Re: Dr. Qanta Ahmed – In Our Silence

This open letter of response is in reply to the Op Ed that Dr. Qanta Ahmed wrote in the Christian Science Monitor and was published March 29, 2011.

Feel free to read the article here.

Salaam alaikum Dr. Qanta,

I agree with you that public and open discourse is needed on the issues of Islamist and Terrorism however I disagree that the discourse should stem from xenophobia, hatred, fear and discrimination. I also disagree that such a discourse should be done in a manner and a way the crushes civil liberties, alienates, others and vilifies another minority population in the United States.

No other religious community in the United States has had their loyalty questioned in a congressional hearing to my knowledge such as that of the Islamic community. The Jewish and Christian communities have never been asked if they held their loyalty to God above that of nationalism. Ironic considering I grew up reciting the pledge of Allegiance each morning school started and our dollar bill has the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

Historically and currently speaking McCarthyism, discrimination, and xenophobia are alive and well in America. Every community that has not been a White Angelo Saxon Protestant community has been looked on as a threat to the American ideals and values. Each community has had to fight for equal representation under the law on federal, state and local levels such was the case for Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Irish, the Portuguese, the Armenian, the Chinese, the Japanese etc.

The fear that American ideals and values might be undermined has lead to the Federal Bureau of Investigation surveilling, infiltrating, tracking and documenting potential threats such as the Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Communists and now Muslims. The fear of an “enemy within” led to the American Japanese community being forced into internment camps during World War II such horrific actions occurred only fifty some years ago yet how quickly we forget what a great motivator fear is.

Historically when ever there is a threat to the United States and nations across the world, the response on all levels of society is gather around the “tent pole” of cultural identity and decide who fits into the tribe as discussed by Vamak Volken in his book Bloodlines.

I am personally horrified that another Muslim who was not born and brought up in the American Muslim culture – let alone any Muslim – would argue that our community is complicity supporting acts of terrorism in an effort to present an image of unity to the larger American society.

These unnamed organizations you argue are doing more harm than good – need to be named for your argument to have any validity. American Muslim’s as individuals and through community organizations such as Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) have again and again refuted terrorism both in voice and deed.

I think there are two questions you need to ponder 1. “Are Islamism and Terrorism the same thing?” and 2. “Are those in power listening to what the American Muslim Community is actually saying?”

I think you will find upon deeper study that Islamism and Terrorism are not the same thing as the academic community defines Islamist beliefs in two distinct ways, 1. An orthodox belief in Islam 2. An orthodox belief in Islam with a political based agenda.

You deliberately choose to define terrorism in terms of Islamist values. Terrorism and terrorist acts are not constrained by any religion let alone Islam. As evidenced by the terrorist acts of the Nazis, Irish Republican Army, KKK, Timothy McVeigh, Janjaweed in Sudan, and Jared Lee Loughner. Terrorism comes in many forms even state terrorism exemplified by gulags in Russia, killing fields in Cambodia and the disappeared in Argentina.

It’s important to know that all organizations that have chosen to commit acts of terror are politically savvy enough to know how to market their cause. In the case of terrorist that professes the faith of Islam – they package their political agenda in religious rhetoric – the same is true with other terrorists professing faith in other religions. It boils down to smart marketing and recruitment tactics.

However it’s obvious you are unaware of these things because you have spent your time becoming a quadruple board certified medical doctor – not becoming sociologist or an individual holding a degree in a relevant field. I find it interesting you think you’re qualified to discuss this topic in an educated manner when you’re so lacking in qualification. Would you let just any average Joe perform open heart surgery on an unsuspecting person? I wouldn’t accept that in the medical field – so why should we accept that in the political, intelligence, terrorism or sociological field?

Indeed if anything hurts the American Muslim community more than the King Hearings its individuals such as yourself who undermine any progress of towards acceptance of American Muslims by the larger society.

You can not solely blame Islamist elements for Senator King deciding to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. I personally am surprised this discussion wasn’t had directly after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001.

Senator King’s motive is much more simple and yet complex than Islamist elements. Senator King hopes to unearth the holy grail of the intelligence/ sociology and terrorism academic community has been searching for – the catalyst for terrorist formation.

It would be great if that could be identified in a series of congressional hearings however its been well established by academics such as Dipak Gupta, Caleb Carr and Vamik Volkan there is no “X Factor,” for terrorists or even serial killers. Each individual serial killer and terrorist has their own individual “X Factor,” that can only be discovered through a careful study of the individual and the pivotal events in their lives.

So the idea that the government will be able to streamline its approach to profiling for terrorists through these hearings is impossible. It will also be impossible to through profiling prevent the radicalization “X Factor” from filtering into our communities.

If Senator King and the intelligence community desire strongly to prevent radicalization in the American Muslim communities then going about it in these poorly planned and executed hearings are not the best way to create open dialog indeed I believe it will have the opposite effect the Senator intended.

The American Muslim community will circle the wagons and become even more suspicious of any individual or organization deemed an outsider because these hearings send the signal that the US government doesn’t trust its own citizens. I think we will also see a sharp increase in acts of discrimination, hate crimes and bigotry against the American Muslim community as result.

Senator King and the government overall has done nothing to establish a solid relationship with the American Muslim community that would lend itself to having open discussion. The Senator hopes that there is one big band aid that will solve the issue of terrorism on American soil but the fact is the hearings aren’t that band aid and neither is open frank discussion – it’s the second step after a relationship of trust is build between the government and the American Muslim community. So lets start there – building the relationship to create the space to have the dialog in a safe blame free environment where everyone is seeking a common solution to a communal and worldwide problem.

Dr. Qanta you state that Muslim’s didn’t care to study terrorism or Islamism and join the “thoughtful” others who do. I disagree with you that its not that Muslim’s don’t care its that the opportunity to study such topics has only become popular in the last ten years. The field itself that isn’t openly welcoming to Muslim – especially opening practicing Muslims being that it’s a field dominated by current and former military. Its also only within the last 30 years that fields such as Terrorism, Conflict Resolution, Homeland Security and Peace Studies had academic majors even more so the universities that have such programs are few and far between in the United States let alone the rest of the world.

I can say this for a fact, as I am an American Muslim, a convert who wears hijab, who chose to study International Security, Conflict and Conflict Resolution -while being a hijabi – and now holds a Bachelors’ of Arts in the aforementioned area of study.

Muslims have and are continuing to join the work against senseless politically motivated violence, so don’t ignore their past and current contributions. Honor the contributions and build healthy relationships that encourage working together against our common enemies –ignorance, fear and violence.



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