Fault Lines: What We Say (and Don't Say) About Islam

05/16/2011 08:45 am ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011

Chances are you're aware of this by now, but over the weekend there was a series of arrests in South Florida that the feds say breaks up a cash-funneling operation that was directly funding the Pakistani Taliban. It should probably go without saying at this point that any time you hear the name Taliban attached to a group -- irrespective of what locator, modifier or title precedes it -- you can be pretty sure it's not something the U.S. government wants to see you wiring a lot of money to. Well, two Miami-area Imams were indicted along with their sons for supposedly doing just that.

Are they guilty? That obviously hasn't been proven yet. But what's worth mentioning is that during the press availability immediately following the arrests, the U.S. attorney overseeing the case went out of his way to -- and stop me if you've heard this one before -- unequivocally stress that the actions taken by federal agents should in no way be perceived as an indictment of Islam as a whole, a religion whose adherents are, he insists, overwhelmingly, decent, lawful and peace-loving people. A large part of me understands why such a distinction should be made in situations like this one: a potential backlash against Muslims throughout the U.S. would be entirely unfair and therefore whatever can be done to assuage the concerns of America's dumb-ass knee-jerk contingent benefits justice and the spirit of the law, plus it's the human thing to do. But I'm not sure that's the real rationale behind the government's very clumsy qualifier. The real reason -- and I don't think anyone can argue this anymore -- is that we're terrified of angering Muslims. And it should be obvious that being afraid of the Islamic faith to the point where you handle the subject of it with kid gloves -- and treat its followers as if they're always one poorly chosen word or inadvertent offense away from strapping on a vest full of Semtex and walking into a shopping mall -- is a much bigger insult than simply not bringing it up at all.

There's of course an argument to be made that anyone who believes in ancient religion -- especially to the point of violently defending it -- doesn't deserve to be treated as reasonable. I've actually made that argument many times, so I won't bother retreading a well-worn path. But my point is this: Imagine for a moment the FBI hauling in six black guys as part of the bust of an interstate car-theft ring, then standing up there during the resulting news conference and saying, "By the way, these arrests shouldn't reflect on African-Americans as a whole; I mean, they're not all car thieves," or taking down a drug-running operation along the U.S./Mexico border and saying, "We want to make clear that we really love Taco Bell and think George Lopez is a funny guy who by the way doesn't do drugs." Logically, if you're going to add disclaimers every time you indict an American Muslim on terrorism charges you can easily take that kind of absurd and pointless political correctness one, two or three steps further until the feds spend more time apologizing than they do arresting people.

I get why the President of the United States feels the need to occasionally remind everyone that we're not "at war with Islam"; in addition to that being the truth, he's addressing the world, not simply the people two counties over. But at some point we -- meaning those of us who happen not to be followers of Islam -- have to stop treading lightly around Muslims as a default position and truly do what we now only claim to do: treat them the same as everybody else. No better and certainly no worse.

But if we feel like we can't do that, then what we're not willing to say about Islam and about ourselves, in fact, speaks volumes.