Dear President Obama and Imam Rauf,
I am writing to you because anti-Muslim rhetoric has reached a feverish pitch here in the US. As you know, this has had dire consequences for Muslims, from arson attempts at mosque sites to gun shots and physical violence. It is therefore important and urgent that you speak out against this rising tide of Islamophobia not on the grounds of “national security” but rather in terms of what this actually represents: racism.
President Obama, in your inaugural address you acknowledged that Muslims are a part of American society. In your Cairo speech, you rejected the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric by pointing to the contributions that Muslims have made to world progress and civilization.
Yet, you have done little to stop the demonization of Muslims. You have used the same rhetoric as Bush to justify sending more troops to Afghanistan and escalating drone attacks on Pakistan. You continue the despicable practices of torture, extraordinary rendition etc., and have prevented innocent victims of torture from having their day in court.
Today, under your presidency, Muslims in the US are in a precarious and dangerous position, perhaps more so than under Bush. You have a responsibility to stop this anti-Muslim bigotry and take a principled stand in support of Muslims.
I know you like “teaching moments,” so here are some suggestions for what you might say:
I stand firmly in support of Imam Rauf’s Cordoba House project. This community center must be built exactly on the proposed site because not to do so would be a victory for the far right wing bigots who argue that Islam as a whole is to blame for the tragedy of 9/11. This is a patently false claim and one that is meant to promote hatred against all Muslims. We should not give even one inch to such racism and vilification.
I urge Terry Jones and other such would-be Koran burners to immediately stop such activities. You cannot hide behind the claim of ‘free speech’ because such actions are a part of a campaign of hate, and of hate speech, that will only incite more violence against Muslims.
To the 20% of Americans who think I am a “secret Muslim”: yes, I am a Muslim. I may practice Christianity, but I am Muslim, I am Jewish, I am an atheist, I am Hindu, I am Buddhist. I represent all citizens of this country but also assert that religion has no place in politics. Shame on you, and your leaders in the Tea Party “movement,” for trying to slander me by calling me a Muslim—in doing so, you reveal your own prejudices and intolerance. There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim and I am proud to have Muslim relatives.
Give it a try, its not that hard to do.
Imam Rauf, I wholeheartedly support your Cordoba Initiative and the plan to build a community center two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. I deeply respect your attempts to foster greater understanding of the Muslim community here in the US.
Indeed, Larry King and Solidad O’Brien could have benefitted from such education. Even just a few visits to a community center such as your proposed Cordoba House might have clued them in on how to pronounce your name. They would have learned that “Feisal” is an extremely common name and that to butcher it the way they did (by calling you Imam “Faizool”) would be like saying “Lorry” instead of “Larry.”
Listening to King mispronounce your name at the start of his show on Sept. 8, and then O’Brien who interviewed you, repeat that mispronunciation, made me think that if O’Brien hadn’t done the research on how to pronounce your name (a quick check on Miriam-Webster dictionary would have done the job), then there was little chance that she had researched the causes and consequences of Islamophobia.
I don’t recall her even using the word “Islamophobia” let alone trying to cast light on how hatred against Muslims has been on the rise. Instead, she kept pressing you on how 71% of Americans did not think that building the center was the right thing to do.
Surely, as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and recipient of the NAACP’s President’s Award, she should know that majorities aren’t always right. The majority of whites in the US south supported segregation and opposed the aims of Rev Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. But they were wrong. Jim Crow segregation had to be ended regardless of majority opinion, and an entire generation had to be educated on why racism was unacceptable.
Today, we face a similar challenge with anti-Muslim racism and prejudice.
Yet, Imam Rauf, I was disappointed that you didn’t fully rise to this challenge because you did not talk about Islamophobia either. While you made many useful points, you also argued that the community center project has to continue in the interest of “national security.” You are no doubt aware that “national security” has been the catch-all justification for the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and that the demonization of Muslims has been a central part of this process.
The logic of the “war on terror” is that there are Muslim terrorists all over the world and that the US has to go to war with countries in which they live in the interests of “national security.”
Yet, you know that these wars supposedly in the “national interest” will only create more loss of life and even more grievances in Muslim majority countries against the US. You also know that some people gravitate towards fundamentalist groups like al Qaeda because, however wrong they might be, they see no other way of responding to the murder of their children, parents, spouses and relatives at the hands of US troops.
You stated a while back that US policies in the Muslim world were “an accessory” to the events of 9/11—so I’m sure you agree that continuing such policies as the “war on terror” will not ensure “national security.” It will only make ordinary Americans, like the ones who died on 9/11 and who have nothing to do with the policies of the US government, even more unsafe.
I respect your desire to speak the truth and I urge you to continue to do so even under what must be extraordinarily trying and stressful conditions for you.