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Misunderstanding Muslims

By Yahya Merchant
Sunday, July 8, 2007

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I have to admit a certain fascination with statistics. I am not naive enough to believe that they cannot be manipulated to show whatever the analyst desires. However, sometimes the numbers do tell a story. For instance, a Syracuse University think tank concludes that out of 800,000 cases filed in federal courts by the Department of Homeland Security in the last three years, only 12 were related to terrorism and a further 112 were cases filed using national security charges. The writer concludes that this casts doubt on the terrorist-fighting credentials of the Department of Homeland Security.

Surely, a more rational conclusion would be that we are very fortunate in having so few terrorist-related cases considering the atmosphere that our foreign policy and wars on terrorism have generated here and worldwide!

War a mistake

Few people can now believe that the aggressive war launched against Iraq in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, which condemns wars of aggression, was anything but a monumental mistake.

It opened up a new front for terrorist activity that did not exist before. It gave opportunities to Iran and Syria to expand their influence in the area. It did not achieve one of its undoubted aims, achieving U.S. control of Iraqi oil.

It also caused great stress here at home where U.S. Muslims have had to face undeserved prejudice, profiling and harassment while traveling.

I wonder how many of those 800,000 federal cases inconvenienced and embarrassed completely innocent people and how many of those were Muslim?

Now, before anyone misunderstands my point here, let me state unequivocally that I do not accept that terrorism or any act of violence is acceptable behavior under any circumstances. My understanding of, and belief in, Islam also completely support my view. Islam permits only self-defense and condemns aggressive warfare. This was codified in Muslim international law some 1,300 years ago.

For further information, read "Islamic Influences on International Philosophy and Law" by C.G. Weeramantry, a former judge and vice president of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Answer to rhetorical question

In response to a recent commentary, I was asked a rhetorical question: Name a Muslim Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I suggest you read the story of Badshah Khan, nonviolent soldier of Islam and close friend and supporter of Mahatma Gandhi. He raised a 100,000-strong, nonviolent army for the first and only time in history.

And he did it among the Pathans of the northwest frontier province of India, the most warlike area of all India. Read "A Man to Match His Mountains," by Eknath Easwaran, and available through Global Exchange.

Another interesting statistical analysis was mentioned in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It reported: "Those who feel threatened by the millions of Muslims in America (with their mosques, hijabs and Allahu Akbars) need to take a moment to read the new survey on Muslim Americans done by the Pew Research Center. It shows that we have much in common."

Survey results show a population that is "highly assimilated into American society. With the exception of very recent immigrants ... a large proportion of their closest friends are non-Muslims." And 63 percent of Muslim Americans feel they can remain devout while living in a "modern society."

However, if we continue with wars against terrorism appearing poorly camouflaged wars against Muslims a media that seem bent on creating divisions on the basis of race and religion, and a population that falls for the whole shebang and goes out attacking Muslims, mosques and a few unfortunate Sikhs whom they are too ignorant to differentiate from Muslims, how long will it take to radicalize some of this Muslim population? This could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which, surely is the last thing any American wants, whatever race or creed they belong to.

To my fellow Muslims I say you, especially, need to read about Badshah Khan and follow his example. You also need to work through our mosques and organizations to invite our neighbors to meet with us and help them to realize that, far from being a danger to them, we wish to work together with them to build a country where we can all live together in safety and harmony.

Take the effort

To my fellow Americans, I ask that you take the effort to understand that Muslim immigrants are no different from earlier immigrant groups and have as much culture to add to American life as their predecessors did.

Western civilization owes an enormous debt to Muslims. Without the free-thinking Muslim scholars, scientists and the universities in Andalusia, Damascus and elsewhere in the Middle Ages, the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe might have been delayed for centuries.

Yahya Merchant, of Simi Valley, is a founding member of Discover Islam, a 20-year-old interfaith group dedicated to peacefully bridging misunderstandings between Muslims and people of other faiths. He is also associated with the Ventura Chapter of the Fellowship for Reconciliati



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