Justice is Expensive
By Hasan Zillur Rahim
Dr. John L. Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University and a prolific author, was the keynote speaker at a recent fundraiser for the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) ( http://www.MuslimLegalFund.org ) in Santa Clara, California.
Established in November of 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MLFA has been defending the civil rights and liberties of American Muslims. It is a network of community members, leaders, volunteers, employees and supporters that has taken on the cases of individual Muslims and organizations who were victims of unjust legal actions by the government. Some high profile cases include the Holy Land Foundation, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, Haseeb Chishti and the Six Imams.
Many American Muslims are not aware of the critically important work that MLFA does. The organization often has to work behind the scenes, far from the media spotlight, but what they do is nothing less than upholding the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights for all Americans, particularly American Muslims.
As Dr. Esposito reminded his attentive listeners, what we are seeing of Islamophobia in America now is only the tip of the iceberg. As Muslims become more integrated into American society, the attacks will increase. Hate mongers will continue to file unsubstantiated and bogus charges. They will play the politics of fear and try to keep American Muslims perpetually on the defensive.
The danger is that Muslims may succumb to an ideology of reaction rather than of action. From his 40 years of involvement with Muslims in America, Dr. Esposito feels that a) American Muslims are still not as active as they need to be, and that b) they are not as generous financially toward worthwhile causes as their comparative financial status requires them to be.
Prof. Esposito gave the example of a Jewish organization of women (in which he was once invited to speak) that frequently raises millions of dollars for charitable causes. He learned that its success was the culture of philanthropy that animates its members. From a very early age, members were encouraged by their parents to put money aside for donation, however small the amount might be. This trait continues from generation to generation and so for Jewish organizations raising funds becomes as natural an act as going to work or raising a family.
Muslims need to finance a strong lobby in Washington and cultivate relationships with candidates from both parties. But he lamented the prevalence of well-to-do “photo-op” Muslims in America. He recalled a million-dollar wedding bash of an American Muslim whose family had flown in relatives and musicians from all over the world. However, the groom and his family seated themselves only with American politicians. There was not a single Muslim near or around them. This reflects nothing but a profound cultural anxiety and a lack of self-assurance. Given the number of American Muslims and their level of education and income, such attitude simply cannot be justified.
Dr. Esposito put it bluntly: Money speaks. To build strong institutions, you need money and you need to donate generously. It is an unfortunate fact that establishing justice depends not on rationality or goodwill but on expert legal services. That requires money, time and other resources. The price tag associated with justice that many of us often willfully ignore is very high.
It is not enough, Dr. Esposito said, to have faith and offer prayers. Faith has to translate into action. Muslims sweat about Palestine in conferences and seminars and then they retreat to a sumptuous dinner. They write small checks, are satisfied that they have met their obligations and hope for the best. You have to write realistic checks, Dr. Esposito said, so that organizations like the MLFA can sustain their legal work to protect freedom and promote justice for all Americans.
To secure the legal and political rights of American Muslims will be a long and uphill battle. We need only remind ourselves how many decades it took for African-Americans to achieve racial equality. We need only remind ourselves how long it took for other ethnic minorities like the Jews and the Italians to break free of stereotypes.
Muslims must never despair but they also have to step up to the plate collectively and support organizations like the MLFA that have dedicated themselves to protecting their constitutional rights.