Friday, March 18, 2016

Obama’s Challenge to Muslim Americans Begins at Home

Guest Post By Athar Javaid

“Right now, many Muslim Americans are worried because threats and harassment against their community are on the rise,” President Obama recently wrote in a commentary for Religion News Service. “We’ve seen Muslim Americans assaulted, children bullied and mosques vandalized, and we’ve heard shameful political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.” The president’s words recognize higher levels of anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in America, the intensification of an Islamophobia that spiked after 9/11. What is going on?

President Mosque Meeting American Muslims at the Islamic Center of Baltimore, Maryland

On one hand, American society is conflating Islam with the group that calls itself the Islamic State and reacting to Muslims in a way reminiscent of its 1940s internment of ethnic Japanese. On the other hand, there is concern that acts of radical Islamic fundamentalists present a threat to the nation. A non-exhaustive list of such events might start in 2009, when 13 people were killed and 30 were wounded by a lone gunman at Fort Hood, Texas. In May 2010, a car bomb was poised to go off in New York’s Times Square. Recently, two shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — the latest tragedy among a number far too large. There is fair and growing angst within American society about the behavior and treatment of Muslims. But the greater concern should be the emergence of a vicious cycle arcing from fear, to grievance, to violence.

Are we already spiraling? While the 9/11 hijackers were foreign nationals, those behind more recent attacks are often American-born or naturalized citizens. Many grew up in this country and even earned college degrees by virtue of their U.S. citizenship.

To prevent similar events in the future, we may be inclined to ask of past perpetrators: “Were you motivated entirely by religious radicalization, or was your anger sparked by mistreatment and disenfranchisement?” Whatever the answer, the required response will involve the Muslim community, a part of which has shown little inclination to address the problem of the radicalized within it.

We’re seeing now that events like those since 2009 make victims of survivors as well as the deceased. Muslim communities in North America and around the globe mourn alongside the bereaved, but with their grief there is also the fear that all who practice Islam will come to be perceived as terrorists. The natural reaction is to turn inward, and as current events show, it is reasonable for Muslims to be fearful.

But it is also reasonable to believe that homegrown terrorist attacks can be prevented, and if we are learning anything, it’s that the best opportunity — and the responsibility — to do so begins at home — first with immediate family members and then friends, co-workers, community members and religious leaders. It ends with law enforcement authorities.

What can Muslims do to break the cycle of violence and Islamophobia?

Work within Muslim communities to identify extremism and radicalization before it culminates in violence. Uniting a community under a common goal can turn strangers into friends and make the communities warmer, more vigilant and safer for everyone. Neighborhood and community watches do this already and are organized for the same purposes — safety and crime prevention. A well-run program can achieve greater socialization, spot early signs of concern and effectively prevent crime without abandoning personal privacy.

American society is made stronger and more resilient when it is a community of overlapping communities and when responsibilities are shared.

“You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American,” Obama said in his RNS commentary, echoing a recent speech at a Maryland mosque. It is as much a statement of fact as it is a challenge, and in both cases, it begins at home.

Note: Author Athar Javaid is President of INDUS — Mobilizing People’s Power, a Washington, D.C.-registered 501(c)3 tax-exempt think tank and advocacy group dedicated to a progressive and politically stable Pakistan, strong U.S.-Pakistan relations and community integration and civic promotion in the United States. INDUS has no political affiliations in the United States or political ambitions in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Obama Lampooned as Flag-Burning Muslim Terrorist

Why Obama Shies Away From Muslims?

Unreasonable Men: From Martin Luther King to Barack Husain Obama

Powell: So What if Obama is Muslim

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World From Cairo

Obama, Islam & Science


Riaz Haq said...

An example of what Athar Javaid is suggesting is a recent case in Fremont California. 22-year-old Adam Shafi's father reported to US authorities that his son might be influenced by radicals and may be headed to join them in the Middle East.

Here's an except of a local news story:

After his disappearance in Cairo, Shafi’s father and another relative contacted the U.S. Embassy, and the relative relayed a text message in which Shafi said he had gone to “protect Muslims,” Monika said. He said Shafi’s father was concerned that his son may have been following “some extreme imams online,” in the agent’s words.

Shafi returned to his family the next day, Monika said. He said a friend of Shafi, described by the friend’s brother as a possible terrorist recruit, told the FBI later that he and Shafi had traveled to Turkey but decided to return because Shafi “wasn’t feeling it.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Georgia parents offended by the 'Far East religion' of yoga, get 'Namaste' banned from school. #USA #Hindu #Bigotry

“We need to direct our attention inward and connect to the breath,” yoga instructor Rachel Brathen writes in her New York Times best-selling book about the practice. “Focusing on our breath keeps us present, calms the mind, and allows us to develop the awareness of the body we need to practice with care and compassion.”

Since the ancient discipline with roots in Hinduism and Buddhism became a popular exercise in the West, yogis have inundated popular culture with their pursuit of that elusive “calm” in a rapidly spinning world.

“Mindfulness,” the meditative state associated with yoga, has likewise been adopted as a way to clear the mind.

So when administrators at Bullard Elementary School in Kennesaw, Ga., implemented yoga and other mindfulness practices in the classroom to reduce students’ stress, they probably envisioned peace and relaxation in their future.

Instead, they received a flurry of complaints — from parents who felt yoga represented the encroachment of non-Christian beliefs.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bullard’s principal, Patrice Moore, sent parents an email last week announcing changes to its yoga program.

“I am truly sorry that the mindfulness/ de-stressing practices here at Bullard caused many misconceptions that in turn created a distraction in our school and community,” Moore wrote. “While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some.”

Among the elements of the program that will be eliminated: the Sanskrit greeting “Namaste,” placing hands “to heart center” and coloring pages with the symbol of the Mandala (a spiritual symbol in Indian religions representing the cosmos).

Moore noted that a rumor had also spread about using or teaching “about crystals having healing powers.”

“We will ensure that nothing resembling this will be done in the future,” she said.

[University yoga class canceled because of ‘oppression, cultural genocide’]

Parents were concerned about yoga’s spiritual origins.

“No prayer in schools. Some don’t even say the pledge of allegiance,” Cobb County mother Susan Jaramillo told NBC affiliate WXIA. “Yet they’re pushing ideology on our students. Some of those things are religious practices that we don’t want our children doing in our schools.”

Christopher Smith, whose sons attend Bullard, shared a similar sentiment on Facebook.

“Now we can’t pray in our schools or practice Christianity but they are allowing this Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress release meditation,” he wrote. “This is very scary.”

Smith directed people to “google ‘mindfulness indoctrination.'”

Riaz Haq said...

Overreacting to #Terrorism? #BrusselsAttacks #Obama #Trump #Cruz2016 #Islamophobia

Are terrorists more of a threat than slippery bathtubs?

President Obama, er, slipped into hot water when The Atlantic reportedthat he frequently suggests to his staff that fear of terrorism is overblown, with Americans more likely to die from falls in tubs than from attacks by terrorists.

The timing was awkward, coming right before the Brussels bombings, but Obama is roughly right on his facts: 464 people drowned in America in tubs, sometimes after falls, in 2013, while 17 were killed here by terrorists in 2014 (the most recent years for which I could get figures). Of course, that’s not an argument for relaxing vigilance, for at some point terrorists will graduate from explosives to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons that could be far more devastating than even 9/11. But it is an argument for addressing global challenges a little more rationally.

The basic problem is this: The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them.

Our visceral fear of terrorism has repeatedly led us to adopt policies that are expensive and counterproductive, such as the invasion of Iraq. We have ramped up the intelligence community so much that there are now seven times as many Americans with security clearances (4.5 million) as live in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Donald Trump responded to the Brussels attacks with crowd-pleasing calls for torture or barring Muslims that even Republican security experts agree are preposterous.

On the same day as the attacks, a paper by James E. Hansen and other climate experts was released arguing that carbon emissions are transforming our world far more quickly than expected, in ways that may inundate coastal cities and cause storms more horrendous than any in modern history. The response? A yawn.

Hansen is an eminent former NASA scientist, but he’s also an outlier in his timing forecasts, and I’m not qualified to judge whether he’s correct. Yet whatever the disagreement about the timeline, there is scientific consensus that emissions on our watch are transforming our globe for 10,000 years to come. As an important analysis in Nature Climate Change put it, “The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”

To put it another way, this year’s election choices may shape coastlines 10,000 years from now. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both mocked the idea of human-caused climate change, with Trump suggesting that it is a hoax invented by China to harm the American economy (he now says that last point was a joke).

The upshot is that Brussels survived this week’s terrorist attacks, but it may not survive climate change (much of the city is less than 100 feet above sea level).

Doesn’t it seem prudent to invest in efforts to avert not only shoe bombers but also the drowning of the world’s low-lying countries?


Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, says that the kind of threats that we evolved to deal with are those that are imminent rather than gradual, and those that involve a deliberate bad actor, especially one transgressing our moral code. Explaining our lack of concern for global warming, he noted,“Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, not flags.”

In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!

Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.

Riaz Haq said...

#American #Muslim Leaders Wage Theological Battle, Stoking ISIS’ Anger, tiggering #FBI protection. #Islamophobia

There are many Muslim scholars who are risking their lives to counter radicals within their faith. I know many in Pakistan who have either been killed (example: Dr. Shakil Auj) or fled for their lives (example: Dr. Ghamdi). Even in the US, there are significant threats requiring FBI protection for Hamza Yousuf and Suhaib Webb and other scholars

Here's an excerpt from NY Times:

As the military and political battle against the Islamic State escalates, Muslim imams and scholars in the West are fighting on another front — through theology.

Imam Suhaib Webb, a Muslim leader in Washington, has held live monthly video chats to refute the religious claims of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In a dig at the extremists, he broadcast from ice cream parlors and called his talks “ISIS and ice cream.”

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American Muslim scholar based in Berkeley, Calif., has pleaded with Muslims not to be deceived by the “stupid young boys” of the Islamic State. Millions have watched excerpts from his sermon titled “The Crisis of ISIS,” in which he wept as he asked God not to blame other Muslims “for what these fools amongst us do.”

It is a religious rumble that barely makes headlines in the secular West since it is carried out at mosques and Islamic conferences and over social media.

The Islamic State, however, has taken notice.

The group recently threatened the lives of 11 Muslim imams and scholars in the West, calling them “apostates” who should be killed. The recent issue of the Islamic State’s online propaganda magazine, Dabiq, called them “obligatory targets,” and it said that supporters should use any weapons on hand to “make an example of them.”

The danger is real enough that the F.B.I. has contacted some of those named in the Islamic State’s magazine “to assist them in taking proper steps to ensure their safety,” said Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the F.B.I.’s field office in Washington.

The death threats are a sign that Muslim religious leaders have antagonized the Islamic State, according to analysts who are studying the militant group. Their growing influence also contradicts those who claim that Muslim leaders have been silent in the fight against violent extremism.

“This is what hurts ISIS the most. It is Muslims speaking out,” said Mubin Shaikh, a Canadian who once joined an extremist Islamist group and now advises governments on countering radicalization. “Fear-mongering is what ISIS is trying to do, whether to silence these people or to silence others as a deterrent.”

Several of the targeted Muslim leaders said in interviews that, while they were taking the threat seriously, they had no intention of backing off. They have hired security guards and fortified their workplaces, and some keep guns at home.