The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is getting a lot of face time these days. As the scrutiny surrounding Islam and Muslims in America continues to grow, CAIR has established itself as the premier Muslim voice in the media. It seems as if every time there is an instance of harassment, intolerance, or increased suspicion of American Muslims, CAIR has a representative ready to address reporters and give a statement.
But what if the D.C. based lobby, which the media constantly turns to, doesn’t actually represent American Muslims?
Believe it or not, there are many of us American Muslims who do not think that the answer to fixing our image problem is to constantly issue press releases and file lawsuits. There are many of us who do not believe that putting up billboards and playing the “discrimination card” are effective ways to improve our standing in America. And there are many of us who are sick and tired of this civil liberties group prancing around in the media as the authority on the American Muslim perspective.
The truth is, saying CAIR represents the views of American Muslims is like saying the ACLU represents the views of all Constitutional lawyers. The two are related, but hardly representative.
It’s time for Muslims, and the media for that matter, to care less about CAIR.
Islam’s image in America is certainly in trouble. From the mosque protests across the country to Congressman King’s second round of “radicalization” hearings, it is obvious that there is this perceived closeness between Islam and terrorism. But will frivolous lawsuits and boilerplate press releases get us the change we want?
Think about it—are the people who believe that the spread of Islam in America is dangerous going to change their view of Islam because of the verdict in a lawsuit? Are they going to be so taken aback by a press release that they abandon their position?
Of course not.
So what do American Muslims do?
We stop relying on groups like CAIR, and just live our lives. You see, the key for American Muslims is for us to show, not just tell, our fellow Americans that we are just like them. Having a Fourth of July barbeque, being the “class parent” for a week, or joining the fantasy football league at the office will do more to change the image of Islam in America than CAIR or any other group can ever do.
If Muslim activists want to be helpful, then they should focus their efforts on openly denouncing terrorism and seeking to expose Muslim organizations that refuse to do so.
Making it clear to our fellow Americans that we stand with them against the common enemy is vital, but it, by itself, won’t get us where we want to be with our image, and neither will “open-dialogue.” Just think about our notions of other religions.
Do we actually base those perceptions on the tenets of that religion or on what members of that faith tell us about their religion?
Are the perceptions primarily a reflection of our interactions with, and observations of, members of that faith?
Probably, the latter.
For many Americans we are an isolated, introverted group, which they do not know very much about. Most of what they do know is from what they see on TV. How can we expect decent rhetoric at best, and lip service at worst, to stack up against the disturbing images of Islam in the media?
Does the old adage “actions speak louder than words” come to mind?
So, next time you hear something ignorant, instead of trying to give someone an earful about how the fear of Sharia law is irrational or how objecting to a new mosque is bigoted, ask yourself: Would this person be saying these things if they had a friend who was Muslim? A good neighbor who was Muslim? A nice coworker who was Muslim? And try to make those connections and be that positive lens through which Americans can see Islam. I know we make up a small portion of the population in America, but that is precisely the reason we cannot afford to self-segregate and hide behind useless advocacy groups.
As for our civil liberties…who will protect them?
Our fellow Americans will.
Certainly not all of them will be there for us, but there will always be some. And if we stop blaming our image problem on ignorance, and start showing our American brethren that we are just like them, I can assure that we will have many more willing to help us.
Khurram Dara is currently authoring a pamphlet entitled “The Crescent Directive: A strategy to improve the image of Islam in America.” An American Muslim from Buffalo, NY, Dara is a student at Columbia Law School. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and read more from him at www.thecrescentdirective.com.