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Council on American-Islamic Relations

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush described and later retracted our fight against terrorism as a “crusade.” In his first press conference after British authorities thwarted an alleged terrorist plot to blow up several aircraft, the president said, “This nation is at war with Islamic fascists.”

The use of the phrase “Islamic fascists” has drawn the ire of the American Muslim community. As Muslims, we use “Islamic ethics” to mean ethics based on Islamic teachings that guide our behavior. Similarly “Islamic art” draws its inspiration from Islamic teachings that discourage certain types of art (immodest imagery or certain life forms). When the president uses “Islamic fascists,” it conveys that fascism is rooted in Islam or fascism that is inspired by Islam. This is the way the Muslims will see it, regardless of what Bush may claim he really means.

President Bush in an earlier occasion said Islam is a religion of peace. Now, caving in to extreme right-wing pressure, he equated the religion of peace with the ugliness of fascism. Such rhetoric contributes to fear and backlash against American Muslims. A recently released Gallup poll shows four out of 10 Americans feel “prejudiced” against Muslims.

“Prejudice” against Islam and Muslims allowed our politicians to whip up a frenzy in rejecting the approval of a Dubai firm to operate American ports. Conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, “But it is certain that the xenophobic hysteria will come back to harm the U.S. … This (the Middle East) is a region in the midst of traumatic democratic change. The strongest argument the fundamentalists have is that they are engaged in a holy war against the racist West, which imposes one set of harsh rules on Arabs and another set of rules on everybody else. Now comes a group of politicians to prove them gloriously right.”

Scholarly writings are delving deeper into the root causes of suicide terrorism. Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win uses over two decades of data to show the paucity of connection between suicide terrorism and any religion. The pioneering instigators and the largest purveyors of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are overwhelmingly Hindu.

Pape writes: “From Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from a territory they claim.” Occupation is the primary motivator and religion, at best, is an “aggravating” factor.

Today we all live in fear of terrorism. Equating terrorism with Islam makes the mainstream Muslim community doubly vulnerable to both the random acts of terror and the ensuing backlash.

In these trying times it is important our nation stands united. Muslims form an important part of the fabric of America. We are law-abiding citizens who have always been dedicated to the protection of our national security. We should not be targeted or singled out because of our faith. Nor should our faith be equated with the evils of terrorism or fascism. We do not control or have say over the actions of shadowy terrorist groups. But as taxpayers we certainly have a right to petition and expect our own government to do everything in its powers to protect us by all means, including avoiding counterproductive rhetoric.

An attempt to institutionally and rhetorically dissociate Islam from terrorism is imperative.

Parvez Ahmed is the chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


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