"Answers to Five 'Repulsive' Questions"
By Maher Hathout
By Maher Hathout
Los Angeles Times, 12/4/05
ON NOV. 13, Current's Faith Front featured an essay by contributor Dennis Prager, "Five questions non-Muslims need answered." Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, replies: Prager's attempt to make America's more than 6 million Muslims feel like culprits was repulsive, but for the sake of argument, let's examine the questions to which he requested a response.
• "Why are you so quiet?"
Like an urban myth, the idea that Muslims have been mute since 9/11 plagues us. Prager knows that mainstream Muslims have issued condemnations of terrorism ad nauseam, and American Muslim scholars even issued a fatwa against terrorism this summer. The organization I advise (the Muslim Public Affairs Council) last year put together an integrated, grass-roots campaign to fight terrorism and extremism. The problem isn't how loud we are but how deaf some people can be.
• "Why are none of the Palestinian Christians terrorists?"
Beyond the seemingly deliberate tone of cynicism here, Prager seems to forget that the current spate of suicide attacks was initiated by the Munich Olympics tragedy, which was concocted by a non-Islamic group led by a Christian named George Habash. There is nothing about being Muslim that leads to terrorism. The premise is wrong; so is the conclusion.
• "Why is only one of the 47 Muslim majority countries a free country?"
Lest we forget, the good people of Germany were led to their defeat by Hitler. The same scenario is true of Mussolini in Italy, and is true of present-day North Korea. Likewise, some Islamic nations are not free because they are led by tyrants who suppress the will of their people. But let's not forget that the colonial powers that dominated these countries found it easier to deal with the dictators they installed than with masses intent on creating their own destiny. Our country is not completely innocent on this score.
• "Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?"
Yes, criminals are exploiting the grievances of depressed, oppressed and desperate masses in order to try to justify the unjustifiable. But finger-pointing won't get us anywhere. What we need now is to enable robust, mainstream Muslim organizations to expose this minority, isolate it and rid us of this scourge. Casting doubt about Muslims only adds to the haze and confusion that allow extremists international prominence. Innuendo only makes it less likely that any religion will be respected or its followers accepted.
• "Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?" What makes you so sure they're "religious Muslims"? The religiosity of any person or regime that does not respect human rights is dubious. You can't overlook the fact that these dictators direct the majority of their oppression toward active Muslim citizens who naturally pose a challenge to their religious and/or political authority.
Islam isn't the problem in these countries -- it would be the solution if moderate, inclusive leaders could gain international backing. These are the answers, but it seems that Prager has already drawn his own conclusions.
Rather than spreading doubts about the integrity of Muslims as Prager does here, countless other Jewish and Christian leaders have joined their Muslim colleagues in widespread campaigns to demystify Islam. As one of those Muslims with whom Prager has interacted, I had thought we could coordinate our efforts to spread the good word about Islam and Muslims for the sake of the harmony and safety of our society. Apparently, he's more interested in bigotry than progress.
Maher Hathout is senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California.