Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are American Muslims radicalized ?

Palm Beach Gardens

On March 10, the US congress will conduct a hearing on the “radicalizing of Islam”. Labeling an entire community “radicalized” is offensive. The hearings charge Muslim Americans with insufficient cooperation with national security agents. But when consulted, these agents deny the validity of the charge.

American Muslims are aware of the need to reform religious education and socialization of the youth. They are aware of the need to promote creative interpretation of the faith. Since 9/11, the Muslim communities in America have been discussing internal reforms and ways to improve relations with the wider society. But reform takes time and only occurs voluntarily.

Human contact is an antidote for prejudice. When members of our church visited a mosque in West Palm Beach recently, they were overwhelmed with emotions. The visit was a gesture of solidarity and respect; our hosts in the mosque expressed a strong desire to deepen the exchange and the dialogue.

Over the last decade churches, mosques and synagogues have worked hard to build interfaith ethics, contacts of reconciliation, and solidarity among religious communities. It is hard to build trust but easy to lose it. Suddenly, a congressional committee declares an emergency about Muslims and Islam in America.

Bias feeds on bias. In America and abroad, Islamic fundamentalism has grown side by side with Christian fundamentalism. In our society, fundamentalism thrives in places of worship, on university campuses, in the mass media, the congress and political parties. Why is America alarmed about Muslim radicalization and not worried about Christian radicalization?

While fanatics vary in the ways they express violence, they are all destructive at varying levels. While Christian fundamentalist may not blow up planes or buildings, they do rupture human relations and support policies of war and privilege.

The March 10 hearings have already proven to be counterproductive. They have generated tremendous radicalization in attitude, dividing society into supporters and opponents of the congressional investigation.

In trying to “cure” Muslims from radicalization, the conservative elements of our society may be turning some Muslims toward a defiant position. Today, it may be hard to be an adult Muslim American and not feel humiliated. It may be difficult to be a young Muslim and not feel morally agitated. It may even be tempting for some US Muslim women to resist external forms of modernity by wearing the veil to assert their cultural identity out of pride.

The timing of the hearing is another factor of poor taste. While the world is watching the Middle East oust its dictators, America confronts its Arab community at home and turns on the floodlights to investigate their loyalty. As the Arab world is undergoing historic political reform this is the time to start new ways of cooperation between the Muslim community and the Western world.

Muslim Americans are agents of social change for the Muslim world; many also function as informal goodwill ambassadors for America in their countries of origin.

As president Obama has opined, Muslim Americans are not part of the problem, “they are part of the solution”.

The radicalization hearings radicalize.