Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Muslim and American

A recent YouTube.com video entitled I am a Muslim left me with decidedly mixed feelings. The video is of a young man who talks about various stereotypes of Muslims in a straightforward and humorous way. He explains that he doesn't know how to tie a turban, that he does know someone name "Ahmed" and no, it isn't the "Ahmed" in your economics class. He explains that his name is "Mohammad", and that he would return to his home country but he is already in it. (The image dissolves into an American flag.) The video was well-produced and left one feeling that it was a good and very American thing to be a Muslim, and implies that those who are uncomfortable with him and his religion just need to get over it.

All this was great, as far as it went. I am grateful for the freedom of religion we enjoy in America. If a man's faith requires him to set up a prayer mat in a public place, or wash his feet in a bathroom sink (Mohammad mentioned that in the video), he will find no objection from me. But the more I thought about this video, the more I was bothered by all of the things it didn't say.

The video implied that Americans are uncomfortable with Muslims because of the aspects of public practice of their religion that are strange to us. But Americans are not uncomfortable with Muslims because Muslims wear turbans, pray in public on mats, or wash their feet in public restroom sinks. We aren't nervous about having Imams spreading out through an airplane and ordering seat belt extenders because they speak a foreign language or wear robes. We are not disturbed because there is a group fasting through Ramadan or calling others to prayer from a tower.

Americans are set on edge by Muslims because almost all terrorists are Muslim. Muslims, acting in the name of Islam, slaughtered 3,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001. Muslims crowds in Muslim countries cheered these deaths. Muslim parents subsequently made "Osama" one of the most popular names for new-born boys. Muslims, in the name of Islam, attack and kill civilians in Israel and Europe. Muslims, acting in the name of Islam, hack off the heads of bound prisoners and distribute the videos of their crimes to the delight of Muslim populations. Muslims call for the killing of a teacher (and even students) who allowed her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammad". Muslims, when this is pointed out, claim victim status, whine, and demand sensitivity to their feelings and the granting of rights that they would never have in an Islamic country. Many of the most atrocious governments are explicitly Muslim. Muslims commit suicide while murdering defenseless people on a daily basis.

Of course, I know that most Muslims do not do these things. But neither are most Muslims speaking up loudly and clearly against all of these things. The stance of various Muslim advocacy groups seems to be that the only possible way one could come to associate Islam with violence and terror would be through unthinking prejudice.

This is what makes the YouTube video unsettling. What I am really, really wanting to hear from American Muslims is:

  • A recognition of the legitimacy of the grievances and concerns that I mentioned;
  • A clear statement that rejects such abominations as going against the teaching and practice of Islam.

I want to hear Muslim leaders say things like,
  • "The deliberate murder of innocent people (even if they are not Muslim, even if it is for a good cause) is wrong."
  • "Suicide bombing is always wrong."
  • "The attack on the World Trade Center was wrong and completely against the teachings of Islam."

These are the issues that Muslims in America need to deal with. Muslims who can say these things should have no problem participating in American society. Those who can not say these things (or feel they must add a clause beginning with "but..." or "except for..." at the end of any of them) fundamentally reject values that are absolutely essential to our culture and government.

So, to Mohammad and the others behind the YouTube video: If you disagree with what I'm saying, don't be surprised if your video fails to set non-Muslims at ease. If, however, you agree with what I'm saying, please say so---publicly, loudly, repeatedly! Then, you will be welcome to wash your feet in my sink any time.