"Muslim conference in Detroit stirs controversy," reads the USA Today headline of August 29, 2014.
And so we read. The August 29 - Sept 1, 2014 convention, held annually by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), "has already stoked controversy, drawing attacks from some conservatives who say the event is organized by an extremist group with ties to terror organizations." While noting ISNA's firm disavowal of ties to terrorist groups, the article tells us that "Some military veterans and tea party leaders are criticizing the governor [Snyder of Michigan] for speaking at an ISNA convention." Governor Snyder's appearance was criticized for being a sign of disrespect for the thousands of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq. The article goes on, alleging ISNA's links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (evidence of the latter: an unspecified 1991 memo). And while an ISNA representative is quoted as saying, "ISNA rejects all acts of terrorism, including those perpetrated by Hamas, Hezbollah and any other group that claims Islam as their inspiration," the next paragraph says that Jimmy Carter was criticized for speaking at the convention for "giving 'the cover of respectability' to ISNA." A panel discussion that involved Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was criticized because Erdogan is "aligned with Islamist movements." The article notes that one speaker, Yasir Qadhi, "has said that Muslim women generally should not work outside the home, and has expressed anti-gay and anti-Shia views." While the article notes that Qadhi has disavowed those views, it failed to note Qadhi's active involvement in the de-radicalization movement; in 2008, Qadhi was an invited participant in the government-organized Counter-Radicalization Strategy conference.
So much Islamaphobia crammed into such a tiny, little space.
In their effort to incite fear, the USA Today authors and editors missed the target completely.
One could not have guessed from this article that "GENERATIONSRISE: Elevating Muslim American Culture," attended by thousands of Muslims from around the country, was "meant to be a hopeful celebration of the rising generation of Muslim scholars, thinkers, artists, activists, and community members who are shaping Islam in America." Or that it was about "creating visions for taking the Muslim community in all of its noble pursuits to the next level of excellence, from education and the arts to service and interfaith engagement."
The article left the content of the conference a mystery. Again, from the article one could not have guessed any of the themes of the conference:
- Healthy Culture: This track will feature critical conversations on how to cultivate culture that is reflective of Islam's highest spiritual and ethical values.
- Effective Engagement: This track will highlight the importance of service (khidmah) as a chief characteristic of Muslim culture. The many ways in which Muslims can and are serving will be discussed as well as best practices.
- Social Trends: This track will examine some of the broader social issues shaping American culture today, and how Muslims should be responding to these trends from an Islamic perspective.
- Healing Divides: This track will look at how we heal relationships after conflict in our families, local communities, and more globally as we strive for an ethos of togetherness in the midst of our diversity.
- Masjid Development: This track will focus on best practices to make our Mosques even more welcoming, relevant, and responsive to the needs of its congregants.
- Education: This track will reflect on the high importance given to the pursuit of knowledge in Islam and will offer best strategies in acquiring holistic education for all generations of Muslims in America.
Swapping "Christianity" for "Islam" and "Christians" for "Muslims," these could have been the themes for an annual convention of Southern Baptists, Campus Crusade for Christ, or Promise Keepers. And the ISNA convention was, like its Christian counterparts, spiritually, communally and socially inspiring.
Moreover, one could allege ties or links to violence and terrorism in all of those Christian groups (depending how one defines "ties" and "links"). Southern Baptists, for example, were fervent defenders of slavery and, later, segregation; there was a permeable wall between Southern Baptists and the Ku Klux Klan. Conservative Christian groups have been decidedly patriarchal, denying women leadership roles in the church and home; in January, LifeWay Christian Resources, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, published the Women's Evangelical Commentary in which it is argued that the special purpose of women is homemaking and childbearing. And, of course, conservative Christian groups have been decidedly and vocally anti-gay.
What about Christianity and terrorism? Christian-motivated terrorism extends from the burning of mosques to the bombing of abortion clinics. Extremist Christians in the US have attacked and even killed Muslims, Sikhs (because they thought they were Muslims), blacks and Jews. Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, including 19 children. McVeigh was deeply influenced by the racist, anti-government and apocalyptic Turner Diaries.
Of the approximately 2,400 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil (from 1970-2012) just 2.5 percent, 60, were committed by Muslims. That leaves a lot of room for Christian terrorism.
By pandering to the fear-mongering Islamaphobes, the USA Today article missed an opportunity to explain to Christian-majority Americans how their fellow Muslim citizens are trying to live out their faith in the country they love. It failed to tell of the U.S. Muslim's love of freedom and democracy. It omitted any reference to the U.S. Muslim's concerns for our country's welfare and how they, like most other U.S. citizens, want to live in peace and to bequeath a better life to their children; that Muslims are "striving for an ethos of togetherness in the midst of our diversity." Finally, the article failed to register U.S. Muslim's palpable disdain for those who have co-opted and thus falsified Islam for their own personal and violent ends.