Los Angeles Times - November 13, 2005
It won't happen here
By Salam Al-Marayati
AS THE DEATH TOLL rises from the suicide bombings in Amman, Jordan, and as France, Britain and other European states confront home-grown Muslim violence, it is not surprising that Americans are beginning to wonder: Is the U.S. immune?
The question has been raised occasionally during the five years since 9/11. Could it happen here? What are the thoughts and feelings of the 3 million to 6 million Muslims in the United States?
Mainstream Muslim Americans (including the group I lead, the Muslim Public Affairs Council) have repeatedly tried to answer this question, taking our message to churches, synagogues, universities and Capitol Hill: The vast majority of Muslim Americans are committed to this country, to partnering with other Americans to keep our country safe and preserve its values, to rejecting Al Qaeda and terrorism.
The reason we're not likely to see riots in the U.S. like those in France is that Muslims here are very different from European Muslims. Here, Muslims are more readily integrated; in Europe, they tend to be the disaffected and disenfranchised. As former colonial subjects, Europe's Muslims carry baggage that creates intrinsic tensions within their societies. Trapped in ghettos, they're discriminated against and treated as less than full-fledged citizens.
Muslims in the U.S. are more affluent than in many parts of the world. We contribute about $90 billion to the U.S. economy every year. Many of us have graduate degrees and have succeeded in science, the arts and business. The U.S. is home. Let that be clear to the extremists abroad and Muslim haters here.
Although there are few social or economic biases against Muslim Americans, there remain political biases that contribute to a psychological ghetto mentality. And despite our best efforts to contribute positively to public life in the United States, Muslim Americans continue to be vulnerable to discrimination and criminal hate and racism.
Of course, among the millions of Muslims in the United States, some may support extremism. It is our task to isolate them — in partnership with law enforcement — as fringe elements, and to prevent the isolation of the entire Muslim American community.
Oftentimes, terrorists are perceived as carrying out the precepts of Islam, yet those who use religion to foment terrorism are outnumbered by those who are motivated by religion to counter extremism. The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans denounce violence as a solution for the social ills faced in the Muslim world. The influence of these Americans — from the mosques to the malls — can promote the justice our community strives for both here and abroad.
[Salam al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.]
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER - November 21, 2005
Religion played no role in riots
By BARRY SCHWEID
WASHINGTON -- The violence that swept predominantly Muslim communities in some 300 cities and towns in France for three weeks has abated and "we are back to normal," French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said Monday.
He said mostly teenagers had acted out of social and economic hardship. "It was not about the role of Islam in France," he said. "We never saw any link, direct or indirect," the French diplomat said. "Religion played no role." "We know that jihadists are recruiting teenagers, but this has nothing to do with the general unrest in those neighborhoods," he said. The teenagers want to be considered 100 percent French, he said. "They want full equality."
Levitte also suggested "the word 'riot' is a bit too strong" to describe the disturbances and that while thousands of automobiles were destroyed and scores of police officers injured, there were only a handful of fatalities, in contrast to the 1992 Los Angeles riots that left 55 people dead and $1 billion in property damage.
The French have invoked those riots in the past, by way of criticizing U.S. policies. In 1992, then President Francois Mitterrand suggested that France would avoid such strife because of its generous social programs.
Levitte said that with job programs, scholarships and improved housing, the French government is engaged in trying to improve their living conditions. He spoke at a forum sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, said the outbreak was a signal that discrimination has to be fought at all levels. He called on the French government to show the young Muslims that "society is with them, not against them."
Salam al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, said "people want to live the French dream, the American dream, not the French nightmare." "We are not immigrants anymore," he said. "We are second, third and fourth generation." But the Muslims in Europe are not regarded as full-fledged Europeans, he said.
And while "we agree that this is not a religious conflict," al-Qaida and other groups can exploit these people if their social and political situations are not improved, he said.