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“Muslim!” Now Available In Insult Form

"Muslim!" is quickly becoming one of the worse insults to call someone.

When a Presidential candidate—Barack Obama—is so much as (falsely) rumored to be Muslim, it is considered a smear. Mr. Obama, a Christian, and the son of an atheist and a Christian, has to keep five signed letters from Christian clergy in his office, just in case.

Even a Presidential candidate who comes from a marginalized religious background— Mitt Romney—cannot accept the idea of a Muslim in the cabinet.

When a Muslim gets elected to Congress—Keith Ellison—he is asked to prove his loyalty to the United States. Then, people become agitated when some shock-jock tells them that Ellison was planning on giving allegiance to the Quran, when in fact, a Congressman's preferred holy book is just used for photo-op purposes after the swearing in on the US Constitution.

According to a survey cited by the Washington Post, conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, 45 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for any office who is Muslim. Compare this with the 25 percent who said the same about a Mormon candidate and 16 percent who said the same for an Evangelical Christian.

In a 2004 survey by Cornell university, almost half of the national respondents favored curtailing the civil liberties of Muslims. An astonishing 40 percent of Republicans wanted American Muslims to register their whereabouts (24 percent of Democrats).

Average Muslims are routinely asked to condemn terrorism (as if it was their family member that committed 9/11). Yet, a simple Google search reveals that plenty of Muslims have condemned terrorism. The first hit for the query "Muslims condemn terrorism" as well as the query "Muslims do not condemn terrorism" both produce a list with hundreds of Muslim condemnations. It doesn't get simpler than that.

Every day numerous Americans pretend as if the world is devoid of common, decent Muslims. Just as recently as Friday the New York Times published an op-ed article entitled "Islam's Silent Moderates" which wonders why Muslims did not speak out against the rape tragedy in Saudi Arabia, the teddy bear fiasco in Sudan, or the persecution of feminist writer Taslima Nasreen in India. Yet, four days prior to the publication of the article, a Muslim writing at a reputable Left magazine condemned the injustice in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India (among many others), calling his unjust co-religionists "dimwits." Yet, according to the New York Times op-ed, this Muslim doesn't exist.

There are some Americans who recognize the demonization for what it is, and how it is comparable to previous instances of American demonization. In an email to me, a very prominent American blogger writes: "We [gays] always used to have to condemn every pedophile, as if we were in charge, and as if we were somehow pedophiles. Same line of attack. I've often made this point that the attacks on Muslims and gays are very very similar."

There is a stubborn resistance among many Americans to the idea that Muslims are a multifarious and diverse group of 1.2 billion humans, living in every nation and culture of the world.

All Muslims do not act the same. Today in Canada one Muslim organization is suing a magazine for publishing what it believes is Islamophobic material, while another Muslim organization is supporting the magazine's right to publish the offending material. This is just one example of a very self-evident point. To give more examples would simply insult mine and the reader's intelligence. Yet, perhaps such mutual insults are necessary when some of the world's most celebrated novelists publicly exclaim that "there is no individual" in Islam.

Muslims are well aware that their co-religionists are being unjust towards women, are using the name of Islam to chase political power, have killed people in the name of Islam. But the fact is: it has been Muslims who have been at the forefront of resisting these injustices, and it will always be that way, so the rest of us can either get to know these Muslims or stop pretending like we know what we are talking about.

Long before 2001 when Islamic reformation became in vogue, Muslims whose teachers were executed and who had to go into exile, were writing books about it.

Long before America cared about the rights of women in the Muslim world, Muslim women were launching anti-honor killing jihads.

One of the most far reaching attacks against Islamically sanctioned forced marriages has been a film from Pakistan, not a vitriolic screed written in a high-end magazine in London.

Whenever there is progress in the Muslim world, it is because of something Muslims themselves accomplish. After witnessing the insane amount of Shia-Sunni killing in Iraq, it was Muslims who were able to get together and reach an accord to stymie the violence. We should not forget that the crushing blow against Soviet Union did not come from the West, it came from inside the Soviet Union, and from behind the Iron Curtain. Even a cursory indulgence in the state of Islamic reform will reveal that the same is occurring in the Muslim world today.

Putting aside what Muslims outside of America are doing, it bears asking why American Muslims are so reviled given that they have been almost model citizens.

An April 2002 survey by Cornell University showed that 26 percent of American Muslim households earn more than $100,000. An astonishing 66 percent of American Muslim households earn more than $50,000. Given that American Muslims number between 3 to 7 million in this country, that is a fair deal of taxes contributed to this country.

Further, Zogby International found that while only 8.6 percent of Americans have advanced degrees, that number is 32 percent for American Muslims.

A free clinic serving underserved areas run by American-Muslims in Los Angeles was recently recognized by Congress. One of my good friends runs another similar clinic in Las Vegas.

Average Americans have to stop and ask ourselves how we allowed "Muslim" to become such an insult and what to do about it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make a distinction between a "Muslim" and an "American-Muslim." The former should refer to people of the Islamic faith around the world. The latter should refer to Muslims in the United States. The two words are not interchangeable.
  • Consider that American Muslim organizations that purport to speak for American Muslims do not in fact uniformly do so. American Muslims organize in many ways beyond those of affiliation with national organizations.
  • Consider that Black and Latino Muslims in America are increasingly one of the larger subset of American Muslims. This means that nearly 1/3rd of American Muslims do not, in appearance or language, conform to the usual stereotypes. Of the seven "Best Blogs" nominated this year in an Islamic blog award, two are by caucasian-muslims, three by immigrant-muslims, one by a black-muslim, and one by a latino-muslim. The award has been won by a Latina-Muslim woman for two years running.
  • Realize that while most Arabs are Muslims, not all Arabs are Muslim (many are Christian). Further, while some Muslims are Arabs, most Muslims are not Arab. Globally, only 18% of Muslims are Arab.
  • It also might be advisable to make a distinction between a Muslim and an Islamist. A Muslim is someone who adheres to Islam. An Islamist is someone who wants to live under an Islamic theocracy. Most Muslims that live in the West have no interest in Islamism. In fact, most of them came here only to escape theocracies and tyrannies.

Finally, it is worth considering that for Americans to make collective demands on Muslims groups should be deemed completely beyond the pale. If we as a society are going to make collective demands on a group, then we are implying that collective punishment is appropriate as well. It might be worth remembering that the rationale Bin Laden used justify his attacks against innocent American civilians was based on the idea that all Americans are collectively responsible for their country's policies.

NEXT: Stephen Suleyman Schwartz explains Why I Became a Muslim

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