Behind the Boston Attacks
Reader comment on item: Boston Bomber Exposes Islamist Secret

Submitted by Khalilah Sabra, May 3, 2013 01:11

Behind Boston

When the Ku-Klux-Klan justified their lynchings of African-Americans by quoting Christian scripture, no one considered them a part of Christianity. When Eric Rudolph bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1998, he quoted the Bible to support his brutality and declared that Christianity was his mandate and a reason for vindication. Despite his self-proclaimed Christian motivation, his act was seen as political rather than religiously inspired.

However, when terrorists cite Islamic beliefs to justify murder and madness, the mainstream is quick to call the deadly actions part of Islam.

The rationale behind much of this writing is that the convoluted problems in our country are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or religious racism, but one of insufficient information about the religious teaching of Islam. If Americans could simply learn "who Muslims are" in this expansive country, we'd be in a better position to address the methods by which this nation drew up an indictment against a whole people.

Amid the political fear-mongering and bigotry, American Muslims have been waiting to exhale. Undeniably, part of our lack of exhilaration has been due to the evolution of a minority of fighting "faithfuls" committed to disseminating their version of Islam through violence. Just when you thought there was enough ways to justify intolerance, the terrorist attack in Boston widened the clash of culture between the West and Islam and the terms of atonement became more wearisome.

The extremists' choice to die for a cause has made life difficult to live for many Islamic practitioners.

Though leaders in the Muslim world and America have been working twenty-four-seven for over a decade with the United States against extremism, the terms that govern a Muslim's access to and use of American democracy are becoming more restricted. They have been committed to developing and implementing support programs and processes that add value to America and its citizens. The committed few have done all they can to ensure that interacting with Muslims is a satisfying and rewarding experience for non-Muslims while seeking to live out core values – respect, responsibility, and spiritual integrity. However, the sins of Osama and those who have chosen to follow his bloody footsteps have made the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims so tangled that only God may be able to unravel it.

In population and territory, the West is shrinking, but the level of faith-based debate in this country not increasing- even as Muslim minorities grow and become more determined to claim the rights denied them in their birth countries. 9/11 created an era of barriers existing for Muslims within the social and political passageways of this country. That uneven path towards achieving civil parity and social liberty uncovered enormous moral contradictions in America's democratic consciousness. This was a raging conflict which immigrant Muslims were unprepared to cope with. The age of inclusion ended that September day in 2001 and the American mainstream is still not overwhelmingly convinced that multicultural tolerance and democracy's historic protocols can guarantee this country security from the kind of attacks experienced on that day. Since then, reason has been drowned out by sensationalist media which did all it could to make Islam a loaded word.

The fear of Americans was equal to the fright and devastation that Muslims suffered from the wild political contagion that right-wing political lawmakers caused to go viral once they confidently announced Islam to be an enemy of the State. Henceforth, it appeared that Muslim communities would have to be content to live in a country where Islamic beliefs are found to be offense and most of the nation's people were privy to shambolic religious illiteracy. America, the great hodgepodge of humankind, began to insist that Muslims surrender their collective identity in exchange for their individual civil liberties. Muslims found themselves in a strange and illusory time where they wanted to live but not be heard.

Self-preservation exceeded the need for self-definition.

There had never been a more dangerous time to be an Islamic practitioner in America. The Muslim identity as a group was ill-defined, misunderstood in a country that undermines non-traditional identities. Muslims stood mute. We failed to appreciate that nothing can be had by a group of people who chooses to make a statement by being silent.

What startled Islamic communities the most was the remarkable degree of religious racism that lingered almost everywhere. Most Americans knew that there would be some degree of discriminative backlash, but were shocked by how much it had intensified. Moreover, liberal allies known to befriend the Islamic communities showed little inclination to address the matter and were occasionally even baffled when it was brought it up. Many people seemed to view the backlash issue as security issue that needed to be sufficiently addressed.

In most cases, the Islamic leadership was given the distinct impression that their inquiries about this matter were not welcome. Following September 11, 2001, the United States government became officially involved in war on two fronts. Both involved Muslims, targets of the same campaign, though in different theaters. Although an invisible American minority painfully achieved high visibility, their voices were silenced. Islamic organizations inside the United States became the subject of numerous studies, special programs and religious profiling. The lives of Muslims were studied and their personalities examined, often with the great deal of confidence, by "experts" far away from the communities who did not know them but relied on data generated by researchers to come up with various conclusions that were used to justify political decisions.

Most of the time, these generalities were much too ill-defined, biased and relentless. It seemed at times like the world of experts picked up a two-ton cement block labeled "significant to national security" and placed it onto the backs of Muslims, then ordered them to bear the pain of it for hundreds of years. The size and weight of all this significance made it hard to see that there were law-abiding citizens under all that weight.

It was to easy to ignore how much of the existence of American Muslims had little to do with terrorism, extremism and national security issues, as well as how said American Muslims did not lend their lives to the generalities that would have led to even a mention in a national security report.

The lives of most Muslims are typically made up not of "insurgency doctrines" or "operational terrorist cells" but of smaller things like rent, income and the education of their children. A narrow lens is better than a wide one in discerning what a Muslim's life is really about and what distinguishes him from other Americans who live in the same country, go to the same grocery store or bank, and from the vantage point of someone at a "think tank" who has to think in terms of categories and who tend to focus on the differences rather than the similarities.

Few of the national reports published the year following the attacks made even passing references to discriminative backlash and religious racism against Muslims in America. National security, antiterrorism legislation and counterintelligence services seem to dominate the discussion. The concept of civil rights seemed to be effaced almost entirely. Dutiful references to legal principles were seen in some news articles, but the content of these entitlements was treated as a closed box that could not be opened without ruining the parade.

Bin Laden showed just how much one person can do to demote a charitable, tolerant, and integrated society. He exposed the limits of the melting pot after he destroyed the lives of innocent people who had nothing to do with any of the anger that created his dark side. He mastered a strategy of destruction and left the millions of Muslims, scattered around the world, vulnerable to government sanctioned repercussions that spotlighted our actions, words, whereabouts, living quarters, and travels. Osama mastered a strategy that masked his own existence for sometime while United States Intelligence made it impossible for the rest of us to hide anywhere. The lives of the most ordinary Muslims became up close and personal to law enforcement and as a group we became "persons of interest". He was a man who made a destructive choice. Yes, he was born and raised in a Muslim country, but Hitler was born and raised in a Christian country. These factors did neither any good. On the contrary, it just made their transgressions much worse.

Initially, Islamic organizations made a desperate effort to plea the community's innocence and the need for reconciliation. The leadership kept explaining that being Muslim is not synonymous with terrorism. The rigors of survival, were not equal to the severity of congressional charades that sought to make Islam unsightly in America.

More than a decade later the rush to tar and feather all Muslims continues to be an exponent of many mainstream news outlets. Right-wing media is playing to its base, hoping that their words become the epitome of a bigger society.

For anyone who came of age during the years from 2001 and 2012, these disclosures could not fail to be disheartening. What seems unmistakable, but, oddly enough, is rarely said in public settings nowadays, is that this nation, for all practice and intent, has turned its back upon the moral implications if not yet the social consequences of disenfranchisement of its Muslim citizens. The dual society, at least in the realm of human rights, seems to be unquestioned. This may be basic to the problem of homegrown terrorism.

Among us are hundreds of thousands of young Muslims who once hoped to be part of this society to share its abundance, opportunity, and causes. We can deny this wish or work to make it come true. If we choose denial then we choose spreading conflict, which will certainly erode the well-being and liberty of every citizen and, in a severe way, undermine the concept of American democracy.

For some young souls, these hopes were progressively dashed after being reared in a world that watched Muslims with resentment and with curiosity, wonder, anger, bitterness, and disgust: Socially stagnant in a world of anti-religious based decisions in which Muslim dominated nations were attacked, revenge was exacted and people contained. It became a nation of exploitation rather than constitutional ideals. Through the targeted use of a wide set of immigration and law enforcement policies and actions, the U.S. government casted Muslims as dangerous threats to national security, leaving Muslim communities across the United States vulnerable to discrimination and discriminatory profiling.

During these years, the American Muslim community, weak and disorganized, still have not mastered the kinds of strategies needed to address the issues of its youth, the reality that some of our sons are being brainwashed into looking at their birth country from outside ideologies. This fact, mixed with damaged psyches, have left young males ripe for exploitation. Influences able to master a significant interaction with immature minds are engaged in systematic persuasion, convincing them into buying into dangerous ideas. The scheme begins with, "Someone hurt you, you need to hurt them back."

Feeling disowned and powerless to change his condition by way of constructive activity, some lash out. Denied the most fundamental rights: the need for identity, for recognition as a human being and as an American, his terroristic tendencies are not simply protesting his condition but making a self-defeating attempt to assert his worth as a human being, to announce to the world that though we may despise his actions, we must still acknowledge his power.

The parents of such a child know just how much injustice soils innocence. They wish they could eternalize his civility as he goes through a process by which he loses his juvenile timidity forever. They do not know what to do but they do know what probably lies ahead. They do their best to shut it all out. It seems to be a much better alternative to thinking of what may someday be.

Of all our problems, this may be the most serious and pressing, the one that threatens to paralyze our capacity to feel safe, to eliminate our capacity to be afraid, is the threat from extremism and the violence that has exploded as its product-springing from one part of the country to another, sending fear and hatred before it, leaving death and destruction behind it. We are in the midst of what is rapidly becoming the most horrific domestic crisis of our time. Its consequences reaches into the hearts of all Americans.

Frankly, the challenge to overcome violence will not be diminished only by attempt to suppress dissenters with punitive measures. Pleas for law and order serve only to deepen the growing divisions that disable us all, and can never replace a working commitment for change on the silence of those who use violence to get your attention.

If we choose hope and fulfillment for every American it will take a vigorous effort but we will choose to protect the well-being of this Nation's people. We will choose to end more than a decade of fear and heal wounds that still remain open. Though we are a nation of individuals, possessing our own personal obstacles and differing goals, shaped by the vagaries of history and experience, we have a shared task ahead of us.

Contrary to its vocal aspirations of political commentators, Islam as a faith in this country is certainly not going to fade away. It therefore becomes imperative that the members of this nation must look to every counterpart as a community member, people not bound to each other because they share a community, but a common cause. Stop the drip feeding of fear fuels a rising tide of prejudice. "One nation under God" demands a country in which all men live in dignity, security and amicability. Confronting the poverty of equality will unite a fractured country. Divided, we are collections of Islands, islands of Christians afraid of islands of Muslims, islands of Muslim youth that are bitterly resentful of a birth country that severed the bonds of nationalism, and islands of immigrants warring with Islands of indigenous citizens.

Islam is no longer a "foreign" presence in the West. It is integral to the West just as any other religion. Like it or not, history has placed us all, Muslim and non-Muslim, Arab and non-Arab within a common border. All of us, from the strongest to the weakest, share a nation called America. It was established on civil liberty and justice and we cannot renounce it, neither can we afford to forget that real communities come from embracing diversity, warm spirits and the generous spirit of cooperation. Muslims deserve no less.

Khalilah Sabra, Executive Director

MAS Immigrant Justice center

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