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Al-Awlaki on TOTN in 2002

Al-Awlaki on TOTN in 2002

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Published by: mmemmott on Sep 30, 2011
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07/10/2013

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LYNN NEARY, host:This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for NealConan.In the weeks following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and thePentagon, American Muslims faced a formidable task. They had to defend themselvesagainst the threat of anti-Muslim backlash, and they had to make it clear that their community in no way condoned the actions which the terrorists took in the name of Islam.But as the months have passed, many American Muslims have come to realize that theymust do more than just defend themselves. Some American Muslim leaders have startedto acknowledge that in the past, they have not spoken out strongly enough against thosewho would wage a war of hatred and violence in the name of religion. Now after morethan four months of reflection, fear and guilt, they are speaking out against hate speechand intolerance within their own communities. They're seeking to strengthen their ties to people of other faiths. They're working to further define what it means to be both Muslimand American.Two months after September 11th, we talked with Muslim American leaders about therole of Islam in American society, and the role of American Muslims in the Islamicworld. This hour, we revisit with American Muslim leaders to see how things havechanged since then.If you're Muslim, how do you see your role as a Muslim and as an American? Whatresponsibility do Muslims have as Americans? And for those of you who are not Muslim,do you think you have a better understanding of your Muslim neighbor? Give us a call.Again, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255. Andour e-mail address is totn@npr.org.Ahmed Al-Rahim joins us now. He is the president of the American Islamic Congress atYale University. He's with us from our studios at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.Welcome, Mr. Rahim, to the show.Professor AHMED AL-RAHIM (American Islamic Congress): Thank you for having me. NEARY: In a recent editorial in The Boston Globe, you wrote that American Muslimsneed to regain what you said was control of their destiny, which you also said had beenhijacked by fringe elements who seek to impose an extreme view of Islam on Muslims.Can you explain what you meant by that a little bit more for us?Prof. AL-RAHIM: What I meant by that is that within the Muslim community there areextremist voices, and we have to look at these voices. We have to confront them directly
 
and we have to censure hate speech within our community. We have to look directly atour community and deal with these problems ourselves. NEARY: Now you're saying--when you refer to the Muslim community, you arereferring specifically to the American Muslim community now. That is, those voices existin American Muslim mosques?Prof. AL-RAHIM: I would say in some mosques, they do exist. Certainly growing up, Iheard some of these voices in the mosques, and after September 11th, I realized that thesevoices have been going on for far too long and we have to do something about it. NEARY: Can you tell us how that kind of extremism does manifest itself in the mosquesof America?Prof. AL-RAHIM: Well, I think for a while it has been within some mosques a rhetoricalsloganeering against America, against Christians and Jews, statements like `Death toAmerica,' things like this, are used within the mosque. And it's taken for granted. Butwhat we realize after 9/11 is that these things have consequences. NEARY: Is it something that before 9/11 even American Muslims were aware of, perhaps talked about among themselves but didn't really want to discuss publicly for fear that there would be a backlash even before the terrible attacks of September 11th?Prof. AL-RAHIM: Yes, I think that there were fears. But I have to say that AmericanMuslims were aware of these things but did not respond in a public way. And I think 9/11has made us do that. NEARY: Now two months ago, you helped to found the American Islamic Congress.Tell us what that's about and why you felt there was a need for a new Islamicorganization in this country.Prof. AL-RAHIM: Well, the American Islamic Congress was founded by Muslims likemyself, many of whom grew up in this country and, like myself, as I said, heard hatespeech within the mosques that we went to. And we feel that it's very important that wecome out against hate speech and we show that Americans Muslims are proud Americancitizens. NEARY: How is the mission of your organization different from some of the other organizations that are already out there? Such as, for instance, one well-known one, theIslamic Society of North America or the American Muslim Council? Are you a newgeneration of American Muslims?Prof. AL-RAHIM: I would say that I don't know a lot about these other organizations.But I would say that our agenda is a proactive one. We want Muslims to be activated. Wewant them to condemn hate speech within their communities, to begin to build bridges
 
 between the various ethnic Muslims communities within this country and to begin to build bridges outward to Christian and Jewish groups. It's very important. NEARY: When you talk about fighting hate speech within the Muslim community itself,what do you recommend? What kind of advice are you giving to American Muslimsregarding how they should deal with that if they hear it in their mosque or in their Muslim community?Prof. AL-RAHIM: Well, we've developed a guide, a citizen's guide to hate speech. Youcan find that on our Web site, aicongress.org. And this guide basically identifies whathate speech is. This is hate speech that's targeted against religious and ethnic groups. Andwe give examples of how awful it could be, how awful it is. And then we suggest ways of dealing with it: talking to the person directly; asking questions; disagreeing in public;writing letters. These are different ways of dealing with hate speech. NEARY: How are American Muslims reacting to this? I'm just wondering if there's beenin the past a concern about representing themselves in a certain kind of way to the outer world, to non-Muslims. Is there still something of a defensiveness or a fear about perhapsletting the rest of the country know that there may be differences within the communityabout how they discuss certain, for instance, foreign policy issues?Prof. AL-RAHIM: Well, look, the Muslim community is a diverse community, like anyother community. And there is no reason to assume that we have one view on anything.In fact, I think debate and differences of opinion is a very healthy sign that the AmericanMuslim community is a vibrant one. NEARY: OK. My guest is Ahmed Al-Rahim. He's the president of the American IslamicCongress. And let's take a call from Blake in San Francisco. Hello, Blake.BLAKE (Caller): Hi. Well, I was gonna say something in contrast, but actually it soundslike now I'm going to say something in sympathy to what your panelist is saying. Andthat is that the biggest--the starting point for this discussion is that there is a hugemisrepresentation and a misperception of what it is to be an American Muslim. Somehowthere's always the perception that these people, this community comes from a differenthomeland in contrast to the US and represents a different or particular segment inAmerican society. And these images are stereotypes that are created by the media andmembers of the Muslim community that try to speak for the rest.I, myself, am a member of a group of Sufis known as the International Association of Sufism. And my perception in traveling across the US to our different symposiums andthings like this is that this particular group is growing very widely and it represents everysegment of society: people very poor, different races, different religious backgrounds.And so real Islam can be attractive and be adopted by people of all different segments of American society and practiced that way. So that strips out the political element thatseems to be a major problem for Islam in the US.

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