2011-06-06 Holland Sentinel MY TAKE — Many faces: A chance to learn about your Muslim neighbors

MY TAKE — Many faces: A chance to learn about your Muslim neighbors
By GAIL HARRISON
Holland Sentinel

Holland, MI —

Earlier this year a message was left on my cell phone. The call had come from a dear friend and colleague, a woman who had taught me a great deal about the fundamental principles of her faith — honesty and kindness, striving to do righteous deeds, rejecting societal injustices, speaking truth, giving to the less fortunate, avoiding sin. My friend is a Muslim.

I listened to her message with great sadness. Her tearful voice asked if I was aware of the congressional hearings on the “radicalization of the American Muslim” launched by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

My friend questioned whether non-Muslim Americans would be suspicious of their Muslim neighbors, co-workers and classmates solely on the basis of their religion. How much more scrutiny, she asked, will people of my faith experience as a result of these hearings? What can we do to help people understand Islam is a religion of peace, not hate, and that we also love this country and work for the betterment of society?

Let’s hold a community forum, I suggested to my friend. Let’s invite people to learn the truth about our Muslim neighbors and their faith.

That forum will take place Tuesday. As we lead up to this important community event, consider an extensive study by Duke University, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, investigating the American Muslim and terrorism in the United States (“Anti-Terror Lessons of American Muslims,” 2010).

The executive summary reports: “In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and subsequent terrorist attacks elsewhere around the world, a key counterterrorism concern was the possible radicalization of Muslims living in the United States. Yet, the record over the past eight years contains relatively few examples of Muslim-Americans that have radicalized and turned toward violent extremism.”

“Muslim-American organizations and the vast majority of individuals that we interviewed firmly reject the radical extremist ideology that justifies the use of violence to achieve political ends,” reported author David Schanzer, associate professor in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Muslim-American organizations and leaders have consistently condemned terrorist violence here and abroad since 9/11, arguing that such violence is strictly condemned by Islam. These statements represent powerful messages that resonate within Muslim-American communities.

“Muslim-American communities have been active in preventing radicalization,” said Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. “This is one reason that Muslim-American terrorism has resulted in fewer than three dozen of the 136,000 murders committed in the United States since 9/11. The study also found that 40 percent of foiled domestic terror plots had been thwarted with the help of Muslims.”

Conversely, scholars point to a rising level of activism and civic engagement among young Muslims in America, distinct from religious extremism. They see more volunteering on political campaigns, voter-registration drives outside mosques, and interest in civil rights.

“The founders and leaders of mosques are the ones driving this civic participation,” said Sally Howell, associate professor at the University of Michigan, “Their main motives are to make sure that their children are becoming good Muslims but at the same time becoming good Americans.”

Please join us Tuesday, June 7 at 7 p.m. at the Knickerbocker Theatre. Let’s move beyond fear by learning facts and meeting our neighbors — people who believe that kindness to their neighbors is a critical principle of their faith.

— Gail Harrison is executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Learn more at www.ethnicdiversity.org.

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