Understanding Islam
Published on Tuesday, July 1, 2003 by the Cape Cod Times
Understanding Islam
by Sean Gonsalves
 

Last week the Associated Press reported that the FBI is conducting a sweep of 40 states, looking for suspected al-Qaeda operatives and affiliated groups. Larry Mefford, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, said: "The al-Qaeda terrorist network remains the most serious threat to U.S. interests both at home and overseas. That network includes groups committed to the international jihad movement, and it had demonstrated the ability to survive setbacks."

I understand that Mefford is just doing his job (and I'm glad he is), but when I hear terrorism being connected to "jihad," my intellectual radar warning system goes on alert and I get that sinking feeling in my stomach - that same sense of foreboding many black folks had when O.J. Simpson was threatening to commit suicide before an international audience while crouched in the back seat of that white Bronco.

Ironically, it was the African-American, neo-con cultural critic Stanley Crouch who articulated it best for me. Crouch observed that when white people commit crimes, it's widely considered to be a comment on that one individual or a comment on society. But when a black person commits a crime, it's considered to be a comment on race.

In other words, when a person of color is suspected of some heinous criminal act and it's all over the news, any black person who's had difficulty catching a cab or who's had store security watch them as they shop can feel the fearful collective gaze of mainstream American staring at them.

I wonder what percentage of news consumers associates Islam with terrorism. It seems like every time you turn around there's another news story about some "Islamic fundamentalist" committing yet another suicide bombing or jumping up and down in front of a camera shouting curses against America.

Honestly, when you first heard about the Oklahoma City bombing, didn't you initially think it was probably the work of some radical Muslim?

Former longtime Congressman Paul Findley recently sent me his book, "Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam." In that book, it's made clear that if you suspended judgment about who might have committed the atrocity in Oklahoma City, you were in the minority. Just hours after the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City, prominent commentators like Steve Emerson was on CBS News telling viewers: "Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East."

Why was Emerson such a popular analyst? He produced a "critically acclaimed" documentary called "Jihad in America: An Investigation of Islamic Extremists' Activities in the United States."

Findley's book is a stick in the mud of Muslim-phobia, which is rampant in our post-9/11 world. Findley provides an intimate glimpse of the lives and beliefs of U.S. Muslims and their contributions to society, highlighting prominent members of the American-Islamic community, such as Salam al-Marayati, April Szuchyt and Nihad Awad. Ever heard those names? Before I read Findley's book, I hadn't either.

Since 9/11, I've read numerous reports about how bookstores are selling more Korans than ever before, apparently because Americans are trying to figure out "why they hate us."

And while a thirst for knowledge is admirable, scattered surah readings will not bring any more insight into terrorism than Muslims reading the Bible, seeking to understand the foreign policy of our "predominantly Christian nation."

For those truly interested in understanding Islam, you have to literally stand under and reflect on what is being said by Muslims like those highlighted in Findley's book. The major news networks aren't doing it. So you'll have to dig a little deeper than shallow "investigative" documentaries and be prepared to find that understanding Islam will bring you no closer to understanding terrorism.

If you want to understand terrorism, never mind the Koran. You'll do better learning more about the Bush doctrine. And keep in mind that the most recognized face in the world - one of the most admired men of peace in our times - is a Muslim named Muhammed Ali.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.His e-mail is sgonsalves@capecodonline.com .

Copyright © 2003 Cape Cod Times

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