By Yassine Elkaryani
By Yassine Elkaryani
Teaneck, New Jersey – For a year now, I have had conversations with officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of State, and Congress, and they all seemed to agree that American mosques are a shield against extremism. Yet to my disappointment, none of the officials I spoke with could (wanted to?) offer any concrete assistance to mosques so as they improve their reach and attract more young Muslims or promote a message of peace to the Americans who do not have any encounter with Muslims other than what is showcased on some movies or news about terrorism.
I still believe that American mosques have the right message that America strives for in order to combat extremism. I emphasize the following:
Al Qaida or ISIS are only symptoms of a larger problem. Military and intelligence operations cannot exterminate an ideology that is not bound by geography.
Extremism can only be nullified with another ideology (let us for the sake of this article call it “Moderate Islam”) though I personally believe that there is only one Islam, and that extremism does not have much to do with Islam).
American mosques are a great source of Moderate Islam. American mosques have the right intentions but lack the skills, tools, and funding.
Here are the reasons that make using taxpayer money to leverage moderate Islamic knowledge on the internet an urgent must.
Islamic jurisprudence that is Not Made in the USA
American Muslims, especially first generation Americans who understand an Eastern language (Urdu, Arabic, etc…) and who are not well connected with an imam or a mosque that has steady educational programs, rely, to a high extent, on knowledge coming from the East, which neglects the peculiarities of the American society.
Scholars and preachers from certain countries benefit from their funding to propagate their message across satellite channels and now on the internet.
It is a no-brainer that some foreign scholars have views that are strange to America (e.g. a woman should not go to school, etc…). But what is dangerous is that several of these scholars declare America as an enemy of Islam, or that for Muslims to flourish, they must conquer other countries.
On the other edge of the spectrum, there are other preachers who do not even have academic credentials, but give themselves the authority to preach about Islam on television in a way that is misleading or overly liberal for the average Muslim.
For instance, Dr. Khaled Montasir, an Egyptian gynecologist with no academic credentials in Islamic studies, had his own TV show in which he discussed Islam.
Another example is Turkey’s Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya), who has his own TV channel where his main talk show about Islam features him and a set of very seductive bombshells whose way of dressing may not be accepted even in American TV channels.
It is also worth mentioning that the Middle-East is going through a Sunni-Shiite ideological war, which requires governments to spend money to promote their ideologies.
In the midst of this chaos of Islamic knowledge imported from the East, coupled with a scarcity of Islamic knowledge “made in the USA,” a Muslim individual may get lost spiritually, which can lead to distance from religion, or to extremism.
US media Contribute to a bad image about Muslims
Today’s media are more interested in bad events. Bad events sell. As a result, when Muslims are mentioned in the media, it is almost always because of a bad event: terrorism most likely.
When millions of Muslim Americans witness that their media are against them, would it be unreasonable to say that out of these millions, a few thousands may develop an anti-American sentiment, and that out of these few thousands, a few hundreds may engage in terrorist activity? No, it would not be unreasonable.
Terrorism has evolved
In the past, a potential terrorist would be known for being peculiar, for being unfriendly, and for having some deviant habits. Mohamed Ata, one of the 9/11 hijackers, was described as “someone who had the face of death,” and who allegedly was addicted to cocaine.
However, recently, the profiles of terrorists have changed. The 2015 Boston Marathon bombing gave birth to a new type of terrorists: your average Joe. He is friendly, dances at parties, hangs out with coworkers and classmates, he dates, everyone loves him in the neighborhood, etc. The San Bernardino terrorist attack confirms this profile (i.e. coworkers and neighbors did not suspect anything unusual about the behavior of Rizwan Farook, the main suspect).
If I were John, a person who is not Muslim, such profiles would lead me to doubt my neighbor Ahmed, although I have known Ahmed for years and have not seen anything bad from him.
Add to this, in the past, media attacks on Islam were a habit that was exclusive to right wing media. But this has changed. Today, liberals such as Bill Maher and Sam Harris devote a good deal of their media presence to bash Muslims and Islam not only by criticizing Islam (which would be acceptable in a country that guarantees freedom of expression), but by making categorical generalizations about Islam and Muslims.
Muslims in America are surrounded by a spider-web of anti-Muslim messages. A lot of Muslims are in the pressure-cooker.
While mainstream media are free to broadcast what would bring them more viewers, and therefore more ad revenue, it becomes compulsory to create a balance –somehow- by stimulating pro-Muslim content and moderate Muslim knowledge, especially on the internet.
The lack of this positive content paints a terrible image about Muslims in America, and eventually causes a lack of trust between Muslim Americans and other Americans, and between Muslim Americans and their country as a whole.
Funding media and youth activities of some predominant American mosques in this case can be presented as a necessity that is not necessarily a first amendment issue or a violation of separation of church and state, just like holding prisoners without trial at Guantanamo Bay or extra screening that some Muslims go through at American airports are presented as security necessities.
I would not exonerate the Muslim American community from any responsibility for insufficiently outreaching to the American public, but, since extremism is a national security issue, and that the Muslim community in America is able to offer a long term weapon against extremism, taxpayer money should be spent on American mosques.