Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2001, page 84

Muslim-American Activism

AMA National Convention Urges U.S. to Listen to Muslims

Some 500 Muslims from across the nation gathered in San Jose, CA Oct. 14 for the American Muslim Alliance’s annual convention. The meeting, organized long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was designed to give Muslim Americans an opportunity to discuss how to make the nation’s seven million Muslims more politically active and cohesive.

In light of Sept. 11, however, the convention’s focus shifted to urging that the U.S. government re-evaluate its foreign policy—specifically its positions on Israel and Iraq. Addressing the Sept. 11 attacks, AMA chairman Dr. Agha Saeed said, “We support the president in going after these criminals and bringing them to justice. But to create peace,” he added, “we have to do more.”

Dr. Saeed said he was confident that the United States would rebuild Afghanistan, although such an effort had already been delayed by 12 years. The U.S., he said, failed to provide adequate assistance to the war-torn country after the defeat of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. “What we left behind was a failed state,” Dr. Saeed said, adding that “an Osama bin Laden arises where there is poverty and other social ills.”

American Muslim leaders have urged the Bush administration to address the root cause of terrorism and re-evaluate its foreign policy in the Muslim world in order to eradicate terrorism.

Despite it being a favorite topic at the conference, foreign policy is not AMA’s main mission. The organization works primarily to create political unity among Muslims in the hope of giving the community a stronger voice in government. Last year’s annual conference focused on unifying Muslims for a successful bloc vote as a first step to gain a voice in U.S. policymaking. Last year’s presidential election showed that Muslim Americans can constitute a powerful swing vote.

Former Congressman Paul Findley said that although Muslims form the second largest religious community in the United States, and are better educated than most Americans, no Muslim serves in the president’s administration, on the Supreme Court or as a member of Congress. “To my knowledge,” Findley said, “there is no Muslim in an important assignment on the staff of the National Security Council, or on the personal staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”

The former Republican from Illinois pointed out that the advisory teams and delegations that served Presidents Bush, senior, and Bill Clinton on Middle East policy consisted of people sympathetic to Israel.

“Imagine how offensive this tradition must be to people in the Muslim countries, not to mention the sensitivities of American Muslims,” he added.

“President Bush should promptly state U.S. support for a viable Palestinian state that will serve two vitally important objectives,” Findley argued. “It will help meet the urgent needs of the president’s campaign against terrorism and, at the same time, it will constitute a long-needed reform in U.S. Middle East policy.”

Muslim exclusion from the political process is part of the problem, Saeed told attendees. If the Muslim point of view was considered, the United States might not have to worry about fighting a war on terrorism. “If we really want to eradicate terrorism,” said Saeed, “we must replace the culture of despair with the culture of hope and possibilities [in nations around the world].”

The U.S. needs to address poverty, illiteracy and other problems in the Muslim world. Speaker after speaker agreed that bombing Afghanistan, supporting a violent Israeli state and placing sanctions on Iraq is no way to end terrorism.

“Killing Osama bin Laden will not be enough,” said AMA vice-chairman Dr. Shabbir Sardar. “Unless we have a fair foreign policy the Osama bin Ladens will keep coming. Our foreign policy has been way too one-sided.”

If America really stands for “justice for all” internationally, Sardar said, then terrorism will root itself out. “If there is not only justice for one group or another,” he added, “but justice for everyone, then nobody will want to be a terrorist.”

American Muslims could be a key component in winning this battle—another reason why they must be included in the American political system, said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “We are the natural bridge of the United States to the Muslim world,” he said. “If they can see that America is about more than just bombs, that it is about opportunity and freedom and all of the things that we love, then they will not want to hurt us.”

The first major gathering of American Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks closed with a fund-raising dinner. Omar Ahmad, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urged American Muslims to take an active part in changing U.S. policy in the Middle East. Saghir Tahir, who was recently elected to the New Hampshire State Assembly, encouraged more Muslims to run for public office. Congressman Michael Honda promised his help in preventing anti-Muslim backlash. Dr. Saeed and Paul Findley presented lifetime achievement awards to former Congressman Prof. Tom Campbell and Richard Curtiss, executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Delinda C. Hanley

CAIR”“NY Fund-raising Dinner Honors Media

“Honoring Integrity in the Media” was the theme for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-NY sixth annual fund-raising dinner Oct. 6 at the Interchurch Center in New York City. In his welcoming speech CAIR spokesman and New York City firefighter Kevin James described the many educational outreach events CAIR had held since the Sept. 11 attack.

A fact little known outside the Muslim community, he said, is that a number of the New York firefighters, fire marshalls, police officers, emergency medical technicians, doctors and nurses who worked countless hours in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack were Muslims. Others raised funds and donated food and blood for the victims. James reminded the audience that nearly 500 of those killed or missing were Muslims.

The Muslim heroes who responded to the World Trade Center were sickened by what they saw just like everyone else. James asked the media to “Please don’t add to our pain by painting our community as wild-eyed fanatics and terrorists. No matter how they cloak themselves, the terrorists’ only religion is hatred, whether they be Osama bin Laden or IRA bombers, or the Baruch Goldsteins and Timothy McVeighs of the world.”

New York lawyer Arshad Masjid gave advice to Muslims who may find themselves questioned by the FBI. “Most law enforcement officers are open, honest people,” he said. Masjid told a story about one interrogation that lasted for almost two hours. When asked why it had taken so long, the Muslim who was visited admitted the questioners had been invited for tea and seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Ghazi Y. Khankan, executive director of CAIR-NY, introduced the CAIR award recipients, each of whom said a few words about their work.

The first recipient was Moustapha Akkad, producer/director of the films “The Message” and “The Lion of The Desert” (available through the AET’s Book Club). Next to receive an award was “Al-Islaam In America,” a long-running and successful radio program on WPAT 930. Also receiving a radio award was Dr. Barbara Nimri Aziz, who writes children’s books and is the director of the WBAI 99.5 show “Tahrir: Voices of the Arab/Muslim Community Here and Abroad.”

Richard H. Curtiss received an award for his work to galvanize the bloc vote along with his 20-year achievements as executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazine. His daughter, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, news editor Delinda Hanley, praised CAIR’s work to protect Muslim Americans from a backlash after Sept. 11. Faroque A. Khan, who wrote “Story of a Mosque In America,” said CAIR was like a fire station that comes through when you need it. “CAIR was ready in this crisis,” Khan said.

Award-winning journalist Anisa Mehdi, who received praise for her 1998 series on the hajj for PBS, is now working on a two-hour prime-time special for PBS called “Muslims,” as well as “Living Islam,” a multi-part radio series for National Public Radio. At this time of disaster, she said, the media is shining its brightest as it tries to explain Islam to Americans.

American Muslims for Jerusalem director Khalid Turaani told dinner guests that, as a result of CAIR’s work in the last five to seven years, the groundwork had been laid in time to deal with what could have been a media disaster. Reporters knew whom to call when they needed information about Islam after Sept. 11.

CAIR showed a gripping short film featuring Muslim firefighters and emergency medical technicians talking about Islam and how they felt as they worked to save their fellow New Yorkers. An excellent dinner catered by Ya Hala Restaurant crowned the evening’s events.

Delinda C. Hanley

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