerance.org, at: http://www.tolerance.org/news/
  14. LaRouche, Lyndon. "Towards A Dialogue Of Civilizations: Lyndon LaRouche
    Speaks In Rome, Italy
    ." The Schiller Institute. 2002-JUN-2, at:  http://schillerinstitute.org/dialogue_cultures/
  15. Hebbar, Neria Harish MD. "Lest Bigotry Consume Us All." Reprinted With
    Permission. India Nest.com: A Study In Diversity. 2002-SEP-8, at: http://www.indianest.com/poetry/
  16. A more accurate, according to the Pew Forum, is 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

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Copyright © 2002 by Richard Dixon
Latest update: 2010-JUN-14
Author: Richard Dixon

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