In these twelve years that passed since 9/11, Muslims have evolved from the brink of being called "terrorists" and lived in the drapes of undutiful apology for what have been defaming the image of peaceful Muslims and Islam in total.
OnIslam.net took some questions to the most influential Islamic organization in the US, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Mr. Hassan Shibly, the Executive Director of Tampa Chapter of CAIR, thankfully spoke to OnIslam.net in an email-based interview on the anniversary of 9/11, in attempt to shed light on the realities that the American Muslims community is living through twelve years after the tragic events.
Follow Politics Zone on:
OnIslam.net: Years ago, typical questions you would get in an interview would be about your identity as an American versus you as a Muslim, did this change or are the same arguments still upfront in the community?
Hassan Shibly: The conversation on American Muslim identity continues to this day. I spoke at a conference about this topic this past weekend. The reality is that there is no contradiction between being American and being Muslim. The two are very complementary to each other. In fact, it is easier to be Muslim in America than most other places in the world. America offers Muslims the freedom to be who they want to be and practice as they wish to practice; a freedom which is not even found in most so-called “Muslim” countries.
It is critical we teach our youth to appreciate the freedom America offers to practice Islam, and also American ideals like freedom of religion and assembly, which are necessary for Islam to flourish. Muslim youth also need to recognize that the notion that it is easier to be Muslim in a “Muslim country” is actually false. The reality is that countries in the Middle East have the same temptation, if not worse, that Muslim youth face in America, but lack the freedom to practice Islam that Muslim youth have in America.
It is also important to teach the American public about the beautiful message of Islam and that the things which Islam holds sacred: Religion, Life, Health, Wealth, and Honor are the same things that American values honor as well. Only those who see Islam and America as monolithic can see any contradiction between the two identities. For example, those who identify America exclusively by mistakes in its foreign policy such as the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have took the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians or the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, may see America as incompatible with Islam’s message of peace.
However, those that know America would know that America is much more than its foreign policy. It is a diverse and free nation where people of all ideas and beliefs have the right to compete to promote their ideals and that many Americans are advocates of peace, justice, and civil liberty and reject the crimes that have been committed in their names. Likewise, if a person sees Islam as simply what some criminals did on 9/11, likewise they will see Islam as incompatible with America.
However, those that know Islam know that the terrorists who executed 9/11 had nothing to do with Islam and that Islam rejects such crimes and all faiths have been hijacked by extremists to advance political interests.
In short, what can be said is that America is about liberty and freedom and Islam likewise is about freedom. One cannot have true faith if he is not free to choose his faith without compulsion. God does not want those forced to worship him, he wants those who love to worship him and freedom to choose is critical to that.
Some people mistakenly describe being American as looking or acting a certain way, however, America is about freedom and diversity and thus it is un-American to monopolize what it means to be American. Being a practicing Muslim makes you a better American because Islam teaches truth, justice, love, and compassion. Living in America will allow you to be a better Muslim because America offers the freedom to practice your faith and be who you want to be.
OI: How did CAIR along with other sister Muslim organizations help in developing the American Muslim identity since 9/11?
Shibly: Organizations like CAIR have been critical in preserving and defending a positive and healthy reflection of American Muslim identity since 9/11. We were critical in pushing back against the very small but vocal groups of both Muslim and Anti-Muslim extremists who wished to promote the message that Islam and America are incompatible.
We also provided a credible source of information for the media and public who was eager to hear the Muslim voice on issues of importance and learn more about the Islamic faith. In light of increased Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims since 9/11 organizations like CAIR helped the public realize that an assault on the freedom and liberty of American Muslims was in reality an assault on the liberty of all Americans.
American Muslims are playing a critical role in preserving freedom and liberty for all Americans and preserving the values necessary for America to remain a free and just nation.
OI: There is an Arabic idiom that says: “A detrimental might be beneficial,” does this apply on CAIR’s view of the aftermath of 9/11 in terms of increasing awareness about Islam?
Shibly: The events of 9/11 were so tragic and the loss of innocent life so severe that it is impossible to consider the terrible events as beneficial. Thousands lost their lives on that day, and two wars were subsequently executed where hundreds of thousands more also lost their lives. American freedom and liberty have also taken big hits and it will be a long time before Americans regain the liberty we lost on that day.
Unfortunately, for many Americans their first exposure to Islam was hearing that terrorists used the faith to justify their atrocious attacks. This naturally sparked much curiosity and interest in the faith and created a huge demand for answers about Islam. This resulted in many opportunities for the public to learn about Islam and see for themselves the beauty the faith represents and that only those with corrupted hearts could use it to justify terrorism.
OI: Beyond their inner contributions to the community, how do you assess the US Muslims contribution to the country at large?
Shibly: American Muslims are playing a critical role in preserving freedom and liberty for all Americans and preserving the values necessary for America to remain a free and just nation. American Muslims are at the forefront of the fight to preserve civil rights and fight against the bigotry and intolerance which may undermine our liberty.
There is no doubt that if America remains a free and just nation a century from now, it is because of the efforts of American Muslim civil rights activists and leaders who are defending the American Muslim community and public at large against gross government violations of liberty and American ideals outlined in the US Constitution. American Muslims are also highly educated and consist of many great business leaders and medical health professionals whose efforts ensure a higher standard of life for all people.
OI: Measured against the American values and ideals, how do you see the surveillance program targeting US Muslims?
Shibly: Surveillance programs targeting US Muslims are un-American and make our nation less free and less safe. It makes us less free because it violates the US Constitution for the US government to treat people differently and harass people simply because of their religious affiliation.
It makes us less safe because it is ineffective and leads to missing the overwhelming amount of terrorists and criminals that have no affiliation with Muslims. According to the FBI’s own data, between 1980-2005 less than 6 percent of terrorist attacks in the US were carried out by Muslims. In the decade after 9/11, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, 33 Americans were killed by terrorists of Muslim background, while 200 Americans were killed by white supremacist terrorists and 180,000 Americans were murdered.
Thus when you focus on a group where only a small minority of attacks comes from, you miss bigger threats and you destroy American ideals by wrongfully targeting minorities protected by the constitution.
OnIslam.net: Thank you very much indeed for taking this interview.
Related Links:John Esposito... On Muslims & West
Muslims in Chicago (Interview)
Islam Scapegoated by US Politicians