In his speech to the nation following the San Bernardino terror attack, U.S. President Barack Obama made a rightful plea to Muslims: “If we're to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities.” Making his case, Obama again rightly stated that “extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities” and “it’s a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.”
The president then insisted that Muslim leaders in America as well as around the world work with the U.S. to “root out” the problem, reject violence and ideological supremacism and promote “mutual respect and human dignity.”
It is telling in the fight against Islamist extremism who is rallying with the president on these points and who is fighting against him.
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the taxpayer-funded Arab American Association and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, had this to say about Obama’s request: “We would never ask any other faith community to stand up and condemn acts of violence committed by people within their groups.”
If Christians or any other faith group worldwide were committing terrorist rampages across the globe citing sources that it is sanctioned or even required by their religion, we mostly likely would ask for members of that faith in America to condemn them and make sure their children did not become radicalized.
Sarsour and her fellow apologists understand this well. What Sarsour’s remarks are meant to accomplish is a complete sidestep of the entire issue, ironically facilitated by Obama himself. Obama’s refusal to tie “extremist ideology” to Islam makes it is possible for Sarsour and those who share her sentiments to claim “Islamophobia” and call it a day.
Further commenting on Obama’s request, Sarsour said, “The fact that this is only directed at the Muslim community is something that I personally can't accept."
(It could be that Sarsour doesn’t feel the same way about violence as does the president. One of her recent tweets featured a Palestinian child with a rock in each of his hands approaching Israeli soldiers. Sarsour wrote underneath: “The definition of courage.”)
Muslims who are truly interested in rooting out the extremism in their midst would not bristle at Obama’s request. Indeed, many are already active in the fight against those who they believe are perverting their religion. They acknowledge the problem and don’t think it’s “Islamophobic” to talk about it.
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“What we need to do now — rather than giving a forum to self-appointed spokespeople like CAIR who have not led the fight against extremism — is listen to those who have actually been taking on this very struggle the president referenced,” says Karima Bennoune, a University of Davis law professor, author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism. “Our conversation should be why and what is it in our theology that has been so bastardized to give people permission to kill? Until we honestly root this out, we will by default be blamed," she said.
Nidal Alsayyed, an imam who heads the Islamic Center of Triplex of Beaumont, Texas went one step further, saying that he agrees with presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to halt Muslim immigration into the U.S. until the country’s “representatives can figure out what is going on.”
"I certainly see it to be wise (to) stop temporarily accepting any new Muslim immigrants (refugees and non-refugees) into the United States," said Alsayyed. "We American Muslims need to be sincere in our religion and to the country we are living in. Peace comes before religion. We need to be truthful and transparent when we express a viewpoint or feedback. It does not matter whether Trump said it or anyone else," he added.
Democratic president candidate Hillary Clinton has refused to use the words “radical Islam," saying, "It doesn't do justice to the vast number of Muslims in our country and around the world who are peaceful people."
On the contrary.
“Not saying it, when it represents a reality, is much worse,” says Bennoune. And certainly, not saying it will not make the problem go away.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org