Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

October 22, 2012

What is the truth about American Muslims?

Over the past decade, an anti-Muslim movement in America has pushed for anti-Shariah laws in some 23 states and helped generate anti-mosque protests in more than 50 communities.

Even more disturbing, poisonous anti-Muslim rhetoric has contributed to an atmosphere of anger and hate that provokes acts of intimidation and violence — including the recent attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin where six people were murdered, apparently because the killer confused Sikhs with Muslims.

Groups involved in the "stop Islamization of America" campaign have spent more than $40 million attempting to convince the public that American Muslims practice an inherently violent and oppressive faith that seeks to subvert the Constitution, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Center for American Progress. (www.americanprogress.org)

Enough is enough. It's time for voices of reason to counter dangerous and often vicious propaganda with balanced and accurate information about American Muslims.

To that end, the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance have just released "What is the Truth about American Muslims? Questions and Answers." (www.religiousfreedomeducation.org) Endorsed by a coalition of 25 religious, civil liberties and human rights groups, the document addresses key questions raised by anti-Muslim groups about Shariah (Islamic law), the role of mosques in the community, the views of American Muslim leaders on extremist violence and other questions about American Muslim beliefs and practices.

For example, the document discusses the actual role of Shariah in the lives of American Muslims — and corrects false claims about "creeping Shariah" in American courts, explaining that the First Amendment prohibits courts or other branches of government from substituting any religious laws for American law.

Concerning mosques, the document points out that a major study of American Muslims in 2008 found that involvement with the mosque actually increases civic engagement and support for American democratic values (www.muslimamericansurvey.org).

At a time when the world is threatened by extremists committing violence in the name of Islam, the American people have every reason to be worried about the dangers of terrorism at home and abroad.

The vast majority of American Muslims strongly share that concern. That's why so many imams in the United States preach and work against extremism and why many American Muslims actively help law enforcement foil terrorist plots.

Over the past decade, 40 percent of domestic terrorism plots have been uncovered or deterred with assistance from American Muslims, according to a study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. (http://tcths.sanford.duke.edu/).

Unnecessary and discriminatory anti-Shariah laws, alarmist claims about mosques in the neighborhood, and ugly attempts to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush are all red herrings that divert Americans from our shared goal of fighting extremism (of all varieties) and securing our safety and freedom.

The anti-Muslim campaign in America may be the most significant threat to religious freedom in our country today.

As we say in the document, "(U)nless all Americans are assured of religious freedom, the freedom of all Americans is in question."

The coalition behind "What is the truth about American Muslims?" doesn't have a $40 million war chest with which to correct the record.

But we can stand together and say with one voice: Enough is enough. Here is the truth about American Muslims.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001; on the web at: firstamendmentcenter.org; by email at: chaynes@freedomforum.org

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