Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Some of my best friends are Muslims. They make up an extended family of more than a dozen men, women, children and grandchildren in a Washington suburb. The parents were born in Sierra Leone, which also makes them African-Americans. They came to America when they were in their 20s, three decades ago. They pray at a local mosque.
The husband once told me his religion allowed him to have four wives, but he smiled sheepishly, and said: [thorn]I wouldn t think of it. I have trouble enough with one. (A lot of Christian and Jewish husbands understand.) A daughter, born in the nation s capital, graduated from college and joined the U.S. Army. Another daughter won a full-tuition scholarship to one of Washington s most prestigious private high schools. A son is a wide receiver for his public school team and dreams of playing on Sunday afternoons in the NFL. The grandchildren wear jeans from Target, shirts from Old Navy and shoes from Payless. They put a familiar face on Islam. They love America and know Americans who love them. That s how it should be.
But lots of Americans know Islam only by the deeds of wicked Muslims: the sniper in Washington, the terrorists of September 11, the bombers of Bali, the suicide bombers in Israel, the human torpedoes of the USS Cole. Increasing numbers of Americans don t have high opinions of the Muslim religion. We re only human. In a new ABC/Beliefnet poll, the percentage of Americans having an unfavorable view of Islam jumped from 24 percent in January to 33 percent today. The poll was taken just before John Allen Muhammad was arrested as one of the two Beltway snipers. His name and his religion are likely to turn more Americans against Islam.
It s not difficult to see how this could happen, but it shows how little we know about the different shadings of Islam, and generalized suspicion lacks critical distinctions. If more Muslim leaders in this country talked about the ways the Islamist terrorists distort true Islam we might get a more faithful view of Islam, but few Muslims speak up.
Analysts for ABC rationalize why most Muslims in this country remain silent. [thorn]American Muslims live in constant fear that antagonism would turn to harassment or violence against them, say Steven Waldman and Deborah Caldwell. [thorn]And indeed, since September 11, 2001, there have been numerous instances of violence against American Muslims, so a defensive posture is not at all surprising. …