An examination of the Muslim American response to September 11 Attacks

As we approach the anniversary of the criminal attacks against the United States, September 11th 2001, there are many thoughts that must come to the minds of both Muslims and non-Muslims in this country. Perhaps one of the most pressing thoughts that comes to the minds of Muslims, is how and why such a thing would happen under the banner of al-Islam, and how we, Muslims in the United States, should have reacted to such a crime. It is fair to say at this juncture, hindsight being 20/20, that perhaps our reaction was not the reaction that Islam would have us to offer. Perhaps we have been derelict in our duty to condemn bin Laden, and to lend greater assistance in attempts by non-Muslims to understand this phenomenon, and what part al-Islam played in shaping the world view of the perpetrators of this crime. Perhaps we have been remiss in our duty to be more sympathetic to the victims, including those victims who were Muslim, and who received little, or no condolences from either Muslims or non-Muslims for the losses they suffered. They suffered as both victims and suspected perpetrators. This is so since it was widely claimed that not only was bin Laden and his al-Qadea guilty of carrying out this crime, but so too was every Muslim who shared any aspect of his claimed belief in God, the prophet Muhammad and the Holy Qur’an.

There is no excuse for our reluctance as Muslims, to gather our thoughts and to have tendered an appropriate response to the September 11 attacks. This would not necessarily have been a response aimed at off setting the anger and hatred of Muslims resulting from this crime. But rather it would have been a response that would have proven that we are true believers in the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Al-Islam and the prophet Muhammad taught us to stand as witnesses against evil, even if it means that we must bear witness against our own selves, our loved ones, or our friends. Islam teaches us that we are the people who have been called upon to make great sacrifices in the name of truth, since we are those who have returned to God, and who seek to serve Him, and only Him. Our reactions are sometimes flavored with various political opinions, racism, and other evils that are inappropriate. They are especially inappropriate for us since we profess to be those who have by our own volition, chosen to live according to the higher order, where there is no ambiguity, and no gray area in respect to right and wrong. The sheer magnitude of the evil manifest that day rendered any abstract judgment morally reprehensible.

Some of us became confused after September 11th and couldn’t decide through all of the media frenzy if what had happened September 11th was being understood as similar to, or the same as what is happening in Palestine. Could we renounce one, without condemning the other? Since we were determined not to condemn the resistance in Palestine, setting aside all of the discussion on suicide bombers, we couldn’t figure out how to bypass the media’s distortions and say the truth. We hate and deplore what al-Qadea has done, and reject their mission and claim that it is “Islamic”, yet, we will never condemn or reject the right of the Palestinian people to self-defense. The media worked hard to blur the differences, since it was someone’s agenda that all things political and Muslim would be bundled after September 11th into one neat package, and dropped wherever. Those of us who were not overtly persecuted, humiliated, and punished for September 11th, and our opinions and activism in respect to Palestine, have suffered silently from a covert campaign to silence and punish Muslims. This, even though there were Muslim leaders who sought to speak out against al-Qadea, a very notable example is a paper written by Minaret of Freedom Executive director Imad ad Deen Ahmed, Ph.D., who wrote “Islam demands a Muslim Response to September 11th” (Middle East Affairs Journal, Winter/Spring 2001). Others were denied access to the media, public meetings etc. since their views didn’t feed the stereotypical image of Islam in America, which is foreign, wears a beard and has an accent.

There were other factors at play that were not so obvious, that contributed to the seeming unwillingness of Muslims to respond more frankly to the attacks. The media, had over the years promoted Osama bin Laden as a Muslim leader, and his al-Qadea network as a movement that was representative of mainstream Islam. The media had decided for Muslims that al-Islam would be reduced in the public eye, to bin Ladenism, even though the majority of Muslims had never heard of him, and had no idea what it was that he or his followers professed to believe. Even if we had known that such a brand of al-Islam was being concocted, without access to the media, there was no way for Muslims to make the case that this was not Islam by the Book. The media effectively shut Muslims out of the public debate on that issue, preventing Muslims, particularly Muslim Americans from appearing on the talk shows and news programs where the issues surrounding events like the bombings in Africa, the first major al-Qadea attack against U.S. interests, and later, September 11th, were being discussed. In our place they put people like Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes and others. These were all non-Muslims who clearly had axes to grind against Islam, and particularly Islam in America, since the numbers of Muslims in the United States is growing, and if politicized, poses a formidable challenge to the Zionist domination of politics in this country.

Zionist fear in this respect, though typical, was unnecessary. The untold story, and for various reasons, was that up until the election of 2000, Muslims in the United States were still debating whether or not it was even religiously permissible to vote. Many Muslims were reluctant to participate in a political system that by its very nature required a certain amount of moral ambiguity, since it was assumed that one would be required to compromise integrity to make any significant gains. Add to this that most of the naturalized immigrant Muslims had little if any experience with electoral politics and were not anxious to get their feet wet in such an unforgiving exercise, as is U.S. electoral politics. Many Muslims also feared that once al-Islam ventured to take on a political veneer in the United States, its message of salvation would be diminished by political necessities. We were already dismayed, having witnessed in many of our self appointed representatives, a willingness and the ability to compromise aspects of Islamic law and etiquette in our own community politics, to achieve influence and public stature. This is not to criticize our leaders, since it was our duty to hold them accountable and to help them to resist the temptations that come with influence and prestige. Instead we sweetened the pot with moral ambiguity and blind eyes. Never the less, it seemed to many adherents, that should we open the door to national politics, the purity and clarity of our faith and its tenets would be blurred and compromised.

The final decision to take the risk and make the plunge into electoral politics was born in the scurrilous media attacks against Muslims and al-Islam following the release of Steven Emerson’s Jihad in America, the backlash against Muslims following the Oklahoma City bombing, and later, secret evidence. It became painfully apparent to Muslims in the United States, that unless and until we found some way to protect our rights, Zionists, supported and assisted by Christians who were misled, would stop at nothing to demonize al-Islam and Muslims. They used their political connections, and media access to portray all Muslims as terrorist, or potential terrorists, and to stir up suspicion and distrust of all Muslims. In this respect Zionist knew that to get Christian assistance in this effort they would have to stir-up ancient animosities, that had plagued the relationship between Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christianity and al-Islam over the ages. Such issues had never surfaced in the history of Islam in the United States, between Muslims and their Jewish, or Christian brethren. They were history, and non-issues, until certain Zionists began to draw U.S. attention to certain situations in foreign countries. Knowing that by characterizing these situations as “religious” stoking simmering embers of hatred and competition for souls between some very naéve, but well intended Christians and Muslims, the subsequent distrust and fear would begin to wear on the relationships between Muslims and Christians and Jews here in the United States.

Zionists and their supporters talked-up and published rhetoric that caused many Christians to feel compelled by their faith to crusade against Muslims and al-Islam in the United States, even if they had to destroy the constitution of the United States to do so. Zionist portrayed al-Islam as not only a physical threat but also a threat to what they termed “American” values, suggesting that Muslims are incapable of living in the United States without inciting conflict, and ultimately seeking to destroy and take-over the country. What they had conveniently overlooked, or at least did not want to give much credence to, since it would complicate the discussion they had instigated, is that the majority of Muslims in the United States were born here. The majority of Muslims in the United States have longer histories and experience in this country than the descendants of the immigrants who came here from Europe during the wave of Ellis Island immigration. Many Muslims in the United States are the descendants of African slaves. Others are of various races of people who represent groups who immigrated to this country and manned the steel mills and factories alongside other immigrants who contributed to the success of the industrial revolution, fought in our major wars, and have raised generations of family, in this, their country. These groups had never distinguished themselves as a separate Muslim, or “Islamic” political interest in the United States, since there were no issues. Steven Emerson raised the issue of Muslim American patriotism with claims that the mosques in the United States had been taken over by Muslim extremists who were shaping Islam in America. In so doing, he sought to demonize Islam and characterize the religion as a violent and anti-American cult. Following the airing of Jihad in America, and the Oklahoma City bombing, Muslims in the United States had been physically attacked, fired from jobs, and suffered other injustices. These attacks were the result of unsubstantiated statements made very cavalierly to the media by so-called terrorism “experts,” who falsely claimed Muslims had carried out the act.

An environment had been successfully created in the country leading up to that terrible day in September, that would make it almost impossible for Muslims to say or do anything of substance or meaning or that would make sense, or be accepted as sincere. The political climate was by design an environment that would color our voices and reactions as opportunistic and self-interested and lead to our further defamation. Rather than filing lawsuits and charging the media with shaping the post September 11th environment in this country in a way that would feed hatred and cloud judgment, Muslims retracted into a defensive stance, saying only that “we didn’t do it” and “this act was not Islamic.” We must ask ourselves at some point, as a country, why a community that had previously been content to exist as non-political Muslims for centuries in this country, suddenly decided to become political, and to organize a block vote in a presidential election that proved to be somewhat decisive. Granted, there were a few Muslim leaders who sought to empower themselves, and who sought to guide the political sentiments of Muslims in the United States to suit their own political objectives. Yet, for the most part, the greater number of Muslims, who are not very experienced politically, followed their instincts to the polls, and cast their votes in response to what they knew was a growing tendency in this country for politicians to cater to Zionist dictates. Even when some politicians knew that what was being asked of them was detrimental to the unity of our nation, and our political culture, rules, and traditions, and would compromise the constitutional rights of nearly 7 million people, citizens of this nation, they kowtowed to such demands. The answer to our question is not that Muslims harbored some latent desire to overtake other minority groups in the political fray that is minority politics in this country. It was a pure act of self-defense. Muslims organized themselves against a dangerous and very aggressive political campaign designed to demonize and destroy nearly 7 million American citizens in order to protect Zionist control of the political landscape in the United States. Muslims because they had the potential to challenge not only Zionists dominance, but the entire Zionist agenda in the United States, were targeted and punished preemptively, for fear that one day they would exercise their constitutional rights. Some Christians joined Zionists in this effort, seduced by sectarian pride, and angry that al-Islam had quietly become the second largest and fastest growing religion in the United States. These two groups, Zionists and some Christians, had initiated one of the most aggressive campaigns against religious freedom, and free speech and other constitutional rights to date in this country. It is only rivaled by the Southern Democrat’s attempts, following reconstruction, to prevent African Americans from voting, and enjoying the rights and freedoms of first class citizens that led ultimately to the civil rights movement of the sixties. There has always been an element in this country that has sought to make the United States a country based upon race and caste, with certain rights allowed only to certain people. The beauty of America is that no matter how hard they have tried, they fail. The spirit of our constitution, a divinely inspired testament to the quest for human freedom, God willing, will never be diminished in the hearts of the people of this nation.

In an article written to plead for a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi weapons crisis, the last statement reads, [Our Commander in Chief] commands not only our military but also our trust and affection. This statement was a departure from the etiquette of a Muslim woman to suggest “affection” in relation to anyone other than a male family member. Yet, since the affection is borne of very deep respect that stemmed from an act of courage by our President that will never be forgotten, and always appreciated, this departure was benign. More importantly, the noted affection, which is actually more akin to tremendous gratitude, results from a day when the President of the United States entered a mosque and sought to comfort a segment of the nation who were in a matter of minutes reduced in stature from neighbor, brother, sister, husband or wife or co-worker, to “terrorist!” I don’t believe that until today, many Muslims appreciate the significance of that act. A Christian, a man of the Book, who God had given the distinction of overseeing a unique nation of all sorts of people, brought together in the greatest human experiment and endeavor of all times, the United States, entered a mosque and mounted the minbar (pulpit). He sought to comfort, and protect and to discourage hate and malice, and more importantly, to preserve the union. It was inspiring, and at the same time, historic. If Muslims really had any idea of the potential for greater harm that visited these United States September 11th we would all acknowledge the debt owed to this man, since he could have made a different choice, and no one would have blamed him. At a time when no one, not even a Muslim leader, either here or abroad, could lift a finger or say a word to protect the Muslim community in the United States, or the unity of this nation, the President of these United States, George W. Bush did, and it will never be forgotten. Yes, it was his duty as President, but how many people have been strong enough during times of severe trial to fulfill their duty when a tidal wave of public emotion and opinion pushed another way?

There will be few people, anywhere in the world that can say that their lives were not changed by September 11th. For many of us it was a very intimate and private change. For others it may have been more public, more important, or more significant for a greater number of people. However we were affected, better than evil has come from this tremendously hate filled attack. Since for many Muslims it allowed us to embrace more closely our country and culture, recognizing that we had been blessed to be American, even though the United States is imperfect.

We, the people, routed the devil this past year, and put him on the run in America. We refused to hate, and to be reduced to the animalism of those who perpetuated these attacks. It is my firm, yet humble belief that the great republic was tested, and passed the test, and the reward, having proved that we deserve to lead the next era of human progress and development, is that we will. To those who are still at work, determined and seeking to divide this nation, to create fear and panic and paranoia, to feed hate, despair, and violence, of whatever race or religion you may be, remember something Jesus said. He said: “Whatever you do unto the least of these, that you do unto me.” Which seems to agree with what the prophet Muhammad said, when he said if you kill one human being, you are killing us all, and if you save one human being, you save all of humanity.

To the families of the victims, there are no words to express the pain that most Muslims feel as a result of the fact that those who seemingly carried out this act profess to be Muslim, and more importantly, that innocent lives were lost. How can a person say, “I am so sorry?” when they did nothing, and had no idea that anything of such magnitude could ever take place here in the United States. If the hands of time could be turned back, not a few people would gather to turn back the clock, and do anything that could be done to prevent what happened. We are helpless, and can’t change history. We can only look forward, and to the future, and work to insure that those who died did not die in vain, and that what transpired September 11th, should never happen again, not anywhere in the world, and not to any people. That is the pledge, to work for peace, to preserve life, and to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of peace and an end to violence and militarism as our first choice for solutions to the various conflicts that presently plague the world. There is hope, yet there is still sadness, and there is still confusion to some degree, since even until now, the role of Islam in all of this, to many Muslims is still not clear, since there was nothing apparent in the attacks of September 11th reminiscent of our al-Islam.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.