Empathy is the essence of tragedy. To be able to mourn for others we have to feel their loss and make it our own. Most Americans never lost anyone on September 11. Most never knew anyone who died that day in the planes above or the buildings below. And yet we as a nation felt that blow. Their pain was our pain. And that response was not limited to the United States as millions of people beyond these shores reached out and took in the full weight of that tragedy and grief.
All-American Muslim: The Day the World Changed, an episode of the reality series that has the cast interacting emotionally with the attacks of September 11, is less about those who were murdered on that day than about the cast’s feelings and exploitation of that day. It may be unfair to criticize the cast of a reality television show for being self-centered. An obsessive focus on one’s own feelings and needs to the exclusion of all else seems to be a standard prerequisite for appearing on one of these shows. The perfect reality show performer must be a sociopath or capable of playing one on television. And yet this self-centered reaction to the attacks of September 11 is disturbingly common among Muslim leaders and activists in the United States.
Perhaps the most odious aspect of this is the incorporation of the Islamophobia theme into a day of remembrance for the dead, until the very act of remembrance becomes tarred with accusations of bigotry. Every commemoration of the day by Muslim leaders seems determined to not only foist the Islamophobia myth on us, but to also associate it with some national overreaction to that day. Like the family of a cop killer arriving at a memorial determined to make their own sense of victimization the center of attention, the need by some Muslims to turn their own sense of victimization into the focus of September 11 is inappropriate and flies on the face of what should be basic decency.
That sense of grievance is rarely if ever directed at Al-Qaeda and those Muslims who carry out terrorist attacks against Americans; instead it is directed at Americans who woke up to a day of fire and terror, and tried to understand what was going on. The All-American Muslim cast follows the political line of groups like CAIR by indicting Americans for their reaction to a terrorist attack carried out by Muslims, rather than engaging in some soul-searching about the violent roots of their own religion.
When cast members insist that the terrorists were not Muslims, or not truly Muslims, their denial echoes the collective denial of Muslim communities and leaders in America who have never come to terms with the problem because they are too busy misrepresenting themselves as the victims. They are too busy feeling sorry for themselves to understand the pain of so many Americans on the anniversary of that awful day.
But All-American Muslim’s denial that the September 11 hijackers were Muslims acting in the name of Islam, because Muslims are incapable of terrorism is blatantly dishonest. Especially when the series featured two Imams who support terrorists, Imam Abdul Latif Berry, who is quite a fan of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Husham Al-Husainy, who supports Hezbollah. The appearance of these two men on a series which pretends to show us the peaceful nature of the real All-American Muslim demonstrates how difficult it is to detach the religious violence in Islam from the Muslim community.
When Al-Husainy signed a document which read in part, “We remind our sons to get ready to carry out their duty in Holy Jihad and continue the path which our young valiant men in Hezbollah began in Southern Lebanon” and which invoked a “Islamic nation which extends to all parts of the world”; how was this any different than a bulletin from Osama bin Laden?
The “All-American Muslims” of All-American Muslim may be entirely sincere when they claim that Bin Laden is not a Muslim. After all they are Shiites and he’s a Sunni. Al-Qaeda has targeted Shiites in its massacres. The Shiite view of Sunnis and the Wahhabi view of Shiites tend to be equally ugly. And Shiites and Sunnis often persecute each other in Muslim countries.
The problem is that while the All-American Shiites may reject Bin Laden, they don’t reject the Ayatollah Khomeini and Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah. If they did then Abdul Latif Berry and Husham Al-Husainy wouldn’t have a place to promote themselves on All-American Muslim.
Most Muslims reject some form of terrorism, but not that many Muslims reject all forms of terrorism. There are always exceptions and exemptions. Whether it’s Shiites who want to give Hezbollah a pass or Sunnis who think that Al-Qaeda goes too far but that Hamas is just right, what is lacking in the Muslim community is a wholesale rejection of all forms of violent Jihad.
It’s not enough to reject Bin Laden in order to participate in commemorating September 11. Not when a Shiite Bin Laden like Hassan Nasrallah or the Ayatollah Khomeini are still okay. And even those Muslims who do reject terrorism in all its forms must still address the widespread affinity for terrorism in the Muslim community. An affinity so widespread that even a television series like All-American Muslim whose entire reason for being is to present a positive non-terrorist image of Islam is still unwilling or unable to keep Imams like Husainy and Berry off the stage.
An honest admission that their community has a problem combined with sincere mourning for the dead without any of the self-serving victimization that characterizes episodes like The Day the World Changed would go a long way toward easing the minds of Americans. It would also change the dialogue from dishonest platitudes and denial to a meaningful exchange of feelings and ideas.
September 11 is first and foremost a day to remember the horrors inflicted on this country and the grief of those who were lost amidst the flames. Truly All-American Muslims would use that day to join the national grieving, rather than bringing to it their own victimization agendas. Above all else it is unseemly for a community where a man like Husham Al-Hussainy remains a respected figure to present itself as the real victims of an ignorant backlash when it has clearly not even come to terms with the conflicting demands of American values and its own religion.
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