Hoping to be heard this time

Ellis Henican
July 10, 2005

http://www.newsday.com/news/columnists/ny-nyhen104338161jul10,0,3857674,print.column

It was one of the ugliest myths of 9/11, repeated so many times some people actually started to believe it.

The myth was that large numbers of American Muslims danced and cheered when the planes hit the towers, celebrating a vicious attack on innocent civilians as some kind of twisted victory for Islam.

This was always a lie.

Oh, sure, a couple of knuckleheads here and there might have clowned for a TV camera. And every group has its evil zealots on the fringe. But they didn't speak for the vast majority of American Muslims any more than Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber and Christian Identity nut-job, speaks for American Christians.

Similarly, reports of thousands of high-fiving American Muslims in the 9/11 aftermath were always a vicious, damaging slander, pounded by a few race-baiting demagogues, spread by testosteronic talk-radio hosts, repeated so many times it finally became impossible to say where the claims originally came from.

Actually, we didn't get quite as much of that talk in New York as they did in a lot of places. Mostly, we knew better.

I'm like a lot of people here, I guess. I can't get to work in the morning without having at least casual contact with a Muslim or six, starting with the Pakistani guy at the newsstand and the Syrian woman at the coffee place.

And I'm pretty sure neither one of them wants to see me incinerated on the No. 6 train platform.

Do you, Mohammed?

I hope not, Hala!

Good.

Militant jihadists have struck again, in London this time - and the sweeping generalizations are about to erupt again.

Or are they?

Having learned a few lessons from last time, American Muslim leaders sprang into action Thursday morning, putting out loud and clear denunciations of the latest terror attacks. No words were minced.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Association of North America - every major group had put a statement out by the time their leaders headed to their mosques on Friday afternoon.

And it wasn't just the big, national groups. They were joined by the Islamic Association of North Texas, the American Moslem Society of Dearborn, Mich., and just about every group with a letterhead and an M in its name.

"We join Americans of all faiths, and all people of conscience worldwide, in condemning these barbaric crimes that can never be justified or excused," the Council on American-Islamic Relations declared.

"Our condemnations are universal and unequivocal," said the Arab-American Forum.

"Attacking civilians who are going about their daily business is a criminal act that violates Islamic principles, and must be condemned by all Muslims," said the Islamic Society of North America.

On Friday before prayer services, leaders of the major groups met with David Manning, the British ambassador in Washington, offering their formal condolences to the victims and their families. Let there be no mistake how American Muslims feel.

So, will they be heard? Ibrahim Hooper certainly hopes so.

As communications director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, he drafted the condemnation statement immediately after 9/11. It was published, among other places, as a full-page ad in The Washington Post. Then, Hooper spent the next three-plus years hearing angry talk that Muslims hadn't spoken out.

"It's one of the things we still hear: 'Why won't Muslims condemn terrorism?'" he was saying at week's end.

"When I go on a radio talk show, that is the first thing that I hear. That's just not true. Muslims - not only CAIR but all the groups - have been condemning terrorism for years. Some people just don't want to hear it."

So Muslims have to keep trying, he said. "Whenever we have the opportunity, we'll say it again. 'We denounce it. We denounce it.' We are hoping to be heard this time."

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.





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