Friday, March 11, 2005

Failure to understand Arab-Muslim issues exposes nation to attacks, 3-11-05

Failure to understand Arab-Muslim issues exposes nation to attacks
03-11-05 Creators Syndicate
By Ray Hanania

Ever since September 11, the issue of Mosques, Arabs and Muslims has become an important topic not only of public discussion but also of media scrutiny.

Most Americans still seem to believe that it’s the Arab and Muslim community that is not doing enough in the wake of Sept. 11, but the reality is the other way around.

Americans haven’t done enough to understand the issue in real terms, rather than relying on stereotypes and misinformation promoted by an even less educated American media.

Americans are vulnerable to attack because of this failure to properly understand the issues and distinguish between the real sources of terrorism and a complex and little understood topics involving Arabs and Muslims.

Here are some basic facts that might help:

Arabs and Muslims are not the same. There are about 7 million Muslims in America, but only 22 percent of them are Arab. There are about 3 million Arabs in America and the majority, more than half, are Christian, not Muslim.

The term Arab refers to a broad cultural and national identity and disguises the extensive diversity that exists beneath that public layer. Too often, the terms Arab and Muslim are used interchangeably and that is wrong.

As a result, many well-intentioned American leaders and media reach out to "Muslim" leaders to conduct dialogues and discussions and end up able to use the term "Muslim" without achieving any meaningful dialogue with the Arab community that is the source of must disagreement.

There are as many Christian Arab churches as there are Mosques in the United States. And Mosques come in three varieties: Mosques that are mixed Arab and non-Arab; mosques that are predominantly non-Arab and mosques that are predominantly Arab.

By Arab, I refer to the make-up of the governing boards which determines the events at the mosque, and also members who have other associations that oftentimes link to controversial organizations including several identified as extremist or supportive of alleged terrorist activity by the U.S. Government.

Failing to understand these important distinctions results in poor intelligence and misleading stereotypes. And that means poor security and a greater likelihood of terrorism exposure for Americans.

It also exposes the moderate Arab and Muslim American community to extremists who can easily hijack the community’s voices because Americans can’t seem to tell the difference between Pakistanis or Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.

If the media can’t distinguish between moderate Arabs and extremist Arabs (based on political views and support of terrorism), how can Americans and defense agencies distinguish between thew two?

Failing to be able to distinguish puts a great burden on moderates who are often victimized by the extremists in the community. Moderates are isolated, marginalized and even physically attacked and threatened. The extremists can get away with this because it occurs below the threshold of American understanding.

Making things worse is the blatant bigotry that exists among many television and radio talk show hosts who broadly pillory Arabs and Muslims and fail to understand the distinctions between moderates and extremists.

What Americans have done through their lack of understanding of the Arab and Muslim community is to make it easier for extremists to blend in and to ostracize moderate voices.

But so easily attacking moderate voices, the Arab and Muslim extremists send clear signals to the majority of the community who are moderate but who don’t speak out because they fear the same fate of higher profile moderates.

Until this changes, this country is a definite target for another major terrorist attack. And the widespread roundup of suspects, good and bad, along with the failure of the media to accurately cover the community only makes that likelihood a certainty.


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