Those who think moderate Muslims aren't speaking out against extremism need to listen harder.
Those who think moderate Muslims aren't speaking out against extremism need to listen better.
Joe from Needham, Mass., called into a radio show with the question that must drive Muslims crazy.
"I've been wondering this for nine years now," Joe said, "why hasn't there been a huge outcry from the moderate American Muslims and Muslims around the world against these Muslim extremists within their communities?"
Had I been on the other end of the question, I might have started by referring him to a book or two, or to a website I've found which links to almost 200 statements condemning the 9/11 attacks from Muslim organizations, Muslim clerics, Muslims serving in the military and ordinary Muslims.
The outcry has been there, if Joe had bothered to open his ears to hear it.
I might have mentioned polls, here and abroad, and elections in Muslim countries which show heavy majorities of ordinary Muslims rejecting extremist views and actions.
Or Joe could drive about 20 minutes to the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Mass., where for 30 years thousands of his neighbors have been worshiping God in peace.
If he had shown up last Sunday, Joe would have found nearly 200 Muslims listening to a Jewish woman whose husband was killed on 9/11 talk about turning grief into charity, about how she was inspired to build bridges, not barriers, between women widowed by extremist violence.
Susan Retik and another 9/11 widow, Patti Quigley, are the founders of Beyond the 11th, which has helped more than 1,000 women widowed by violence in Afghanistan start small businesses to sustain themselves and their families. Retik and Quigley were just awarded a presidential medal for their work.
This was the first time Retik had brought her cause to an Islamic audience, and she was warmly received. The Wayland center had identified Beyond the 11th as special recipient of Ramadan charity, Dr. Malik Khan, president of the Wayland center, told me, and thousands of dollars were raised for the cause.
"In America, people are basically fair and decent," Khan said, but misconceptions persist about the nature of Islam, driven by sensationalistic media coverage and the lack of contact between non-Muslim and Muslim Americans. His response is to welcome all visitors to the Wayland mosque, to participate in interfaith activities, and to patiently answer all questions.
Asked about the latest media controversy, involving a Wellesley (Mass.) Middle School field trip to a mosque during which some of the sixth-graders appear to have participated in Muslim prayers, Khan said the Wayland center doesn't host school field trips, but seemed unperturbed. Islam preaches that religion "must never be coerced," he said, and no visitor would be forced to pray.
But anyone who wants to join in prayers, whether Muslim or not, is welcomed, Khan said. He remembered a visit to the mosque, years ago, from Cardinal Bernard Law. When the Muslim congregants prayed, the cardinal prayed along with them.
Joe hasn't heard the moderate voices of Muslims condemning terrorism, in part, because the media don't report them. The loudest, scariest, most extreme voices are the ones that attract viewers and readers. And the extremists on the Muslim side know that nothing amplifies their message like mass murder.
Worse, Joe may be hearing nonsense like that fomented by Paula Geller's "Freedom Defense Initiative." According to commentator Reza Aslan, FDI board member Joseph Kay has said that "every person in Islam, from man to woman to child, may be our executioner. In short, that there are no innocents in Islam ... all of Islam is at war with us."
But Joe got an answer to his question on NPR's "On Point": "The fact of the matter, Joe, is that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of what you call the moderates who are fighting on the front line," Akbar Ahmed, a professor at American University, said.
Those include former Pakistan prime minister Benezir Bhutto, who "was killed fighting for what you call moderate Islam. Thirty thousand Pakistanis have been killed fighting the extremists and the Taliban in Pakistan," Ahmed said, including six of his wife's cousins, killed fighting the Taliban in the Swat Valley.
American soldiers of all faiths are with them in this fight, taking on violent extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq. The least we can do to support them is to recognize the sacrifices of our moderate allies and care enough to learn the truth about their religion.
America is not at war with Islam. Anyone who thinks we are doesn't know much about Islam, or about America.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.