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Apr 19 2013

Joining The Fight Against Anti-Muslim Bigotry

By Ramy Osman
April, 2013

Fight Anti-Muslim Bigotry            This past February (2013) I had a brief encounter with a well known personality who is one of many people who voice their hatred of Islam. His name is Frank Gaffney (Washington Times columnist, former advisor to presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, and one of the original signers of the neo-con manifesto called PNAC). I came across him twice, right before we were to appear at a school board hearing and make statements. First, we simply exchanged glances at a Subway restaurant. Then I saw him again as I was parking my car in front of the school administrative building. I stopped my car to let him cross the street, and he insisted that I go first instead (it was raining and he had no umbrella). We then attended the hearing where 26 people made public statements. His statement was to ask the school board to deny a charter application for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) school because the charter applicants are Turkish-Muslims. He warned of the dangers of the “Muslim threat” in America. My statement was to ask the board to officially state that their final decision was not influenced by the many bigoted statements presented in their public hearings. I also poetically called Gaffney and his followers, bigots.

            After the meeting, I saw him as he was leaving the building. I smiled at him, and he smirked and gave a good-bye salute. If I didn’t know any better, I’d call him a gentleman. But to me, he is farthest from it. He promotes the idea that Islam is an inherently evil religion, warns of “civilizational jihad”, that Muslims are “infiltrating” all levels of government, and are even sabotaging the conservative movement . For a long time he was accepted in the conservative and neo-con circles as an authority on foreign policy. He was a talking head who played the role of a satanic whisperer: One who tells others to invade, attack, occupy, torture and imprison others, but himself never performs any of those deeds. He was part of the neo-con machine that put America on the path of unjust wars and national security paranoia.

            Some of these whisperers are also big contributors to the anti-Muslim sentiment around the country. They unite people to oppose mosques, schools (religious or secular), businesses, politicians, and whatever else they perceive to be a “Muslim threat”. Many of them accuse Muslims of “taqiyya” where they believe that all true Muslims are religiously obligated to be deceitful and must lie about a hidden agenda. They also accuse Muslims of wanting to secretly take over the world and are collectively part of a “stealth jihad” movement.

            But as much as I hate what Frank Gaffney says and stands for, in any personal encounter with Gaffney or someone like him, I would offer them the most basic courtesies. If he were close to me I’d hold a door for him, if he dropped something I’d pick it up for him, if he needed help I’d offer my assistance. A person’s humanity overshadows any amount of evil or hatred that they say or encourage. I wouldn’t stand to see Gaffney abused or tortured even though he was one of the first people to encourage the American government and its agencies to use torture against “Muslim terrorists”. I wouldn’t accept that anyone would have the right to act unjustly towards him even though that’s what he advocates against Muslims. Rather, I’m obliged to act according to the divine mandate as taught in the Qur’an: “… stand firm in the cause of God, witnesses to fair dealing. Let not your hatred of a people misguide you from being just towards them.” [Chapter5 : Verse 8]

            Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be bothered if someone hates the Islamic religion or hates Muslims. People are free to hate whatever and whoever they want. But when that hatred translates into influencing society and government into oppressive behavior, then it can’t be ignored. There are many people around the country who are just like Gaffney. Often times they get away with influencing a number of politicians, courts, government agencies (anti-Muslim training given to military and law enforcement), and military personnel into viewing Muslims with suspicion, and into applying prejudiced domestic or international policies when dealing with Muslims. As was mentioned in a New York Times editorial, there’s “a separate justice system for Muslims”. Society and government has come to accept the transgressions of law enforcement against Muslims, but not against other communities.

            To counter this mentality, there are people and organizations (Muslim and non-Muslim) who’ve taken on the task of directly challenging this type of bigoted and discriminatory behavior against Muslims. There are a number of websites dedicated to monitoring anti-Muslim material and behavior, and they publish commentaries and critiques about them. Among these websites are: loonwatch.com , islamophobia-watch.com , islamophobiatoday.com , and spencer-watch.com . There are also public campaigns that seek to educate others about Islamic terminology and teachings that are often misunderstood by the general public. One of them is a sloganeering campaign called “#MyJihad” which uses advertisements to teach that the word “jihad” has a deeper and much broader meaning than what most people think. Another is ICNA’s “Understanding Shariah” campaign, which is a series of nationwide seminars and events that present scholarly perspectives about what “Shariah” really means. Then there are those who battle the bigotry either by initiating legal action in response to illegal and unconstitutional behavior (like Muslim Advocates and CAIR), or by publicly debating the proponents of bigotry (as done by Linda Sarsour, and a number of others).

            Muslims4Liberty (M4L) has also been involved in the fight against bigotry. M4L has publicly criticized people like Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer and Pamela Gellar and others who have built their careers promoting bigotry. M4L Director Will Coley and Assistant Director Davi Barker have also challenged the anti-Muslim leaders to public debates, but most have never accepted. There’s even one instance where Will Coley debated political analyst Jack Burkman, and midway through the debate, Burkman left because he didn’t know how to respond to Will Coley’s arguments. These offers to debate anti-Muslims are still open. Davi recently posted a public comment on the M4L website stating his continued willingness to debate, and there are other M4L members who are just as willing.

            M4L advocates for its members to attend the forums and events where anti-Muslim bigotry takes place to offer a different narrative of Muslims, and to correct misunderstandings of Islamic teachings. M4L doesn’t automatically use the same knee-jerk reactions that most other organizations and people use in these situations. Where most people try to generate public outcry and use pressure tactics to stifle the speech of bigots, M4L is more concerned about directly engaging those who present misinformation or hatred towards Islam and Muslims. This is part of the M4L mission.

            One example of the M4L methodology is what Director Will Coley did in 2011 in his home state of Tennessee. Coley is a former Tea Party radio show host who converted to Islam in 2008. In 2011, he attended a series of Tea Party meetings in eastern Tennessee where a coalition of 14 Tea Party groups were considering whether to support and anti-Shariah bill that was going to be proposed in the Tennessee legislature. Coley began a dialog with the Knoxville Tea Party (part of the TP coalition) leadership and members. He answered many questions about Islam and even organized an event that was open to the TP coalition, where he gave a lecture about Islam. His one-man outreach campaign helped influence the final vote of the coalition. In the end, 12 out of the 14 TP groups voted against endorsing the anti-Shariah bill. The lack of TP support for the bill, coupled with an outcry from the local Muslim community, put enough pressure on the Tennessee lawmakers to change the language of the bill, stripping it of all references to Shariah and Islam. Coley’s ability to engage in dialog with people who are most often the source of anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions, was far more effective than having to lobby and pressure politicians if the anti-Shariah language had remained in the bill and passed into law. His accomplishment even caught the attention of some national media outlets such as Huffington Post and others .

            There are other examples of M4L members challenging bigotry in their own unique way. Assistant Director Barker has written a number of witty commentaries pointing out the absurdities of some anti-Muslim bigots. On multiple occasions he’s invited notable anti-Muslim bigots to either have a respectful private dialog with him, or to engage in a public debate in a neutral venue. Another example is Hesham El-Meligy (Director of M4L-NY), who has made a number of media statements and public speeches. his efforts are focused on providing correct information about Islam as well as addressing the dangers of bigotry when found in both the government and private sectors. And then there is also my recent effort in Virginia where I mobilized people to speak out against blatant bigotry that was presented in public school board hearings.

            Members of M4L strive to use practical knowledge and good manners when confronting bigotry. Ignoring bigotry doesn’t make it go away. And the use of force and coercive tactics to silence speech that is hateful or critical of Islam and Muslims is contrary to Islamic teachings. Intimidation, pressure and threats are tactics used by governments and people to silence others with differing views. It’s an immoral way to deal with the world around you. There might be a place and time to use such tactics, like when they’re used against you, but it cannot be a part of someone’s standard procedure.

            By engaging the proponents of bigotry head on, it can publicly expose them for what they really are, and it can put a burden on the bigots themselves to fix their ways. Pressure or force is hardly ever successful in getting people to change their thinking. On the contrary, those tactics can many times embolden a person to become more insistent in their position (whether that position is right or wrong). But unfortunately this is the tactic of choice when it comes to governments, private citizens, and organizations.

            Never in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did he use force or coercion to silence his critics. None of the previous prophets before him (from Adam to Jesus – peace be upon them) did that either. Rather, the prophetic method is to use “… wisdom and polite teaching…” (Qur’an, Chapter 16, Verse 125). The Qur’an and sunnah (prophetic sayings and actions) are filled with repeated exhortations to be patient, and to respond to “evil” in the best manner possible. These teachings go beyond what libertarians call the “non-Aggression Principle”, which states that it is immoral to initiate force against another person. In this case, not only does the Qur’an teach non-aggression, but it teaches people to go the extra mile and actually show some gentleness with your opponents (as long as they’re not physically fighting or subjugating you). This is not saying that you shouldn’t get upset or angry when bigotry is directed towards you. But it is providing a guideline for what can be regarded as the “best” way to respond.

The methodology of all prophets is one rooted in being kind to those who are mean to you, and patient with those who speak out of ignorance. The prophets had the highest level of morality among their people, yet were most often treated in the vilest of ways. They were the recipients of cruel treatment not because they were imposing and forceful on those around them, but simply because of the content of their message. There are many stories of people who were once the staunchest enemies of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and might even have conspired to kill him at one point, who later on in their lives regarded Muhammad (pbuh) as the most beloved person to them.  That was only possible because of the prophet’s consistent message and mannerism with those around him. It’s a reflection of the verse: “… Repel evil with that which is best. If there is enmity between you and another, you may find him becoming like a loyal and sincere friend.” (Qur’an: Chapter 41, Verse 34)

             As people become familiar with the thought and methods of M4L, we hope more people will support or join the M4L banner of directly challenging ignorance and bigotry. Consider this a call to those already doing their own efforts of opposing bigotry, whether independently or part of an organization; Consider this a call to those wanting to confront difficult issues head on; Consider making your struggle part of the M4L struggle: Join us … info@muslims4liberty.org

 

3 comments

  1. Ulanda

    Really? Is it not true that Sharia Law entrenches female genital mutilation, beating of wives, stonings, beheadings, marriage to underage girls, honour killings, jihadi suicide even among little boys, killing and rape of ‘infidels? (all objectionable moral behaviour in the “free” world).

    Show me a Muslim community that rejects this objectionable Sharia and will not submit to it? Show me a Muslim that punishes the above objectionable behaviour? Show me reformed attitudes towards women and girls?

    We’ll soon see who the real bigots are!

    1. Phillip Slepian

      Good luck with that, Ulanda. Just as, according to civil rights leaders, African Americans can only be victims of bigotry, and never bigoted themselves, so, too, for Ramy, Muslims can never be bigoted, but only ever the victims of bigotry. M4L is one of the weakest efforts at dawa I have yet seen. When you point out the obvious, Ramy will insult you and call you a bigot and a racist. All ad hominem attacks in response to reasoned arguments.

  2. Phil Slepian

    Well, I agree that hatred is a normal human emotion. To try and outlaw an emotion is folly, as is any attempt to prevent people from being offended. Calling anyone who crticizes Islam a bigot is exactly the the kind of coercion Ramy claims to eschew. It is an attempt to shut the criticizer up, by discrediting him as a bigot simply for presenting an opinion that Muslims may not like. As for Gaffney’s well-reasearched and reasoned arguments, I offer this item in his defense:

    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3672/muslim-brotherhood-us-government

    Clearly, whether Ramy is party to it or not, the American people are being played by the “good cop – bad cop” routine. The Muslim Brotherhood steadily and stealthily increases its influence in society, while condeming violence of the sort we saw in Boston last week. In that way, the Ikhwan gains the reputation of the “good Muslims” in America, even though the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood are indeed nearly identical to the goals of violent jihadists. The two differ mainly as to tactics. But through this “good cop – bad cop” routine, they gain the trust of Americans who do not understand the long range goals and plans of the Muslim Brotherhood. These goals may not be Ramy’s, but Ramy isn’t the subject of Gaffney’s work or the focus of Clare Lopez’s work either. And it is not Ramy who Gaffney was critical of at the school board hearing. But of course, that hasn’t stopped Ramy from trying to silence Gaffney with cries of bigotry.

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