Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Muslims sometimes feed Islamic stereotypes, July 20, 2005

By Ray Hanania

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a PSA last week they hope will convince Americans that Muslims oppose terrorism. But the PSA fails to address some of the real challenges that feed American bigotry against Muslims and Arabs.

In fact, CAIR narrowly defines Muslims so harshly that it might even feed further misunderstanding.

For example, the PSA includes several individuals, including two women who argue that terrorism is not condoned by Islam. Both are wearing a Hijab, a head covering some Muslims wrongly assert is required for women by the Quran. It is not.

The issue of the Hijab has become central to the conflict Americans have with Muslims. Sadly, many Muslim women are forced to wear the Hijab because Muslim men, who live under conditions free of the very restrictive inhibitions they impose on women, insist they wear them. The CAIR PSA therefore feeds, rather than undermines, the bias some Americans have against Muslims. Another issue involves the more complex distinction between Muslims and Arabs.

The two are often interchanged to suit the convenience of both American bigots and Muslims who often engage in their own policies of discrimination against non-Muslim Arabs or Muslims who do not accept the extreme interpretations of Islam.

The Arab-Israeli conflict involves Arab opposition to Israel's discriminatory practices against Arabs who are both Christian and Muslim. It is not the same as the campaign of terror driven by Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

Although Bin Laden claims to represent all Muslims, he does not. And his mission is not one of freeing Muslims or Arabs, but destroying Western civilization and those who do not accept his strict interpretations of Islam, people more commonly referred to by extremist Muslims as "infidels." Infidels not only include Americans and all Jews, but also Christian Arabs and Muslims who are more secular in their lifestyles.

The CAIR PSA feeds into the narrow definition of Muslims, excluding the secular Muslims and most Arabs. More than half of the estimated 4.2 million Arabs in America, for example, are not Muslim at all but are Christian.

The majority of Muslims in America, estimated as 7 million, are in fact non-Arab. Arabs only make up 23 percent of the Muslim-American population, and a slightly larger percentage worldwide.

Many Muslims are not Arab, and, as we have seen in London recently (where the suicide bombers were identified as Pakistani), many Islamic terrorists are not Arab.

Oftentimes, because Americans are uneducated about these subtle distinctions, they discriminate against Christian Arabs believing wrongly that they are Muslims. I am often mistaken for a Muslim. And while I am not insulted in the least, I am surprised at how many Americans don't even know that many Arabs are Christian.

Understanding these important subtleties might help the United States, for example, better prepare itself for another terrorist attack that is certainly going to happen. Chances are, for example, the United States will be the target of another suicide bombing.

Just as we witnessed the terrorism in London, we will see that kind of terrorism against civilian targets here in the America. But it is also a good guess that the perpetrators of the next terrorist act will not be Palestinian, who are engaged in an almost exclusively focused conflict against Israel.

Israel would like Americans to believe their conflict is the same as the war on terrorism, but it is not. The only Americans ever killed in Palestinian attacks were Americans who either were dual nationals carrying Israeli citizenship, too or Americans accidentally caught up in the Palestinian militant violence against Israel.

The violence of groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that includes suicide attacks is certainly immoral and is an unjustified form of resistance. Palestinians and most Arabs are not anti-American.

The real threat is not from those engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but those who are fighting a larger battle not just against Israel, but against secular Muslims and Christian Arabs. Bin Laden is battling Western civilization and the freedoms its people enjoy.

These are issues that CAIR's national office should address. But Muslims, moderate and extremist, are oftentimes guilty of discriminating against other Muslims and Christian Arabs who disagree with narrow interpretations of Islam and the Middle East conflict.

One of the side effects of Bin Laden's terrorism has been the suppression of the secular Muslim identity and the isolation by extremist Muslims of the Christian Arabs.

In the end, that only helps Bin Laden achieve his terrorist goals.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

Originally Published on Wednesday July 20, 2005

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