SEPTEMBER 1999, pages 92, 151
Mahjabeen’s Musings: A Muslim-American Pilgram Along the American Way
We Can Mix Morality With Politics by Changing the System, Not Ourselves
By Mahjabeen Islam-Husain
Congress recently voted to post the Ten Commandments in all public schools, with the hope that the “thou shalt not kill” and other Divine orders will permeate the psyche of our schoolchildren, and thereby deter them from all things wild and heinous. A representative in Congress went so far as to state that had we done this earlier, perhaps the Littleton massacre would not have occurred.
In the same session of Congress a vote for the rating of videos was defeated, on the premise that it violated free speech, by essentially the same margin by which the Ten Commandments proposal was passed.
As a Muslim, who must believe in the Torah and the Bible, I have no personal objection to the posting of the Ten Commandments, as I am sure most of my fellow Muslims would not have either.
What I do strongly object to is that this violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Our congressional representatives are willing to sacrifice the right to freedom of religion, but not that of free speech.
In my opinion, the voting results should have been reversed. The passive posting of the Ten Commandments will be predictably ineffective in comparison with the rating of videos, which research and anecdotal data show greatly influence the minds of young people.
So, apparently, the agenda of the Christian Right won, and so did the agenda of the entertainment industry. What is even more worrisome is that slowly but surely American society is being pulled by a variety of forces, ostensibly with virtuous messages, but each and every one of them having a large ulterior motive.
Therefore posting the Ten Commandments in public places is not as much of a problem as the likelihood that it is the harbinger of more to come. Perhaps it’s “only just begun.”
My paranoia in this regard was swiftly vindicated when Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) urged Congress to pass a resolution recommending a Day of Prayer. Possibly due to the ridicule heaped on members of Congress for the Ten Commandments resolution, they did not adopt the Chenoweth proposal. Perhaps she should have waited a year or so. By that time there would probably have been another national tragedy and, with the public in shock, its representatives would have passed the proposal with nary a squeak.
All of the Arab and Muslim organizations have coordinated their protests.
Politics and its practitioners are an enigma to me. The about-faces in which they excel make politics a less than honorable occupation to the casual observer. Principle becomes redundant in the quest to obtain, and then hold, power. Even to discuss the antithetical nature of power and principle is to immediately become irrelevant. We are able to do a collective shrug and say “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Much to Zionist chagrin and Arab and Muslim delight, First Lady Hillary Clinton last year said the Palestinians should have a state of their own. Although the White House was quick to advise that the First Lady’s opinions were independent from official U.S. policy, we were thrilled. After all, who knows how much a marital relationship affects these things and vice versa?
Mrs. Clinton then decided to make history by being the first First Lady to “explore” running for the Senate. But as part of the process she took a pin to our balloon by stating that should she be elected, she would support Jerusalem becoming the undivided capital of Israel. Perhaps the concepts of an independent Palestine and of Jerusalem being Israel’s “undivided” capital are compatible, but once again it looks like a political about-face.
Folklore has it that since New York has the largest concentration of Jews in America, and Israel has America’s most powerful lobby, winning elective office in either New York City or New York state is not possible without the requisite obeisance to whatever Israel wants. Obviously Hillary is not about to challenge the conventional wisdom.
Salam al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and a well- respected human rights activist and social reformer, was appointed to the Commission to Counter Terrorism, following two visits by Hillary Clinton to the Islamic Center of Southern California, where she met with him and his physician wife, Dr. Laila al-Marayati. But when a hue and cry against the appointment started with a far-right Zionist extremist and then spread to the “mainstream” American Jewish organizations, House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri surrendered unconditionally and rescinded the appointment on the lame pretext that background checks on Marayati would take longer than the life of the commission. Again a matter of brazen political expediency. One is forced to question whether all members of these commissions have lengthy background checks and, equally to the point, in this transparent information age, would not the address of my uncle's Wyoming cabin be available to Big Brother at the click of a mouse?
All this depressing news has fed right into my paranoia. But at the same time I am aware that with the 2000 elections looming, this is a time of incredible import for American Muslims. With six to eight million Muslims in the United States, if only two million of us become politically mobilized enough to vote as a bloc, and if we demonstrate to candidates that this is precisely what we are about to do, we will put ourselves on the political map of the United States.
The very fact that a Muslim was nominated to serve on such a commission, and that all of the Arab and Muslim organizations have coordinated their protests at the injustice of removing him, should be seen positively by Muslims. It is not too long ago that we might have seen some of our leaders or would-be leaders tempering their outrage, hoping to thereby become Bill’s or Hillary’s or Dick Gephardt’s favorite “Muslim” or “Arab” of the month. It didn’t happen this time, and that is a clear indication that we are making headway.
Unlike the politicians, we must not be intimidated by the organization and clout of the Jewish lobby. Instead we must learn from it, and emulate the good and eschew the bad. They have gotten to this point by focused hard work.
In the past our problem has always been the same, and that is our disunity. We Muslims remained divided, regardless of the time or place.
Happily, most of the current American Muslim political activists recognize this weakness, as well as the incredible potential strength that we, as a united community, have in our numbers.
We must set as a goal to have at least 2,000 Muslims elected to public office in 2000. And we must examine the records of candidates at all levels, from state legislatures to the White House, and agree on which are best qualified to serve in public office judged by our own standards.
This is the only way to illustrate to American political candidates that American Muslims are here, not just to stay but to participate just as effectively in the life of our nation as all the other groups that have preceded and will follow us. Most importantly, our collective confidence in our political potential now needs the positive reinforcement that only the sweet sound of the words “we did it!” can provide.