Although the Muslim students hadn't eaten since dawn, something besides
food was on their minds as they loaded plates with tandoori chicken, chickpeas
and rice at American University to break their Ramadan fast.
Obviously hamburgers, steak, and fries are not good enough for them. They certainly have not acculturated. Especially on the free speech aspect of American political culture.
For weeks, their faith had been under attack by some opponents of a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. Every time they turned on the TV, there were new reports of anti-Muslim sentiment: mosque construction being opposed by hundreds of miles from Ground Zero; a Florida pastor vowing to burn copies of the Koran to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11; a poll showing that 43 percent of Americans hold
unfavorable views of Muslims. And just this week, a Muslim cabbie was stabbed in New York.
All of it points to a swelling hostility that many of these students had scarcely known was there and that religious and political leaders worry could fuel alienation and radicalism among some young American Muslims.
At AU, there is little evidence of that, although the students who gathered on Tuesday for an iftar, the banquet that marks sundown, said the backlash has been particularly jarring, coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, prayer and reflection. "We've all been talking about it," said Farah Mohamed, 19, a sophomore who grew up in Massachusetts, adding that the conversations have permeated every layer of their world -- from class discussions to Facebook status updates.
She and many of her peers have never felt like outsiders, not even in the tense days after the Sept 11 attacks. With their scoopneck shirts and skinny jeans, they are part of the patchwork of ethnicities and religions woven through most U.S. campuses. For
them, any suggestion that being Muslim is incompatible with being American is
"My brother came home one night really upset," said Asma Mian, a
20-year-old junior from Potomac. He'd encountered a man on the Metro who was
railing against the proposed community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan.
Poor baby, free speech upsets him. Of course, as immigrants of color, they don't accept the idea that Americans can speak out on important issues of the day and debate those issues and they may dare to disagree with immigrants, recent or otherwise.
However, Muslim immigrants are a flutter and taking it all personally:
It rattled her to see her 17-year-old brother so emotional. "He barely gets
involved in politics. He's not extremely religious or anything," she said,
adding that people his age can be quick to take offense. They "feel like it's
more a personal attack. It's more mortifying than it would be if you were
And any discussion about the issue results in little disguised threats to go on active jihad:
That anger, youth leaders and terrorism experts warn, could push some young
Muslims into the arms of such extremists as U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi,
who has been linked to several terrorist plots. In his recruiting efforts,
Aulaqi often portrays Islam as being under attack by the West.
vociferous mosque opponents "do not know what they are doing," said Yahya Hendi,
the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. "They are radicalizing people."
'Only takes one or two'
Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New
America Foundation, said that the vast majority of American Muslims disagree
with Aulaqi and are unlikely to be radicalized by the mosque debate.
problem is that it only takes one or two," Fishman said. "They get a couple of
people to do something crazy, and that will spark a backlash and reinforce a
cycle of separation."
Madiha Nawaz, a 20-year-old senior who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Fairfax, voiced similar concerns as the sun set over the AU campus. If protesters succeed in stopping the Islamic center's construction, she said, it could make young Muslims feel more marginalized.
"It could lead people toward being more self-secluded," she said, "and it could lead to homegrown terrorism."
Of course, the opportunity for some affirmative action swag appears to be a prime motivator in the whiners:
In fact, many Muslims regard the current controversy as an opportunity to
assert themselves as Americans, just as other minorities have had to do in the
"It's become more of a civil rights issue than anything else," said
Adeel Zeb, former AU chaplain and founder of the Deen Foundation for Muslim
Campus Life. "Young Muslim Americans are becoming more proud to be Muslim
because of all this controversy. Your civil rights are being tested on a
Although Zeb said he could see the controversy potentially
aiding extremists, he said it also could help young Muslims unite and build
stronger bridges with non-Muslims.
"It really hits the heart of young Muslim
Americans," he said. "Everyone has to go through this pledge process the way
other groups have in America."
In the end though, they have already self-identified as not really Americans, but hyphenated Americans; disloyal and a threat.
"You saw it in Topeka, Kan., you saw it in Brown v. Board of Education,"
she said. "It may be time for us now. It may be time for Muslim Americans to
embrace their hyphenated identity."
All I can say is if you don't like it here, leave before you kill somebody in a suicide blast.