Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Muslim Voice for Darfur

The Muslim Voice for Darfur
By Adil Ahmed
Issue date: 4/18/07
Columbia daily Spectator

Global commentators, like Thomas Friedman, are forever referring to the international Muslim community as being inactive and dormant, instead of reacting to today's many world-changing issues. However, Darfur, in the post-Sept. 11 era, has become a pressing issue affecting Muslims globally. Stated simply, the Darfurian population is almost completely Muslim, and conflict is exacerbating between the Arab and African tribes. Through years of cross-marriage, even this distinction has become blurred. Arab versus African differences have been blunted and all fighting has become Muslim versus Muslim.According to the Foreign Affairs Council, the main humanitarian organizations active in Darfur are Jewish-American, African-American, liberal, and religious-conservative. In fact, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. even branched out of its usual focus in 2004 to declare Darfur a "genocide emergency." If I had to name two American "communities" who can best personalize genocide's drastic and long-lasting affects on their lifestyles, the first two who come to mind are the African-American and Jewish-American populations.
These diverse communities are continually combating stereotypes and advancing themselves as minorities in America. While strengthening and expanding their own humanitarian efforts, they must realize that Islam, especially post Sept. 11, is still being attacked by influential policymakers. An attack on Islam is automatically an attack on all Muslims. These groups supposedly hope to advance our, not their, minority American community through such humanitarian movements as the fight to end the genocide in Darfur; however, this goal cannot be fulfilled unless the Muslim, Arab, and African voices are also fully engaged.

Being Muslim in America involves "heavy baggage." No, not bombs! I cannot even freely use colloquial phrases for fear that my choice of words will be misinterpreted as a cruel joke. Even though it is 2007, most Americans have not overcome their fear of Muslims. Yesterday the College Republicans screened the film Obsession as part of the nation-wide Islamofascist week. This film portrays "Radical Islam" and its role as the primary influence over terrorist acts on America.

Fundamentalism without religious connotation is the source of terrorism in the United States and around the world. I hate to use such an obvious figure as Adolf Hitler, but this reference helps to get the basic point across. When Hitler taught his society that the Jews corrupted Germany, what happened? If we are all convinced that Islam is the root of terrorism, what will happen? Even though Islam has been practiced on our soil since before the founding of the United States (by enslaved African Muslims), Muslims have still become what Jews were in Germany in the 1940s and what African Americans were in America in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries: the national problem.

My point is not to deride a political group as much as it is to hault the detrimental effects this type of education will have upon our society. The College Republicans should have Terror Awareness Week instead because battling terrorism and maintaining security should be a top priority, and that is what politics must represent. However, it is a threat to the security of Muslim Americans on this campus to have their faith portrayed as the source of terrorism. Fundamentalism, with no strings attached, is the source of terrorism. Not individuals.Therefore, the next step is to correlate Islamofascist week to Darfur Awareness Week. The Muslim response to Darfur is representative of how our community views itself within the international war on terror.

In America we are "dormant" not because we do not do care or contribute to these humanitarian efforts, but because we join in on all the other efforts. For example, the Muslim Student Association's current community service board enjoins quite extensively in activities through Community Impact and Project for the Homeless, a project run through the campus Hillel. Our community service members are enthusiastic and see it as a duty to their faith to give back to their neighboring community. National Muslim organizations such as ISNA and CAIR have fought extensively alongside other civil rights and humanitarian organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Within Congress is a body called the Muslim Congressional Staffers Association which seeks to educate congressman and senators about Islam and Muslim-American Issues, yet Muslims' voices can not be represented directly for it is the congressmen and senators who make the decision as to whose opinions they will voice.We will continue these efforts, but I fear that if we continue to do them without recognition as a Muslim group, we will continue to be seen as dormant and inactive. The African League and Arab Union have downplayed human rights violations and genocide allegations labelling the Darfurian conflict as a civil war, taking the stance of many Western countries on Darfur.

In essence, they have taken a stance that prevents them from acknowledging the plights of their "own" people. Thomas Friedman recognizes this, and it has proven to prevent Muslims from having a voice. Even on our campus. Yesterday the MSA, in combination with all of the other sponsors of Darfur Awareness Week at Columbia, hosted a lecture by the American Islamic Congress, which discussed the Arab-Muslim voice on Iraq and Darfur. The fight against genocide should be a multi-lateral effort, not a fight composed of a single racial and religious body. That is what Darfur Awareness Week is at Columbia and we are glad to be a part of this week. It represents the beginning of an international movement for Darfurian activism.Being called a problem hurts. It not only hurts, it is offensive when we are not seen as capable of making a difference for others. But it's also an advantage. It gives us the opportunity to change people's minds through our actions and programming on campus.
Through our diverse array of programming this year and next, we hope to show people that our MSA values its own diverse Muslim community-which includes Arabs, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Caucasians, and Latinos-a community which includes the rest of Columbia as well. By educating people about Islam and its diverse group of followers, we hope to build an understanding which will hopefully lead to stronger multilateral humanitarian efforts and stronger security for minorities living in America.

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