The crisis of Muslim leadership

BY AMER G. ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published March 18, 2002

It has been fashionable since Sept. 11 to question the moves and motives of Muslim-American leaders and organizations. Most commentators have resorted to criticizing Muslim-Americans for not condemning terrorism enough, accusing organizations of having terrorist ties and advocating the profiling of individuals and organizations. These criticisms are mostly empty, unsubstantiated and motivated by both ignorance and outright racism.

Paul Wong
Amer G. Zahr, The Progressive Pen

This column is not that type of critique. This is, rather, my own take on how most Muslim-American leaders around this country have acted in their own interests rather than carrying out the will of the greater Muslim community (I am not including Arab-American organizations in my critique because the leading one, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, has conducted itself very effectively, I believe).

Sadly, most Muslim-American organizations have found it beneficial to support the president in just about every move he has made. Most organizations and leaders support the "war on terror" almost unconditionally. They have invited President George W. Bush to speak at their galas and at a recent Republican Party event in Toledo, Ohio. A Muslim speaker there found it fit to announce that "George W. Bush has vision and is a modern day Abraham Lincoln."

Ask all those bearded men getting stopped in airports whether our president has vision. Ask those Muslim women who are having their scarves pulled at whether they feel that Bush is their emancipator. Or ask the more than 1,000 men still incarcerated without charge, including Ann Arbor's own Rabih Haddad, whether they see Bush as a visionary.

Our leaders have sold us out. I believe most of them are more concerned about getting invited to White House dinners than they are about expressing the real concerns and troubles that are so prevalent in the Muslim community. Muslim leaders are parading from one event to another trying to convince our community that supporting Bush in his fight against terrorism is a necessity if we are to advance politically in this country. They are dead wrong. Unfortunately, they are doing us much more harm than good. All that will come from their tactics is a belief in the federal government that as long as you fulfill the personal desires of a few select Muslim leaders, you don't need to address the real underlying concerns of the community at large.

This behavior on the part of our leaders only encourages some of the ridiculous oppositions being forwarded by our president, like his famous remark of "you're either with us or with the terrorists." Our own Muslim leaders have not been man enough (unfortunately, they are almost all men) to explain to our president and his associates that we are neither with him nor the terrorists and that we neither support our government's policies abroad nor the policies of Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

On this campus, things are a bit better, although there are some individuals in our Muslim Student Association who share the belief that we have to keep our mouths shut on "controversial" issues. I truly hope that none of these individuals become our future leaders, either on this campus or elsewhere, until they realize the errors of their ways and how much they are in fact hurting our community in the long run.

Many of these future doctors, lawyers, engineers and successful businessmen will find themselves, by virtue of their wealth and familial ties, brought into the inner circles of Muslim leadership in this country. I hope they can remove themselves from thinking the most important thing in life is what they wore to the annual Eid dinner last week and instead think of what they can do to make their community come out of the current crisis it is in.

Muslims, of course, need to be involved in important issues that affect them, Iraq and Palestine among them. Some members of our community have visions of "Islamicizing" every issue, going as far as to say that Muslims need not be involved in issues involving any type of nationality. I believe those who espouse this type of thinking are grossly misled. Muslim leaders need to be involved, but they must honestly represent our community's views. It is not OK for Muslim leaders to tell the president we support him in his wars, because we do not. It is not OK to say we need to weather the racial profiling, because we need to weather no such thing. It is not OK to stray from controversial issues amid worries of ticking off the administration, for we are surely not defined by our acquiescence to Bush and everything that revolves around him. Rather, we are defined by how we act in times when our positions might be unpopular, for it most often those positions that are most worth fighting for.

Those of you who are more concerned about getting a Ramadan card signed "W" than you are for standing up with principle and honestly representing the views of Muslims in this country, I am talking to you. You might end up having dinner with the president one day, but if you keep the current course, you will be eating that meal at the expense of the rest of our community.

Amer G. Zahr can be reached at zahrag@umich.edu.