Recent events have seen an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. media. As an American Muslim of Pakistani origin, I feel the need to present the Muslim perspective so my fellow American citizens have a better understanding of issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Like other Muslims, I was horrified and shocked by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and strongly condemned these actions as the work of a very few misguided and fanatical people. In fact, the daughter of a close friend of mine, Mr. Hamid Simjee, was killed in the Twin Towers explosion. The body of Naseema Simjee may never be found. Prominent Muslim religious and civic leaders, such as Dr. Muzammil Siddique of the Islamic Society of North America, also condemned this cowardly attack in a very strong manner.
The majority of the 1 billion Muslims do not hate Jews or Christians. The Holy Quran calls Jews and Christians people of the book, and urges Muslims to respect them. Islam is the fastest growing religion in this country. People are attracted to it because of its simple message.
I do not know of one single person who converted to Islam because of the distorted view that Osama bin Laden presents. The vast majority of Muslims do not agree with Osama bin Laden and his thinking. It seems that he has hijacked Muslim causes to satisfy his own agenda.
He has tried to gain sympathy in the Muslim world by talking about Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and other causes where Muslims are fighting for justice. He also talks about the children of Iraq that are dying due to the sanctions imposed on that nation for the past ten years. I seriously doubt that he really cares about these children.
These causes do have the full sympathy of the majority of the Muslims because they want justice to prevail. The U.S. was established on the principles of freedom and justice for all, and I know that includes Muslims too. Being the most powerful nation on this earth brings with it enormous responsibilities. We must treat the just aspirations of less fortunate nations with the same principles of freedom, justice and fairness that we have come to expect for ourselves. As American citizens, we must look out for the best interest of the USA and not the interest of any other foreign power. Patriotism sometimes requires us to speak the truth no matter how bitter it may seem.
The time has come for us to look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a fair manner, not because we want to appease Muslims but because fairness demands it. The majority of Muslims see America’s policy towards Israel as very biased and one-sided. In the last few years over a million Jews have been brought from the former Soviet Union and other places and settled on land that belongs to the Palestinians. Israel occupied this land after the 1967 war. The Palestinians have risen against the atrocities of the Israeli occupation force. Israel has a right to exist, as Security Council resolutions say, at the pre-1967 borders. All other settlements, especially the ones in the last ten years will have to be dismantled, if peace is to be given a chance.
The Palestinians have the aspiration of having a homeland on the 28 percent of land that is the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That still leaves the remaining 72 percent of land for the state of Israel. The pro-Zionist lobby in this country, along with the media and some politicians, takes every opportunity to jump on the Israeli government bandwagon. The Israeli position is presented as fact, while the Palestinian position is ignored or not given equal coverage. These politicians and media people are not displaying American patriotism when they behave in this manner.
Our leaders, Muslims, Jews, Christians and others, must take a patriotic stand for what is right and what is wrong. We must send a strong message to the rest of the world that America understands the suffering of the poor and downtrodden and will use its influence to make it a better world. To this end, we as Americans will support the freedom-seeking people of the world in places such as Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Ireland, Myanmar, Tibet, etc. We must not be intimidated by our so-called allies or their surrogates who want us to turn the other way when they commit atrocities against innocent people.
It is indeed a shame when 89 of 100 U.S. senators recently sent a letter to President Bush urging him not to restrain Israel from retaliating against Palestinians and to express solidarity publicly with Israel soon. This letter stemmed from a meeting between the American Jewish community and key Israeli supporters in the senate, according to the news story from The New York Times. It is this kind of blind loyalty to Israel that makes Muslims wonder if we, the U.S., can be fair and impartial to this conflict. Hooray for the 11 senators, who did not agree with the contents of this divisive letter.
Uri Avnery is a renowned 78-year old Israeli who fought in the Irgun, a "terrorist" right-wing group, headed by the late prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin. The Irgun and Stern gangs were the Israeli terrorist equivalent of today’s Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Of course, to the Israelis they were freedom-fighters not terrorists. According to an article in The Guardian of London, titled "I used to be a terrorist," Mr. Avnery sees the need for both Israelis and Palestinians to understand what the other side thinks and feels. Drawing from his own experiences, he understands why Hamas and Islamic Jihad fascinate young Palestinians.
He notes that the extremist Jewish groups went away as soon the U.N promised a Jewish state in 1947. Mr. Avnery believes that if the U.S and Israel were to promise a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank and Gaza, groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad would go away, just like the Irgun and Stern gangs.
As I write this article, violence has again broken out in the Middle East. Hamas suicide bombers kill several Israelis and injure others. Israel retaliates with state-sponsored terrorism by bombing the West Bank and Gaza, killing several people and injuring others. Our politicians and media people once again turn a blind eye to the Israeli atrocities, while they condemn the Palestinians. The cycle of violence continues. When will it end?
The government of President Bush must be commended for reaching out to the Muslim and Arab citizens in this time of trial. The president’s push for peace in the Middle East is a good beginning for all the people of the region, Israelis and Arabs. Did you know that a significant number of Palestinians Arabs are of the Christian faith and they are against the Israeli oppression against Palestinians? Recently, Secretary of State Colin Power outlined our vision for the states of Palestine and Israel to live together side by side. The pro-Israel lobby managed to subdue the message, but as a Muslim, I think it was a good beginning for a new relationship with the Islamic world.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the whole world as we knew, changed. It is up to us now to see that it becomes a better world, as we progress into the 21st century. We have no choice, but to look at the conflicts that give rise to terrorism and find solutions that will forever silence the voices of terror. Together we will succeed in making this world a peaceful place. Let us pray that we meet our objectives soon. No more innocent blood needs to be spilled.
Shabbir Bala owns a business in Lake Stevens.