“And dispute not with the people of the Book, except with means better than mere disputation, unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong and injury. And say: ‘We believe in the revelation that came down to us, and in that which came down to you.”
The Holy Qur’an 29:46.
Many Muslims in the United States feel that since the September 11th attacks the Muslim American community has been unfairly stigmatized and targeted by law enforcement in the United States. The recent arrest of University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian seems to make this case, since many Muslims believe that al-Arian has been the subject of US and Israeli Zionists and pro-Zionist groups, as well as media harassment since that incident, or at least more so since that incident occurred. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that Sami al-Arian has come to symbolize what is being called the political persecution of the Muslim community in the United States and its leaders. Whether or not there is actually a campaign to target Muslims, and Muslim leadership, and to unfairly detain or arrest Muslims in the United States or to deny us civil rights, the mere appearance, or concern that such a campaign exists is enough to cause us to seek to better ! understand exactly what our community is experiencing since September 11th. This is true since many believe that there might be Zionist groups within the United States, working from within our most trusted and cherished intelligence and law enforcement institutions, to create inter-communal conflicts between the Jewish community and Muslims in our country. Many also believe that such a campaign might be mounted in an attempt to pressure Muslims, and others, politically, hoping to coerce, through pressure brought about by various Jewish political groups, activists and pundits, submission to pro-Israeli dictates in respect to foreign policy issues. A communal assessment of attitudes is also necessary if we hope to foil, what many also believe are attempts to make the US a symbolic battlefield, where Muslims and Arabs are subject to illegal detentions, and other violations of their civil rights, depending on their views in respect to the Arab/Israeli conflict, or the war with Iraq. No one would be surprised if Sami Al-Arian exited prison with a signed statement calling for Arab and Muslim submission to Ariel Sharon’s idea of peace, and no one would be surprised if other leaders are detained hoping to change their minds about making peace with Sharon, which would mean rejection of the two-state solution.
These perceptions or attitudes might also signal that it is a good time for improving Muslim perceptions of law enforcement, US intelligence and our government. Much of the negativity in attitudes that exists between Muslims, Arabs and law enforcement, is being instigated by Zionists, or Likudist. These people are suspected of using their positions, imbedded within government, law enforcement, intelligence, media and other institutions, and offices in the United States, to spread lies and rumors against Muslims, while creating the appearance of false and unreal, but frightening scenarios to which both or either group, the government, or Muslims might respond. All of this means essentially that the objective in either case in respect to our conflict resolution measures, would be to end the years of suspicion and fear between Muslims and the US law enforcement establishment, and between Muslims and other minority groups, specifically the Jewish American community.
The first steps in this direction might be to initiate dialogues between Muslim leadership and leaders of other faith communities, hoping to ascertain their concerns in regards to Muslim assimilation, inclusion and the teaching of Islam in the United States, which is no doubt a serious concern. Other areas of concern might be associated with community organization, and the inter-communal distribution of political influence as well as influence over various markets, trades, or professions. History teaches us that much of the difficulties that have greeted immigrants and other minorities in their struggles to assimilate in the United States has been caused by the fears of competing groups, that they are being forced to share, or yield their influence in certain areas, to other groups or group members. Immigrant groups and even indigenous groups often resort to underhanded and undermining techniques as ways of maintaining the upper hand politically or economically over other groups. Zionist, who made up a significant number of the European Jewry who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century, fleeing the pogroms of Europe, have claimed to act on behalf of all Jewish people in the United States. They have also perhaps been the most aggressive immigrant group when it comes to sizing up its competition and taking preemptive, and sometimes unprovoked steps to limit or eliminate the potential or actual influence of other groups, indigenous and immigrant, both politically and economically. Past experiences in Europe may be the reason that some Jewish people feel that they must be very aggressive here in the United States, in respect to other groups. This might mean that pressures associated with intra-communal competition can appear to be unfair, or forms of persecution, or conspiracy. This might be especially true if persecution, humiliation, and discrimination created an experience in a groups past that was painful, an! d traumatic. Whatever the reasons for this aggression, we must work to avoid similar attitudes, behaviors and responses to the stresses of inclusion, and assimilation, from taking hold within the Muslim community.
There are several dimensions of inter-communal relations that we must study and address. To achieve desired goals we must cooperate in an organized effort to better the Muslim community’s image, on the one hand, while also moving to work along with other groups in the development of mutually beneficial relationships based upon cooperation towards common goals, such as education, affordable healthcare, housing, etc.. This, in opposition to competition that drains resources, causes hurt feelings and misunderstandings that inflame passions, and that could lead to hatred, resentment and other harmful and unwanted attitudes and behaviors among members of all the groups. Muslim leadership is obliged by God, to avoid creating, or being lured into situations that poison relations between peoples and groups in this country. Under no circumstance is there ever a reason for Muslims, or our leadership to characterize members of other groups in a way that is defaming, negative, or slandering, even if other group leaders, or members have no compunction about such behavior towards Muslims or Muslim leadership. In every instance we are obliged to seek peace, and to promote a strong and united America, discouraging, and avoiding any type of conflict, while also refusing to be provoked in any way. The standard rule from Qur’an that should guide Muslim inter-communal relations is found in Sura Hujurat (The Inner Chambers), verse 13, where it reads, ” Oh mankind, we created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, (not that you despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous. And God is well acquainted with all things.”
The role and duty of US religious leadership in the building of peaceful inter-communal relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States
There are perhaps five major groups in the United States, namely Whites, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians and Jewish people. Muslims are represented within all of these groups as are perhaps the other major religions to varying degrees. This might mean that conflict resolution initiatives originating from religious institutions might have the greatest opportunities for success in respect to building peaceful inter-communal relationships among disparate groups in the United States, in an attempt to prevent, or resolve conflicts, while conducting peace building, and peacemaking measures. Since religion appears at least to be a common thread that is woven throughout the society, an institution, such as the “church” the term is used here to represent religion generally in the United States, has a legitimate voice and authority on issues related to ethics, and proper moral conduct among individuals and disparate groups. Our US Constitution, state and local laws have already addressed to a large extent the legalities that guide our behaviors as citizens of equal stature under the law.
The authority and legitimacy of religious institutions in this respect, might be compromised in instances where religion is the actual cause of conflict, never the less, there is no other institution that is more uniquely qualified than religious institutions to serve as a intermediary for dialogues and initiatives aimed towards inter-communal cooperation, and peaceful co-existence on the grass root and leadership levels.
The need to almost immediately initiate such efforts is apparent. It is no secret that since the tragedy of 9/11, relations between Muslims and other US citizens has been strained by media provocations and portrayals of Muslims as terrorists, traitors and anti-American. The perception that media is owned and controlled by the same Likud interest that is allegedly attempting to provoke confrontations between Muslims and law enforcement, and the people at large in the United States, might increase tensions between Muslims and Zionists. The pattern of provocation in this respect is so similar in fact to the pattern employed to provoke violence in the Palestine/Israel conflict, that it might cause us to suspect that the same type of violent confrontation is being instigated, and by the very same group of people, creating another cause for the initiation of preventive conflict resolution between these two groups.
In a presentation named the Conflict Resolution toolkit, created by second year students at the John Hopkins University Conflict Management Program, at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, in the segment entitled, ” Conflict: An Overview” it is stated that ” most inter-communal conflicts are internal and identity based, involving minority groups fighting against the central authority of the state.” Yet, says the authors, ” it can also be two minority groups competing for the same resources.” The study states that “because many ethnic groups transcend national boundaries, inter-communal conflicts often become international in scope, while still being identity based in character.” This might mean that whereas we are accustomed to the types of inter-communal conflicts where groups are challenging the government over either real or perceived injustices, unfairness, etc., we should not overlook that inter-communal conflicts can also take pl! ace between two minority groups in the same place, whose interests transcend national boundaries, and this almost perfectly describes Zionists and Muslims in the United States. According to the student study group presentation, which is admittedly a synthesis of already recognized and accepted theories of conflict resolution, Internal-communal conflicts occur when actual or perceived incompatibilities result in hostile, or violent action. What differentiates a conflict from a political struggle, or peaceful competition is that it involves the potential for destructive violence. The threat of violence is positively related to the willingness of the parties to use violent means to reach their unilateral and seemingly incompatible goals.
However, as much as all incompatibilities do not lead to destructive violence, all incidents of violence do not lead to the onset of intractable conflict. Thus, violence by itself cannot be seen as sufficient for a conflict to break out and take root.
Following the 9/11attacks, more than two incidents occurred where law enforcement officials arrested Zionists who were armed with caches of automatic weapons, explosives etc.. The media reported that these individuals and groups were planning violent attacks against mosques, and Muslims, including one politician in Southern CA. who had supported Muslim causes. This in and of itself does not mean that the feared inter-communal conflict between Zionists and Muslims has reached the point of violence, or that is has or would become an intractable conflict, yet it should awaken us to the possibility that Zionists in the United States might be seeking to provoke such violence, creating a conflict that only exists as a result of their refusal to accept that in the United States we do not have “chosen” or privileged classes, and that “all” people are equal under the law. We also have a constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens equally, and this, along with! the fact that our constitution guards our inalienable first amendment rights to free speech, political expression and association, as well as religious freedoms, has caused Zionist to not only seek to limit Muslim influence, but they have also sought through various schemes, to limit the authority of our constitution, and to abolish many of its protections in respect to Muslims. Since without these very important rights, they know that Muslims cannot challenge their political dominance, and cannot speak out against Israeli injustices that are carried out under the guise of Israeli capitulation to US dictates, which is merely an attempt to poison US/Muslim relations by creating false impressions, while spreading rumors cloaked in anonymity, by “undisclosed” sources, even though such is reported by the media as credible. One example of such attempts might be the “campuswatch” project initiated by the former Editor of the Middle East Journal. This project targets academicians ! in the United States, and places their names on a list of so-called, “anti-Israelis.” This is clearly, by any estimate an attempt to chill free speech, to shut down academic inquiry into matters relevant to our government and its foreign and domestic policies, and to intimidate academicians who will not tow the Zionist line, with character assassination. Such intimidation has reached its peak with charges against noted academicians such as Dr. Antony Sullivan, who has been a conservative champion on civil rights, and first amendment rights, and who argued in many papers the rights of US Muslims, and errors in US foreign policy in the Middle East that might cause our country to be isolated, and lead to increased and unnecessary anti-Americanism. Following the arrest of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, Dr. Sullivan and his associate, Dr. Charles Butterworth were both lambasted, and tagged “supporters of terrorism,” simply because they had spoken out against the unconstitutional tactics employed by Zionists to hound, defame, and fire Dr. Al-Arian based upon mere accusation and suspicion. To date, Al-Arian has not been found guilty of any crime, yet the Likudist behind the campuswatch project, are already calling anyone who supported Al-Arian’s rights to due process and fairness, is being cast in a derogatory light, no doubt to further chasten any dissent against the Zionist political dictate, and to end any support for Muslims who find themselves targeted by Zionists, from non-Muslims.
Another indication of a possibly impending conflict is a reported scheme devised by Zionists within the various government agencies, where they might attempt to create scenarios where innocent Muslim activists will be forced to utilize their meager resources to prove their “innocence,” or rather that they are not terrorists. If successful, such a campaign would effectively tie up Muslim organization resources, drain almost non existent funds and funding, and essentially cause these organizations and activists to go out of business, or go to jail for lengthy detainments while they fight to prove “innocence.” In case you haven’t noticed, this is the same technique now being employed against Saddam Hussein, as international Zionists attempt to push the United States into a war with Iraq. Forget that this is clearly illegal and unconstitutional in the United States, since the burden of proof, according to law, as well as political and legal tradition, is on the ! accuser, and not the accused. Even though it seems surreal that such a scheme could succeed here, it might succeed simply because it is impossible to disprove a lie, or a rumor if it is based on secret evidence, and unidentified sources who hide behind the claim that national security would be compromised if their identities are disclosed. This is one of perhaps any number of schemes devised by Zionists to deny Muslims, and others their constitutional rights in the United States. The suspected purpose of such schemes is primarily to prevent Muslims and others who are cast as “anti-Israel” or anti-Zionist, from continuing their struggle in the United States to prevent our country from being isolated internationally, and to educate the American people about the real intent of Zionists and their unsavory, and at times illegal methods used to obliterate our liberties, and freedoms.
The study group that authored the report on inter-communal conflict resolution highlighted here, offers some insights into conflict prevention that are important. The report says that ” preventative measures employed at an early stage need to address the root causes that lie at the root of a conflict…perceived incompatibility of interests between groups, and asymmetric inter-group power relationships.” The report suggests that we must also be sensitive to ” triggers that serve to mobilize or rally a group around grievances,” since these “commonly precede an escalation.” Looking at the possible conflict between Zionists and Muslims in the United States, it is very easy to identify these root causes. It is also very easy to understand the significance of their presence, once we consider that one of our primary challenges is to prevent, or avoid being duped into responding to Zionist provocations, and attacks. provocation is a common strategy, used to provoke! violence in attempts to create an opportunity that legitimizes its use, or the recommendation for the use of violence against Muslims, or a preemptive attack, claiming “self-defense.” When the United States recently raised the national security alert, international Arab and Muslim websites were reporting that Israeli agents had been given permission by certain people within law enforcement or intelligence agencies in the United States to assassinate Muslim leaders in the United States, hoping to provoke a Muslim response that would lead to police attacks upon Muslims, and/or internment. Whether or not these reports are true, we should recognize that an environment either exists, or is being created that could lead to increased and unwanted tensions, and stresses of this nature.
According to inter-communal conflict resolution theory, there are steps that lead to reconciliation between groups in conflict, and the elimination of conflict. According to the study these are peace building, and peacemaking. There is a third component of the theory, peacekeeping, which is not relevant to this discussion, since its primary focus is the use of the military to keep the peace under cease fire agreements in international conflicts On the issue of peace building, the report says, “peace building is complex and results materialize only in the
medium and long-term. A variety of agents engage in reconstruction efforts by addressing functional and emotional dimensions in specified target areas, such as civil society and legal institutions, among others.”
Peace building is achieved, according to this theory, through the undertaking of several tasks. The report says that to build peace we must, “create an environment conducive to self-sustaining and durable peace.” That we must, “resolve the problems of willingness to cooperate.” It says that “social and economic transformation is paramount for the establishment of durable peace, and that to reconcile opponents, we must, “consider the psychological and emotional components of protracted conflict and the relationships between antagonist groups.” The study also suggests that me must “address structural and social factors, and direct efforts towards transformation of the conditions that caused the conflict”, hoping to “prevent conflict from re-emerging.” It calls for “creating mechanisms that enhance cooperation and dialogue among different identity groups in order to manage conflict of interests with peaceful means.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting and powerful aspects of the theory is its recommendation for the greater integration of civil society. On this topic the report says that we must, “include all levels of society in the post-conflict strategy, and design political transformation to include civil society in decision making (bottom-up and top-down approaches), while establishing mechanisms to handle issues of justice, such as setting up institutions that aim to avoid impunity of crimes that were committed during the conflict ( fact finding missions). The report says “in carrying out the tasks, peace building should address all dimensions of society; the societal and state structures as well as the emotional conditions of individuals.”
Another important aspect of peace building according to the study, is the creation of “functional structures.” The report says that this requires, “building institutions that provide procedures for channeling conflict into acceptable solution mechanisms, which are constructed, keeping in mind the psychological and emotional conditions and social psychology of conflicts On this issue the reports author wrote: ” So much less tangible than the physical destruction of war, the effects of conflict on the psychology of individuals and a society are as profound as they are neglected. If the attitudes that lead to conflict are to be mitigated, and if it is taken that psychology drives attitudes and behaviors of individuals and their collectivities, then new emphasis must be placed on understanding the social psychology of conflict and its consequences.” The authors conclude stating that, ” social stability is attained by restoring peaceful interaction among groups.”
As for peacemaking, the study asserts that it “focuses primarily on the negotiation process.” The study says that peacemaking “forms the basis for mediation, conciliation, and arbitration” and that “peacemaking is the diplomatic effort intended to move a violent conflict into nonviolent dialogue, where differences are normally settled through representative political institutions.” According to the report “the objective of peacemaking is to end the violence between the contending parties.” For our purposes, it would be used to avoid violence, and to ” address the root causes of the conflict.”
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that we are at a critical juncture in U.S. minority relations, particularly in respect to the two minority groups, Muslims and Jews, in which case we should perhaps consider the intensity of the emotions resulting from competition that is increasingly taking on the characteristics and personality of inter-communal conflict. We should also not ignore the potential for violence and provocation being created by this situation. We should not be waiting for the other shoe to drop, the first shoe perhaps being the media orchestrated backlash against US Muslims following the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11th attacks. The other shoe might be the ongoing instigating, and provocative acts by Zionists activists within our various government and law enforcement agencies and other institutions, that could lead to unwarranted attacks against Muslims and Muslim leadership, and other anti-Zionist peoples, or groups, whether t! his be political, law enforcement, or literally violent attacks. If history is a teacher, it might be warning us that certain patterns have been identified in Muslim and Zionist relations, that indicate that the conflict has also taken on another dimension which is closely tied to the Palestine/Israel conflict, making the likelihood for desperate attempts to poison public opinion, or create instability in the society at large, more likely, and also perhaps more dangerous for Muslims and others. This is especially true since the US policy on the issue has been articulated as a two state solution, which was rejected by the Zionists in Israel, who also rejected the US sponsored roadmap to peace.
Community, political and religious leaders should not stick their heads in the sand on this issue, and should begin now to address the cleavages being created in our society by the increasingly difficult struggle for political influence, and economic enrichment by our nations various groups. Many studies have been conducted that show that xenophobia and other types of group hatred, prejudice and discrimination, which are all types of conflict, arise or are exacerbated by periods of economic challenge in societies, and insecurity. In respect to Muslims, and the Jewish American community, such strife is possibly being instigated by a third player that seeks to control and drive the political debate on both domestic and international issues as they relate to US policies and the recognition and inclusion of groups other than, or along with Zionist, and their supported groups in the mainstream.
Jewish and Muslim community leaders have a particular responsibility, not only to their own community members, but also to their fellow citizens at large, to come together to resolve their issues, and to chart out a course for peaceful co-existence that makes allowances for disparate and dissenting views on the Palestine/ Israel conflict. Perhaps this can be accomplished by recognizing a need to cool off heated language on the topic, while ending all saber rattling, threats and inflammatory characterizations, accusations, and suspicions. Muslims must also be careful not to fall into the pit of darkness, which is where fear, paranoia, suspicion, and hatred loom, and remain hopeful and optimistic even in the most difficult times of trial. We must also keep in mind that perhaps some of the resentment that is tainting Jewish/Muslim relations was created by our own intolerant brand of racial and religious taunting, especially in respect to political issues surrounding the Palestine/Israel conflict. The Christian leadership can play an important role as a conciliator in this conflict, if it can take a neutral position towards both groups, and like the Apostle Peter, the rock upon whom the Church was established, serve the common good by bringing these groups together, regardless of the sectarian attitudes and prejudices of our errant religious dogmas. This is a perfect opportunity for faith based organizations, meaning our religious institutions, to demonstrate the essential and unique role that religion can play in our society, to the benefit of everyone, religious and non religious peoples alike.
For more info on the Conflict Resolution toolkit visit, http://www.sais-jhu.edu/CMtoolkit/index.php
or contact: The Conflict Management Program
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
The John Hopkins University
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.