Religion: Worries arise that anti-Muslim feelings will increase after Jewish groups ask government to crack down on terrorism.
January 22, 1995|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER
Worried that calls by two Jewish organizations for a government crackdown on terrorists could lead to widespread civil rights violations against all Muslims, the leaders of six Islamic groups issued a joint declaration Saturday urging respect for American pluralism.
The declaration comes amid growing concern among Muslim Americans and Islamic leaders over what they see as a renewal of negative stereotyping of Muslims in the United States.
Anti-Muslim feeling last hit a peak and then subsided after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Four Muslims were found guilty last March of conspiracy in that incident.
Meeting at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, Muslim leaders Saturday took a strong stand against terrorism, as they have before, and deplored “indecency committed against any human being.” They also issued a plea for continued dialogue with Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims.
Still, they have been outraged, they said, by the tone of a new call by the American Jewish Committee in New York urging the new Congress and the Clinton Administration to “combat the activities of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Among other things, the Jewish group asked the government last month to block individuals and groups in the United States from sending financial contributions to Hamas, Hezbollah and “other militant Islamic extremist groups.”
At the same time, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles urged President Clinton to order the Justice Department to investigate “groups posing as legitimate organizations that are actually fronts for Hamas.”
The calls by the two Jewish groups came after members of Hamas kidnaped and murdered an Israeli soldier, Nachshon Waxman, and bombed a bus in Tel Aviv, killing 22 Israelis in October.
Islamic leaders said the American Jewish Committee’s language was so sweeping that the vast majority of innocent, law-abiding Muslim Americans could be unfairly targeted by government investigators and the public. Ultimately, they said, respect for American pluralism was at stake.
“We are Americans to the core and we want a piece of the pie,” Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California told reporters.
He and others dismissed as unsatisfactory statements by the Jewish organizations that they were not targeting law-abiding Muslims or disparaging the Islamic faith.
“To state that the campaign is directed against a small percentage of Muslims who commit acts of terrorism is disingenuous, because the consequences of the campaign will stigmatize Muslims at large,” said the declaration.
As for anti-Muslim stereotypes, Hathout told about 150 Muslims and guests at Saturday’s conference, “the best way to know the truth about me is to know me, not about me.”
Islamic leaders agreed that the time to challenge what they see as a growing anti-Muslim campaign is now–before it grows larger.
Pasadena civil rights attorney Michael Linfield warned that American history was full of examples of constitutional guarantees being suspended during times of war or upheaval.
“We will see spying, illegal arrests, political trials, because we’ve seen these kinds of things before,” Linfield said.
Another speaker, FBI Special Agent John E. McClurg, outlined federal anti-terrorism laws and assured those present that the laws are not aimed at any particular religious or ethnic group. He also stressed the importance of all citizens helping the government combat terrorism.
Summer Hathout, co-chairwoman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a deputy Los Angeles County district attorney, warned the audience that unless efforts to combat terrorism are religiously neutral, the civil rights of minorities could be jeopardized.
“Dialogue and interaction are really critical,” she said. “We need neutral political debate and we have to combat terrorism with ethnic and religious blinders on.”
Signing the resolution were Maher Hathout, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council of American Islamic Relations, Mohammad A. Siddiqi of the North American Assn. of Muslim Professionals, Mohammad Cheema of the American Muslim Council, Malik Mujahed of the Islamic Circle of North America and Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.