by Farhana Qazi
Farhana Qazi is a former U.S. Government Counter-Terrorism official. She is an award-winning speaker and scholar on conflicts in the Islamic world, and the author of My Struggle for the Soul of Islam: How To Counter Violent Extremism (Berrett-Koehler, Spring 2017).
In the wake of the tragic attacks in Brussels, I have been consistently asked by the media to comment on the “silent” Muslim majority. Where are the moderate Muslims? And why are they not speaking up?Last week, one radio host in Louisiana admitted to me that he doesn’t have a single Muslim friend—of course, I offered him my friendship. On Easter Sunday, a talk show host in New York City told me she doesn’t see Muslims doing anything against ISIS—these claims are unsubstantiated, unfair and untrue.
My answer to the question of so-called silence is almost always the same. The Muslim voice in America has never been unified nor is it uniform, as I wrote in 2010, and greater communication will help break the silence that has often defined Muslims in America. There are countless examples of breaking-the-silence.
Last December, after a husband-and-wife hit team killed innocent Americans in San Bernardino, I attended a mosque in Denver, Colorado—an unusual place for the youth to join ISIS, but in 2014, three teenagers and one young woman tried to board a plane for Syria but failed in their attempt. One Friday afternoon, I listened to the young Moroccan imam as he warned the mixed Muslim community: “You have to clean your house.” Knowing what happens inside the home is the first step Muslims cantake to protect the family and America from terrorist recruitment. His message, though powerful, would never make it into print media, and thus, no one would know that there are imams in America engaging their communities, especially in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
As an American Muslim woman, and a former U.S. Counter-Terrorism official, I believe speaking up is not a choice but a civic responsibility. If Muslims hate ISIS most of all, as comedian Dean Obeidallah writes, then there have to bemore Muslims issuing public statements, publishing op-eds and articles, hosting town hall meetings for the community—anything to let America know that ISIS is a real and urgent threat. To show that Muslims are vocal and vociferous about countering hateful ideology with the true Islamic principles of peace, compassion and mercy.
There are several explanations why the majority of Muslims in American may be unseen, unheard, and unknown to the mainstream public. First, many Muslims do not feel they need to protest on the streets carrying anti-ISIS slogans. Nor do Muslims believe they owe anyone an apology for the terrorists who are killing in the name of Islam—to apologize for ISIS would suggest an association, and the majority of law-abiding American Muslims want nothing to do with violent extremists.
Third, Muslims make up a diverse community of people: they are first-and-second generation Muslims, some steeply rooted in foreign cultures and customs; they are new immigrants and/or refugees, often from war-torn countries like Somalia and Iraq; and they are American-born Muslims—some of whom are clueless or careless about ISIS and the geopolitical challenges we face, which includes my brother in Texas who would rather watch an American football game or take his kids to the park. It might even be true that the majority of Muslims in our midst are interested in fulfilling the American dream—economic prosperity doesn’t include rallying against terrorism.
For those who do speak up, there are consequences. We can become targets, for the more we lash against terrorists, the more enraged they will likely become. Silencing the outspoken often results in death—I had a girlfriend kidnapped and raped by insurgents in Iraq for working for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad years ago; and more recently, a Turkish police officer and his family fled the country after ISIS threatened to kill him. It’s understandable why the average hard-working American Muslim family chooses a quieter life, than risks being exposed to terrorists.
Finally, the media also has a responsibility to invite more Americans Muslims to appear on television or on radio shows to share their perspective. I am only one of millions of American Muslim women (and men) who deserve a chance to be seen, heard, and known—their voices are just as valuable. They include religious scholars, educators, local political leaders, social activists, and former extremists—the latter play an important role in defaming terrorists when they tell the truth about the Islamist utopia and the Promise Land that never was.
Ultimately, whether they like it or not, American Muslims should take advantage of this unique opportunity to drown out the message of the extremists by reclaiming their religion, rebuilding their communities, and rising to the challenge of becoming the unsilent Muslim majority.