The Chicago Tribune editorial of September 14, 1998, “America and Islam: Sharing A World”, makes a number of valid and thoughtful points. It points out quite accurately the great diversity of Muslim people all over the world and the fact that the vast majorities are peaceful, productive individuals who contribute positively to the societies they live in. In fact, Americans do not have to look far to discover what Muslims are like. They may discover that their neighbor, their handyman, their physician, or the computer expert thy are dealing with is a Muslim American. Their children's friends and the person they are doing business with may also be Muslim. There are approximately eight million Muslims in the US and any unbiased analysis of their contribution to the society would conclude that it has been overwhelmingly constructive.
If they look closer they may also discover a great deal of dynamism and energy in the Muslim community as it struggles to come to terms with its own identity in the context of the US realities it is living in. They may detect many signs of internal reform within the community on issues like gender relations, ways of participating in the economic system and race relations. To a religious historian the ferment in the Muslim community would be reminiscent of the pluralism and experimentation seen in the Christian communities when the colonies broke away from the 1500-year-old European tradition of state sponsored religion to an independent parish system. It is possible, as Ralph Braibanti professor of political science emeritus at Duke university points out in his monograph “The nature and structure of the Islamic world”, (published by ISPI in”95) that “this dynamism and clearly defined piety that Muslims hold has the potential of resuscitating the West's decline to morbidity”.
The vast majority of Muslims are deeply appreciative of the freedom of thought and expression, religious and cultural pluralism, egalitarianism and tolerance for human eccentricities and the ambition to be a just and compassionate society that makes this country the great nation it is. They are eager to play their part in strengthening this country and make it not just a great but an exemplary nation. They are ready and willing to participate in debating public policy issues and offer proactive solutions to the many vexing problems facing this country.
However their existence needs to be recognized and the majority communities needs to invite them to the policy round tables. It is imperative for the functioning of vigorous multicultural society that the groups that control power share it with the more vulnerable and weaker sections of the society. This applies not just to Muslims but to all minority groups religious, ethnic, social or economic.
With the exception of interfaith groups, Muslims' attempts to participate in public debate have met with little success. Thus far the policy makers and the law enforcement agencies appear to equate Muslim with evil and are either busy promulgating laws like the anti-terrorism bill and the secret evidence/secret trial immigration law, or applying a draconian law like RICOH to a literary organization in Chicago. These recent laws pose a clear danger to the civil rights of Muslims in the US and are a violation of the fundamental principles of fair play and due process of our country. The secret to peaceful coexistence with Muslims the world over, as the editorial hopes for, lies in collaboration with the Muslims right here in the US. Muslim representatives ought to be in advisory bodies, deliberative panels and policy groups. Many Muslim organizations already exist and would be willing participants in these type of forums. These include professional organizations like the association of Muslim lawyers, social scientists and the Islamic medical association, media watch groups like CAIR and think tanks like the International Strategy and Policy Institute (ISPI).
The future may not be predictable but can be influenced by a proactive and positive approach. The current paradigm being used by the policy makers to make their decisions may indeed lead to the “clash of civilizations” which Huntington, professor at Harvard, warned us about. However it is possible that a change in attitudes may bring a glorious collaboration of cultures similar to that seen in the Spain 700 years ago.
Executive Director, ISPI
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