Trusting Muslim Americans is Good for US Security

Javeed Akhter, MD

Posted Nov 1, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Trusting Muslim Americans is Good for US Security

Karen Hughes on a recent listening tour of the Muslim countries ran into unexpected grilling by her carefully chosen audiences.  She was taken to task for the Iraq war and prisoner abuse and was asked rhetorically why she thought everyone wanted to mimic the American lifestyle.  For Muslim Americans this did not come as surprise.  The administration has repeatedly shown remarkable naivet in its efforts to improve its image amongst Muslims.  The approach may be compared to rebranding soap or a soft drink. Muslim Americans have been pleading with the administration to partner with them and trust their advice in dealing with Muslim related issues but to no avail.  There is not a single Muslim American in any position of trust in the administration.  The exception is the current ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who inspite of going to school at the University of Chicago is a virtual unknown in the Muslim community.

The lack of trust in Muslim Americans is one of the tragic but understandable consequences of 9/11.  How was the Muslim American community, people wondered, connected to the 9/11 bombers?  Who are these Muslim Americans?  There wasnt much known about the community. 

Over four years later things are different. There has been no evidence of Muslim American involvement in acts of violence in our country.  If there are any sleeper cells they are in such deep sleep they may as well be in coma.  A lot more is known about the profile of the Muslim American community.

There are several million Muslims in the US and their numbers are growing.  The exact number of Muslims in the US is a matter of speculation as most studies that looked at Muslim numbers have had to extrapolate their results from data collected on limited samples.  Most agree that the Muslim American is highly educated.  The American Public Square survey conducted by Zogby late in 2001, found 59% of Muslim Americans have at least undergraduate education.  Many are professionals in Medicine, Engineering and IT fields.  There are increasing numbers in law, business, social sciences and media.  The immigrant Muslims are also affluent with approximately one third earning over $75,000 per year.  In all informal surveys Muslim Americans abhor violence.  Very few live in ethnically segregated neighborhoods like Muslims in Britain and Europe do.  All empiric data available suggests that the profile of Muslim Americans differs substantially from their counterparts in Britain and Europe. 

Most also agree that in spite of their education, affluence and upper middle class status Muslim Americans wield practically no influence on policy making.  Ignorance about Islam and Muslim Americans has a lot to do with it.  It is felt by many Muslims that this ignorance has led to unfair and pejorative depiction in the media.  Stereotyping of Muslims has seen the coining of terms like 钓Islamic Terrorist, ԓJihadist, ԓIsalamicist and ԓIslamo-Fascism. The distrust of Muslims has resulted in scholars like Tariq Ramadan and popular figures like Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) to be denied entry into the US.  Interestingly the British Government has placed both of these individuals on its Muslim advisory board. 

This climate of mistrust has made it somewhat difficult for the ordinary Muslim Americans to live a normal life.  They worry about the future of their children and grand children in this country.  There is widespread anxiety in the community.  There are reports and rumors of moles and informants.  There is fear that Muslim Americans may be targeted by the provisions of the ԓPatriot Act and may become the victims of the over zealous use of the ԓMaterial Witness Law.  In a recent publication Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union have documented the abuse of the ԓMaterial Witness Law.

The result of this mistrust of Muslim Americans has had counterproductive results in US quest for security.  Muslim Americans arenԒt sure that they can trust the law.  In spite of this apprehension FBI and other agencies have received tips form Muslims on suspicious characters in their midst.  Muslim Americans have been allies in the war against terror.

If asked Muslim Americans would tell the administration that the solution to preventing mindless violence against ordinary citizens, terrorism, can be found only through a combination of law and a grass roots campaign to change minds and the culture of violence.  Some Muslim organizations like Muslim Public Affairs Council have undertaken these types of campaign but the US hasnt taken notice.  The International Strategy and Policy Institute, a Muslim think tank, and others have encouraged scholarly work on way of combating the culture of violence.  They would point out that framing the issues of violence as emanating from QurҒan is incorrect and in fact the Quran may be used to defeat these violent ideologies.

Errors like hiring a Madison Avenue consultant to polish up US image by producing slick but unconvincing videos that led to universal derision, can be avoided.  A listening tour by Karen Hughes is no substitute to tapping the rich intellectual resources that are available among Muslim Americans.  If Muslim Americans are trusted as they should be and their advice heeded as it aught to be the US war on terror would take a different and potentially more fruitful course.  This would be in the best interests of US security now and in the future.  Trust is a fragile thing and once broken is hard to get back.

Javeed Akhter MD

The author is a physician.  He is a founding member of a Chicago based Muslim American think tank ғThe International Strategy and Policy Institute