Muslims & America: What’s it like being an American Muslim leader?

Dr. Aref Assaf

What’s it like being an American Muslim when a tragedy like Ft. Hood strikes?
Here’s what Aref Assaf, Ph.D., president of the American Arab Forum, said, recounting his experience after the shooting at Ft. Hood. I reproduce at length parts of his article because I think he asks the right questions (read the full article).
“I woke up … the day after an army doctor killed and wounded over forty people in Texas, to seven urgent messages on my voice mails. All were from news organizations anxious to quote the Muslim community’s reaction to the recent heinous killings of Army Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan. They all wanted my reasons for what drove a 39-year-old Muslim to go on a killing spree…
“‘Hey, Dr. Assaf, pardon the annoyance so early in the morning. Another one of your people killed innocent Americans. This will be a big story again as you have come to expect. As a leader in your community, as a practicing Muslim, can you share your response to the recent carnage?
“I almost wanted pull whatever grey hair is left on my head; I wanted to scream so loud that a deaf man could hear me. Why is my opinion so important or even newsworthy? How many times do I need to so publicly and unconditionally condemn violence and terrorism against innocent civilians?
“Why do I have to atone or account for the despicable acts of fellow Muslims with whom I have no contacts or relations? Why conversely, am I not rewarded or at least acknowledged for the thousand and one acts of kindness performed by fellow Muslims every day? I am not a lesser Muslim because of the acts of a few extremists who may profess my faith. Does it make a person less of Christian because Timothy McVeigh and Adolf Hitler were Christians? Does it make a person less of a Jew because Dr. Baruch Goldstein—an educated man, a doctor, a practicing Jew who massacred thirty Moslems in a mosque—was a Jew?
“No one ever brought up the ethnicity or the faith of Jason Rodriguez who on Friday went into his former work offices in Orlando, Florida and started shooting and killing innocent and possibly fellow workers. Absent, but worth noting, no Christian organizations issued any condemnations.”

So why should we care? We should care because the experience of Muslim Americans is a test case for the American experiment—the extent to which cultural membership extends to all. Other ethnic groups, such as Latinos, also qualify as test cases—but their religious motivations are not called into question. Only Muslim Americans are asked to account for the few wanton acts of their fellows.
Is there room in America for Muslims? Is the American experiment expansive enough?

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