Thursday, February 21, 2008

Response to a Reader's Comment

Unfortunately, when someone comments on a post well after it was originally published, I'm probably the only person who notices. Yesterday, an anonymous reader responded to an article I wrote in November called, "Muslim St. Louis." One of the people I interviewed for that article was Dr. Khaled Hamid, a physician who has done volunteer work for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). This year, Khaled also created his own blog, Khaled Hamid Forum, addressing issues related to Muslim communities in North America.

Here is the reader's comment:

"There is tremendous ignorance here"

I think that there is a lot of ignorance but Dr. Khaled Hamid is leading the march.

He should be directing his outreach to the huge number of apparently misunderstanding Muslims from Afganistan to Palistine to the Philippines to Britain to most of the Middle East who have shouted "Allah Akbar" before blowing themselves up along with fellow human beings.

Did he personally know any of his fellow CAIR officials which have been convicted of links to terrorism from Palestine to Pakistan?

He should be more concern that a huge number of his fellow participants in Islam have somehow gotten the idea that Allah commands that they should kill non-believers.

I don't know how it happened or really care but they should fix it!

My initial response to this comment is one of frustration and anger. Even in such a limited space, this person manages to present a serious contradiction regarding the issue of ignorance. From, "I think there is a lot of ignorance but Dr. Khaled Hamid is leading the march," to, "I don't know how it happened or really care..." the reader challenges Dr. Hamid's perspective as narrow and misguided, then relieves her or himself of any responsibility to understand or even care why acts of terrorism are being committed throughout the world.

In this case, I don't think that understanding--as in understanding the political and social contexts in which such crimes occur--requires sympathy or even empathy with the perpetrators of violence and cannot be confused as an effort to justify the actions of those individuals.

As Khaled writes in his blog, addressing Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, "To understand where the anger and rage are coming from is healthy, and helps all of us: Muslims, non-Muslims, Arabs, and non-Arabs, get to the real source of the problem of violence:
Injustice, and try to help solve the cycle of violence. But through out all this, we SHOULD NOT ever accept such a deed, or try to justify it. Understand it: Yes. Condone, accept, or justify: Never. Speak against it, and try to stop it from happening: Always" (link to post).

I also don't believe that Dr. Hamid, an American, is more accountable for the actions of a Hamas militant or an Al-Qaeda operative than any other American. Why should he be? Because he's a Muslim? I have trouble understanding a world in which Khaled is responsible for the actions of someone who has grossly misinterpreted the religion that he happens to practice.

At the same time, if I said that Khaled Hamid and other American Muslims should not be compelled to denounce acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, I think he would disagree with me. Consider his recent blog post, "Suicidal or not, targeting civilians is immoral and criminal" or that, as I mentioned in my article, he participated in a conference shortly after the June 30th bombing of Glasgow International Airport last year, during which local physicians spoke out against terrorism.

As for this reader's question, "Did he personally know any of his fellow CAIR officials which have been convicted of links to terrorism from Palestine to Pakistan?" I'm not surprised by this attempt to undermine an established and effective civil liberties group.

Honestly, I'm not well enough informed or even compelled to respond to such a vague assertion, but the tactic is familiar. In the face of an organization, such as CAIR, that advocates for civil rights, principally through mediation and education, and seeks to promote a positive image of the communities it serves, critics are left with accusations capable only of conjuring the negative images and associations that the media already provides.

So, that's my initial response. Upon more careful consideration, I acknowledge the basic sentiment that seems to be at the heart of this reader's comment--
that horrible atrocities are being committed every day throughout the world and that they will not stop occurring until someone intervenes.

It would be really nice if the global Muslim community (and I don't think such a thing exists) could simply turn to the problem of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam and "fix it," as the reader writes, but that is to deny that the rest of humanity is complicit in the tragedies and injustices suffered in this world. We, as Americans, have been made particularly culpable by the actions of our government, which (to say the least) has done everything in its power to make reconciliation between various ethnic and religious groups as well as widespread stability
nearly impossible in the Middle East.

So, in addition to individuals like Dr. Khaled Hamid, non-Muslim Americans should be speaking out against violence and acts of aggression, regardless of the actor's ethnicity, nationality or religion, whether over there or here at home.

I highly recommend that all readers visit Khaled Hamid's blog and contribute their ideas in the open forum that he provides. I will also point out to anyone who wishes to comment on this blog that anonymity is always an option, but that by selecting "other" in the comment posting section, you will be able to provide your name.

*Having just published this post, I found that another person has commented on the "Muslim St. Louis" article. I don't feel the need to dignify that comment by elaborating on what I've already written, but feel free to follow this link back to the article, where you'll find the comments at the bottom of the page.