Friday, October 1, 2010


US Muslims at the crossroads

By Mowahid Hussain Shah
September 30, 2010

In an environment of non-stop pressures on Muslims in the US, a realisation is slowly dawning that something has to be done about it. The question is how. On that, opinions differ. Although US Muslims are economically able to make a living, their political judgments and strategic skills remain less than satisfactory.

Some of the notables in the Muslim community recently undertook a bold initiative to brainstorm ideas, through the medium of a town hall meeting in the Washington area. The participants were well educated and professionally accomplished. Yet, when I asked the question: “How many had read the newspaper that day?”, only six hands were raised out of a gathering of nearly 100. The minimal heavy-lifting required to get the job done is not yet there.

While there is a desire to see victories, there may not be a similar willingness to pay the price. Noticed was the modest attendance of young American Muslims, which reveals the disconnect and disparity between elders and youth.

One of the discussants showed his impatience at the US Muslim community for constantly apologising for 9/11. His message resonated because he had lost his nephew and niece in the 9/11 attacks.

A Muslim lady pointed fingers at affluent sectors of the Muslim community that had lavishly funded and feted US politicians over the years who, when it mattered, maintained silence over the mistreatment of Muslims.

Concerns were expressed over why, after so many years, so many Muslims remain invisible on the national stage and are not being proactive.

On the positive side, an elderly Pakistani couple was considering instituting an annual prize of $5,000 dollars to be offered to the youth for writing an essay on the achievements of Muslim heroes.

Toward the end, an argument was made by this writer that perhaps the sheer weight of unjust pressures on the Muslim community may spark the momentum for a re-awakening.

Relevant here is the accuracy of diagnosis. Many are prone to rely on the approach of presenting Islam as a “moderate faith”, or as a “religion of peace”, or an issue of misperception, which can be corrected by conveying more information. But the issue may not be quite as simple as that.

More accurately, it is a matter of being empowered. Muslim weaknesses, internal squabbles, and disunity of purpose invite targeted attacks. It is in the human condition that those perceived as weak are often bullied.

When the Christians were weak in Rome, they were fed to the lions, not too far from where the Vatican is currently headquartered.

Too many in the Western Muslim community are inclined to go into an ostrich-like denial and remain bystanders. Historical record shows that the brunt of the collateral damage is borne by the bystanders.

The unresolved conflicts in the Mideast/Southwest Asia and the threat of force hovering over Iran shall ensure that US Muslims remain in the eye of the storm.

While disquiet about Muslims is a generic problem across the Western world, the turn it takes shall be greatly influenced by what occurs in the US.

Accelerating events are showing that American Muslims may be reaching the crossroads of choices. Either they have to handle their challenges with courage or remain paralysed by fear. But to follow the straight path, more than six out of 100 have to stay properly informed.

The writer is a barrister and a senior columnist.

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