To the Editor:
In his inexplicable and intellectually dishonest analysis of the American Muslim community [“Are Muslim Americans Victimized?,” November 2000], Daniel Pipes writes that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) devotes its resources “to promoting the idea of Muslim victimization” and that people of other faiths should not “fall for, let alone . . . endorse, spurious charges of [anti-Muslim] ‘discrimination and harassment.’ ”
Mr. Pipes bases his claim on a long list of incidents in which American Muslims received recognition, won rights to religious accommodation, or successfully challenged negative stereotyping and defamation. The fact that corporations or the courts favorably addressed these incidents is used as evidence to bolster his thesis.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pipes forgot to mention that almost all of the several dozen incidents listed were resolved thanks to the intervention of CAIR. None of these victories for Muslims came as easily as Mr. Pipes would suggest. Some followed months, or even years, of public-relations campaigns and legal challenges. If Mr. Pipes had revealed the key role CAIR played in each case, readers would contradictorily be led to believe, on the one hand, that CAIR does very good work fighting discrimination against American Muslims and, on the other, that Muslims have no need of that good work because they never experienced discrimination in the first place.
Indeed, on previous occasions, some of Mr. Pipes’s very statements have led to the discrimination he says does not exist. Following the 1995 terrorist attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, his claims of possible Muslim involvement, along with those of other Islamophobic commentators, helped spark a wave of more than 200 anti-Muslim incidents.
Mr. Pipes claims that the media “treat Islam and Muslims with a truly unique delicacy.” But again, he refutes his own argument by listing many instances in which the media and book publishers were less than delicate in their treatment of Islam and Muslims. Mr. Pipes refers to one incident (again resolved with CAIR’s intervention) in which a children’s book offered what Mr. Pipes calls a “negative treatment” of the Prophet Muhammad, but he fails to tell his readers what that means. In World Religions: Great Lives, William Jay Jacobs offered the following description of the Prophet Muhammad:
During his lifetime he was a man who loved beautiful women, fine perfume, and tasty food. He took pleasure in seeing the heads of his enemies torn from their bodies by the swords of his soldiers. He hated Christians and Jews, poets and painters, and anyone who criticized him. Once he had a Jewish prisoner tortured in order to learn the location of the man’s hidden treasure. Then, having uncovered the secret, he had his victim murdered and added the dead man’s wife to the collection of women in his harem.
It seems easy to imagine why Muslims would find such a description of their prophet inaccurate and offensive.
Mr. Pipes also has a troubling habit of referring to Islam as “alien” or “exotic,” both in this article and in his previous works, explaining at one point that “all immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.” Let me preempt Mr. Pipes’s inevitable response to this criticism—that he is not talking about “good” Muslims, just bad “Islamists.” But Muslims view Mr. Pipes’s “Islamist” distinction as merely a smokescreen for attacks on anyone who would defend Islam.
Council on American-Islamic
To the Editor:
Muslims are free to worship, express their opinions, assemble, and participate in the affairs of society in America more so than in any other nation. But the cases of discrimination outlined by Daniel Pipes are about the struggle for equal opportunity and are not, as he claims, false cries of victimization. In fact, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), which Mr. Pipes lists at the end of his article as among those organizations devoting “their resources to promoting the idea of Muslim victimization,” regards victimization as alien to its philosophy. MPAC was established to disseminate accurate information about Islam and Muslims to the American public. It has sponsored forums for the purpose of education and creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding. In doing so, MPAC is merely applying lessons learned from other American organizations that have successfully illuminated discrimination against their communities.
Mr. Pipes mentions the refusal of Congressman James Rogan to meet with me. He asserts that the Congressman had “correct grounds” for accusing me of being an “apologist” for terrorism. While Rogan has since personally apologized, Mr. Pipes is exploiting this incident.
Mr. Pipes fails to note another instance of discrimination—the withdrawal of my nomination to the National Commission on Terrorism. This was an illustration of the kind of censorship tactics experienced by many Muslim Americans. Because of my background representing the mainstream Muslim American community, the litmus test of blind support for Israel was applied to me. Since neither I, nor any other legitimate Muslim leader, could bypass such an artificial and inappropriate barrier, we are deemed unable to serve our country. Only those who support Israel unconditionally or who have no stated opinion on the matter need apply.
Interestingly, relations between MPAC and the American Jewish Committee, which publishes COMMENTARY, were positive before this controversy, as is indicated by the following statement from Rabbi James Rudin, then the director of interreligious affairs for the organization, in 1995: “Please know that we look forward to working with you and other like-minded groups in building human bridges of mutual respect and understanding between our two communities.”
Muslim Public Affairs
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes is correct to argue that Muslim Americans are not “victims.” Nor, contrary to Mr. Pipes, do we perceive ourselves as such.
As Mr. Pipes points out, Muslim Americans are indeed among the most highly educated and affluent American citizens, with more than 52 percent holding graduate degrees and with average gross annual incomes of approximately $69,000. What Mr. Pipes does not mention is that Muslim America, with a population of nearly 8 million, has absolutely no political representation locally, nationally, or internationally. Every American minority—Native Americans, blacks, women, Jews, and Hispanics—is represented in government by the leaders of its community. Even religious groups are represented on political issues. Only Muslim Americans have been denied this primary privilege, guaranteed to every American by the Constitution.
Since Muslim Americans are a diverse community that consists of African Americans, Arabs, Hispanics, Persians, Asians, etc., it may seem that we are already represented. Muslim identity, however, is not a racial but rather a religious identity. Our positions on political issues are informed by our values and beliefs as Muslims.
A few months ago Hillary Clinton returned contributions to her Senate campaign submitted by two prominent Muslims, claiming it was because these gentlemen support Hamas, and therefore support terrorism. We have people within our community who sympathize strongly with Hamas as a political movement within the context and confines of the conflict in Palestine. This support is not tantamount to supporting “terrorism.” If it is, then surely those who support Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu would also be pushed off the American political scene, since these men have performed acts deemed criminal, and even terrorist, by a good number of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
The men who contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign may have controversial views about the situation in Palestine, but they are still good citizens, and they pay taxes (some of which are even sent to support Israel in its fight against the Palestinians). It is not likely that their partisan sentiments on international affairs will damage American democracy, but surely the denial of their right to participate in politics will.
Since 1994 and the airing by PBS of Steven Emerson’s documentary, Jihad in America, Muslim Americans have been looked at as suspect Muslims have been detained in American prisons for as long as four years without charge as “national security threats” because their political ideals do not conform. Why are we unraveling the fabric of American representative government simply out of fear of those who hold diverse views?
United Association for
Studies and Research
To the Editor:
Each of Daniel Pipes’s anecdotes begins with an act of racism and each ends in a victory for Muslims. Strangely, Mr. Pipes finds only the legal judgment significant, not the racist act that gave rise to the claim. For every unlawful discriminatory act resulting in a judgment against the perpetrator, there are many more that result in an opposite judgment, and still thousands of others that are never litigated. This reality is excluded from Mr. Pipes’s piece, probably because it conflicts with the image of “flexible” and “open” American institutions that he strains to create.
Mr. Pipes is not merely arguing that Muslim Americans are not victims, a brutally uninteresting point, but rather that there is no justification for the school-and workplace-tolerance policies that Muslim Americans advocate. These are, however, the same policies that many Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews require in order to practice their religions without fear of reprisals from educational institutions and employers.
Michael A. Troncoso
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes is correct that in an America dominated by moral and cultural relativism, heterogeneous elements in our midst are accepted as exotic and benign and having values worth emulating. But a cursory look at the theology of Muslims and how they have regularly treated Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious groups in places where they constitute the dominant culture would be an enlightening, and cautionary, experience for most Americans.
George E. Rubin
New York City
To the Editor:
I read Daniel Pipes’s article with the utmost interest, and I completely agree with his refutation of the claim that “discrimination is now part of daily life for American Muslims.” Apart from those limited forms of bias to which religious or ethnic minorities are exposed in every part of the world, Muslims in the United States enjoy the full range of religious and political freedoms, which would be simply inconceivable in most of their countries of origin. In fact, many Muslims who are running from dictatorship and oppression naturally see the United States as the country where their aspirations can be satisfied.
Even so, I must add that the Muslim community in the United States does experience victimization, in one respect, though not at the hands of government or the media. Rather they are victims of their “representatives,” the leadership of extremist organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Islamic Society of North America, all of which completely distort the image of who Muslims are and of what they stand for.
The vast majority of American Muslims belong to the Sunni confession, while the leaders of these organizations are all Wahhabis, acting only in the interest of the Saudi regime that funds them and determines their projects and programs. The real paradox is that Muslims who live in America have their leadership appointed by the rulers of Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, these organizations that are ready to raise their voices to protest against “discrimination” suffered by American Muslims have never spoken a word to condemn groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that try to legitimize terrorism “in the name of Islam,” or to condemn regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hasan Turabi in Sudan for causing the death of thousands of innocent Muslims. This silence about crimes perpetrated against Muslims, and about crimes perpetrated “in the name of Islam,” contributes to the impression that Muslims really do support terrorism.
Finally, the tendency of these organizations to launch hate campaigns against those intellectuals and media operators who denounce and expose their radical agenda only serves to make matters worse.
Shaykh Abdul Hadi Palazzi
Cultural Institute of the
Italian Islamic Community
Daniel Pipes writes:
Starting almost from the end: It is, of course, Michael A. Troncoso’s right to find the point of my article—that Muslim Americans do not suffer from bias—“brutally uninteresting.” It is not his right, however, to ascribe to me quite another point—“that there is no justification for . . . school- and workplace-tolerance policies.” This is not what I wrote, and I do not agree with it.
I can hardly dispute George E. Rubin: Muslim governments do not treat their religious minorities as Muslims aspire to be treated in the United States. At the same time, this has little relevance to the domestic issue of how Muslim Americans actually fare here.
Now on to the curiously similar letters from leaders of three American organizations (CAIR, MPAC, UASR). Look closely and you will note two commonalities. First, none of them contests my main argument—that Muslim American do not suffer from “discrimination and harassment.” Indeed, two of my correspondents, Salam Al-Marayati and Ahmed Yousef, explicitly agree with me on this point. This is good to know, and I now look forward to the day when their organizations cease to tout Muslim victimization.
Second, each of the three letters contains a specific grievance. Ibrahim Hooper Complains about me, Salam Al-Marayati complains about his exclusion from the National Commission on Terrorism, and Ahmed Yousef complains about Hillary Clinton’s return of campaign money to a pro-Hamas group. As the latter two matters have been much discussed in the national media, I shall confine myself here to the first, which is both more personal and more obscure.
Before defending myself, though, let me note that Mr. Hooper has a history of vituperation and aggressiveness against anyone who opposes his Islamist vision for the United States. In my case, he has been sending out tirades since July 1999; these have landed everywhere from the oped page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the hands of street picketers in Washington, D.C. His modus operandi includes name-calling (“intellectually dishonest”) and the indiscriminate spewing of anything negative he can find about those he disagrees with, no matter how irrelevant or inaccurate. For example, he located (in a chat room on the Internet) a critique of my writing by a professor of religion at Harvard and widely but erroneously trumpeted this as coming from my Arabic instructor.
Which leads me to Mr. Hooper’s specific complaint concerning my response to the April 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On at least six occasions, he has quoted a statement I made to USA Today on the day of the blast. There I said that the West was
under attack. People need to understand that this is just the beginning. The fundamentalists are on the upsurge, and they make it very clear that they are targeting us. They are absolutely obsessed with us.
According to Hooper, this statement “helped spark a wave of more than 200 anti-Muslim incidents.” In answer, I have three points to make.
- It was the FBI, not I, who informed the public that Middle Easterners were the primary suspects behind the Oklahoma City bombing.
- In saying that “this is just the beginning,” I was referring to assaults by Islamists against Western interests going back to about 1983—the bombings in Beirut and Kuwait, the killing of Americans on airplanes, the World Trade Center explosion of 1993. As a prediction made in 1995, moreover, the statement looks pretty good six years later, after U.S. embassies have been blown up in Tanzania and Kenya, the U.S.S. Cole has been attacked, and many assaults on Americans have been narrowly averted.
- Mr. Hooper’s figure of 200 anti-Muslim incidents after the Oklahoma City bombing is largely a product of his febrile imagination. Presumably he is drawing on a 1995 report by his organization, Rush to Judgment, which alleged 222 cases of “bias targeted at Muslims in America” in the week after the bombing. A careful review of this study, however, finds it riddled with factual and conceptual errors: incidents are cited more than once, they differ from police reports, they are too vague to track down, or they derive from long after the Oklahoma City tragedy. Perhaps most instructive is this: whereas CAIR found 222 incidents just in the aftermath of the bombing, the FBI found only 29 anti-Muslim criminal incidents in all of 1995.
Finally, I take heart from the letter of Shaykh Abdul Hadi Palazzi and thank him for so bravely and constructively speaking his mind. I especially appreciate his noting how the self-anointed Muslim American leadership fails to condemn terrorism committed in the name of Islam, regrettably reinforcing the perceived connection between violence and Islam. I also concur with him on the paradox of Muslim Americans who live in the world’s most democratic country but allow their Muslim leadership to be imposed upon them. (Whereas Shaykh Palazzi attributes this solely to Saudi hegemony, I would name other reasons as well, including the fact that moderates tend to integrate into American life, thus ceding the Islamic organizations to extremists.)
Let me conclude by quoting passages from a powerful article in the Washington Times of December 17, 2000, by Mustafa Elhussein, secretary of an Islamic cultural organization called the IbnKhaldun Society. Referring by name to the heads of such groups as CAIR and MPAC, Elhussein calls them “self-appointed leaders who spew hatred toward America and the West and yet claim to be the legitimate spokespersons for the American Muslim community.” He finds that “there is a great deal of bitterness that such groups have tarnished the reputation of mainstream Muslims.” He concludes that they “should not only be kept at arm’s length from the political process, they should be actively opposed as extremists.” And he calls on the media to “look at the record of statements of those Islamist leaders and label them the hate-mongers that they are.”
To which I would add: if Muslims like Abdul Hadi Palazzi and Mustafa Elhussein so clearly understand the true nature of my critics, can the rest of us afford to lag behind?