YOUNG MUSLIM AMERICAN VOICES:
The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. CAP combines bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.
Safiya Ghori-Ahmad is MPAC's government relations director. She talks with Sally Steenland of CAP's Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative about the challenges facing Muslim Americans in a post 9-11 nation, the images of Muslims in the media, and her community's hopes for the new administration. Below is an abridged transcript. To read the full transcript, or to listen to the interview, click here.
Sally Steenland: Can you tell us about MPAC--why it's needed, not just for the Muslim community, but for all of us?
Safiya Ghori-Ahmad: MPAC operates on the core belief that
we're trying to create a shift in
Steenland: Let's talk about some of the policy issues you
are working on and some of the media issues as well. I know that you have an
Ghori-Ahmad: We instituted our
Steenland: Can you give us a sense of what a pre-9/11 world
was and what a post-9/11 world looks like for the Muslim community in
Ghori-Ahmad: A lot of my work deals with young Muslims, and
the reason we're trying to engage [them] is because many who are reaching
college age right now don't remember a pre-9/11 world. They were very young
when 9/11 happened and all they've seen is the backlash. They've seen
Some of the post-9/11 repercussions have to do with "home-grown
terrorism." I know that the Senate and various government agencies are
extremely concerned about young American Muslims who are born and raised here
becoming radicalized and then carrying out acts of violence on
Steenland: If you could advise the Senate committees that are holding hearings and the FBI and the police forces that are working on this--and maybe in some cases you are--what would you say?
Ghori-Ahmad: I think the language that's being used is extremely problematic. These hearings are called "Violent Islamic Radicalization," "Violent Islamist Jihadization." You are pushing people away from dialogue and discussion by language like that, because you're equating violence and terrorism with our religion. Just like other religions, there are bad people carrying out acts of violence in the name of their religion...we don't ascribe to those beliefs, but immediately are linked.
Steenland: I want to go back for a minute and talk about some preconceptions people have and some things people say that they may not be aware of. One of the things you hear people say is, "He's a moderate Muslim" or "She's a moderate Muslim." And that word "moderate" is meant to be a compliment, and I think you would probably say it is not. What's wrong with saying that?
Ghori-Ahmad: I am one of those people who don't like being called a moderate or progressive Muslim because moderation, to me, is a mainstream term. Moderation is inherent in our religion, in the Qur'an, in what we're taught all our lives. You can be an American and you can be a Muslim at the same time. Right now the definition has taken on a political twist where, after 9/11, you'll see groups use "moderate Muslims" to portray themselves as a watered-down version of being Muslim.
Steenland: Let's say you're coming from a traditional community...Can you talk about the desire and appeal of assimilating and being an American, but at the same time, the appeal of tradition and of deeper roots within one's own circle?
Ghori-Ahmad: I think everyone comes to a point, usually in college, where they reconcile those two identities and begin to understand what being an American Muslim is, and that you can be both. You can wear your jeans and go to the movies and talk about sports, and at the same time you can still make time to pray five times a day, you can make sure that you're following the traditions that are set forth by the religion.
Steenland: I have one last question, and that has to do with your hopes for the next four years and beyond. If you had a wand and could help shape the Muslim American community in this country, what would you like to see and what are your hopes?
Ghori-Ahmad: I really do hope that we're going to see a
more diverse administration. We're already seeing that, but I hope to see more
Muslim Americans involved in the political process, more engaged, and not just
in the law enforcement field. We're not just here
to talk about national security, but to address a whole host of issues and be
looked at as equal stakeholders in the progress of
Note: On April 25, MPAC will hold its 18th annual
media awards ceremony in
[CONTACT: Government Relations Director Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, 202-547-7701, firstname.lastname@example.org]
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