Islamic activism is nothing new in America. Since the 1950’s activists from the Muslim World began moving to the US. During the 1990’s a well-organized Muslim activist structure was formed and American-Muslims for the first time began to have a real voice in the political process and Muslims gained the ability to fight employment and religious discrimination.
The goals of most of the main Muslim organization such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim American Society, the American Muslim Council , the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America were twofold; first there was the desire to make Islam and Muslims mainstream in America and to gain a greater acceptability of Islam in American the American mind and secondly to use this position in America to alter the US foreign policy towards the Muslim World. Many Muslim leaders sought to emulate the successful strategies of the Israeli, Armenian and Greek lobbies in America.
When those planes hit the twin-towers on 9-11-01 they not only brought down those physical structures and Americas false sense of security they brought down what Muslim activists in America had been fighting for during the previous six-decades. The perpetrators of that act achieved what no anti-Muslim force in the US had ever been able to accomplish and stuck at the height of Muslim political prowess.
Islamic history in America can be divided now into three categories; the history of Muslim slaves in America, pre-9-11 Muslim America and post-9-11 Muslim America. In 2000 political candidates from around the nation had campaigned at masjids and sought the endorsement of Muslim leaders and victories were being won on the political front in the name of Islam. The likes of Steve Emerson were largely off the air and a positive vibe about the future existed in the community.
Of course we all know the history. Since 9-11 there has been a full-scale assault on the Muslim community. Many brothers are in jail on false or trumped up charges, Muslim charities have had their assets frozen or seized, Muslim leaders are being targeted and prosecuted and the media is full of anti-Muslim hate speech. We are living under siege in this country and any Muslims who feels they are safe in America at this time is delusional.
9-11 exposed two things in America. First is exposed the fact that white America hasn’t evolved all that much since the days of Jim Crow and lynchings. The mentality of group-indictment is still alive and well in America; one black man stole from me so all black men or bad and one Muslim committed an act of terror so all Americans are terrorists, that is the way of thinking. White America, with all of its pent up anger, lashed out towards Muslims in a way they wish they could lash out towards African-Americans but is no longer political correct to do so. Oh how they wish they could get on talk-radio and speak about blacks they way they speak about Muslims!
The darkness of hearts was revealed on 9-11. Notice how this hatred initially was geared towards Muslims but now Latinos have been caught-up in this nationalistic fury. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado calls for all out war on Latino immigrants and the bombing of Mecca. The zeal that leads to the Minuteman being placed on the US-Mexico border leads to the profiling of Muslims. They go hand in hand. Norman Mailer, the eminent American writer, rightly stated that the “white mans nose was bloodied on 9-11” and that white America had to respond to assert their dominance in a changing world. This is similar to when the Rev. Billy Graham declared his support for the Vietnam War by saying “Christianity needs a show of force.”
The second thing that 9-11 exposed was the fact that Muslims activists in this country had failed to educate the Muslim community on their civic responsibilities in this country and that Muslims had failed top formulate a domestic agenda. Brothers had their minds on changing policy in Palestine or Chechnya but didn’t see the need to focus on what was happening in their own communities. Because of this ignorance of the American political process, and the social fabric of American society, the mainstream leaders supported President George W. Bush in 2000 (and no I will not forget that and will not forgive until those who did that publicly repent).
Immigrant Muslim leaders failed to understand the role of race and religion in America. Instead of recognizing that Muslims in this country are basically in the same boat as African-Americans and Latinos these Muslim leaders sought to curie favor with Wall Street, the GOP and Yale and were dissed by all and this came out of their cultural ignorance.
The fight of Islamic activists today in America is a fight for survival; because every vocal Muslim today is a target. To be an activist at this stage in the Muslim community takes courage because you will not only be targeted by the government but by the anti-Muslim lobby and by self-hating Muslims and advocates of an apostate Islam.
However, having said this, if you are well-intentioned, dedicated and lawful there is a place for Muslim activists in America. Indeed organizations like the Muslim Students Association are experiencing a massive growth as Muslim students, conscious of their Muslim identities, are becoming in large numbers passionate advocates for Muslims in their communities. Other organizations, such as MAS, have corrected a lot of their pre-9-11 faults and are now embarking on a path of serious domestic activism in America in conjunction with anti-war, African-American, Latino and progressive causes.
We do have our unique view as Muslims and becoming active does not mean that we have to completely embrace the positions of the left or the right. It does mean, however, that we have to stand up and be counted. We cannot sit by idly while America is at war in Iraq and not speak against it and we cannot see Muslims persecuted at home and remain silent; and we also cannot see the injustices of the lack of a prevailing wage, health care, education, and racial justice in America and remain silent.