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I Won't Apologize for Being Muslim

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The Benghazi quasi-controversy took an ugly turn at a recent panel on the issue conducted by the Heritage Foundation, when prominent anti-Islam activist Brigitte Gabriel decried "180 million to 300 million Muslims' quest for the destruction and dominance of Western civilization" -- comments that prompted the room to erupt in applause.

According to Gabriel, the moderate Muslim majority is useless, since it does not do enough to actively oppose militants like al-Qaeda -- a view apparently shared by the other panelists. At one point, panel moderator Chris Plante asked Saba Ahmed, an American University law student, "Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?"

I felt enraged at this hypocritical question. It's an indirect attempt to elicit an apology from Muslim Americans, as if they were responsible for the reprehensible crimes of those who call themselves Muslims. If the panelists had any basic knowledge of Islam, they would understand that, since the fall of the caliphate at the end of World War I, there has been a decentralization of religious authority in Islam.

But in fact, there are numerous Muslim organizations that dedicate themselves to peace, non-violence, and interfaith and cross-cultural partnerships. Yet none of that matters to organizations like Heritage and individuals like Gabriel and Plante, who continue to scapegoat the entire Muslim population by making inflammatory claims about Islam to boost their popularity among the far-right.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship, established two decades ago, is an organization dedicated specifically to the theory and practice of Islamic non-violence. The Muslim Peace Coalition is an organization that "believes that war, terrorism, and Islamophobia form a dangerous nexus that is dragging our nation backwards." The nation's only Muslim fraternity, Alif Lam Meem, based at the University of Texas-Dallas, dedicates itself to rallying against domestic violence. Libyans, immediately after the Benghazi attack, conducted a large peaceful demonstration, holding up signs that said "Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans," "Benghazi is against all terrorism," and "Sorry to the people of America, this does not represent the behavior of our Islam and our Prophet." In fact, Muslims have been preaching for peace since long before September 11th, 2001. Would Gabriel and Plante consider these advocates for peace and justice the heads of the Muslim peace movement? Why not?

A colleague of Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, helped lead the Pathans of India in non-violent resistance against British colonial rule. Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish writer, former imam and Islamic opinion leader, has dedicated his life to non-violence and interfaith dialogue and initiated one such dialogue with the Vatican. When champion boxer Muhammad Ali was stripped of his world title after violating the draft, he issued this powerful statement:

It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realisation of its implications. I have searched my conscience.

Ali's own Islamic religious convictions led him to defy the draft and to become involved in the anti-war movement in the 1970s.

Brigitte Gabriel has a track record of claiming that Islam calls for the persecution of Christians and that Muslims are infiltrating the U.S. government to foment radicalism on the home front. Yet a simple page-turn of the Holy Qu'ran's Surah Kafirun verse 109:1-109:6 debunks her claims:

Say, 'O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion and for me is my religion.'

This verse, straight from the Qu'ran, is exactly what the vast majority of the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world take to heart and live out on a daily basis. Another verse in Surah Al-Baqara continues to show the long-lasting respect Muslims have for Christians and Jews:

Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.

For centuries, there have been Muslim-Americans who have dedicated their entire lives to peace, tolerance, non-violence and interfaith dialogue. For years now, Muslim countries have been weakened and undermined by Western imperialism, indiscriminate drone strikes, Western support for Middle Eastern dictators, and on-going invasions. In this country, Muslims continue to face unimaginable discrimination in the workplace, infringement of Fourth Amendment rights at airports and by the National Security Agency, restrictions of First Amendment rights in certain states, and indefinite detentions without due process. Hate crimes against Muslims are increasing every year, according to the FBI, but some on the right are still paranoid about "creeping" Sharia Law being brought to America by Muslims who make up less than one percent of this country's population. Yet we're still asked to hide our faith and expected to apologize for terrorist organizations that don't align with our religious beliefs.

I love this country. I was born in the United States, and this is the place I call home. However, I won't apologize for being an oppressor, because I refuse to become a victim. I refuse to become a victim of constant scapegoating by ignorant xenophobes. I refuse to become a victim of the false assumption that Islam and its followers are believers in violence. And if they ask me again why I won't apologize, I'll tell them to ask the hippos in the Congo Delta to apologize for the South Asian Tsunami.

I'm not one to associate all Americans with the mass genocide of indigenous people for the sake of "liberty," just as I won't characterize all conservatives as right-wing bigots. Nor would I associate all Americans with the capturing and exploitation of slaves for the growth of the U.S. economy in the early 1800s, or blame all Americans for their right-wing leaders' support for the ill-conceived invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, I don't need an apology from the majority of Americans to understand that they don't advocate for the detention of American citizens, as was done to Japanese Americans in the 1940s. I would not demand an apology from conservatives for their constant efforts to strip me of my First Amendment rights simply because I am a Muslim-American. I, and a billion of Muslims, have no influence over violent actions towards any living being, nor do we support them.

So, why do they demand an apology from Muslims like me?