A 'Good' American Citizen: Citizenship vs. Civil Liberties ; One Muslim American's Tough Challenge to His Community

Article excerpt

In the days leading up to the start of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," a Muslim American civil rights lobbying group, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent out a nine-page "Muslim Community Safety Kit" enunciating a series of largely ineffective steps for Arabs and Muslims living in the US to take if war backlash were to materialize against them.

It wasn't the first time such knee-jerk civil rights lobbying had been done by a group purporting to represent America's Arabs and Muslims. But it should be the last.

The CAIR memo highlights the raging debate in US Arab and Muslim communities about whether protection of civil liberties should take precedence over the responsibilities of citizenship.

The continuing anger shown by immigrant Arabs and Muslims, whether about racial profiling at airports, or about charities being shut down for sending money to terrorist groups, or the failure to stop what many believe is an unjust war against Iraq, is misplaced and irresponsible.

It demonstrates an inability to put US national security interests ahead of doubtful claims that our civil rights are being violated, or to put loyalty to the state before religious and ethnic allegiances. The growing frustration also defines a critical leadership problem in our communities, that if not resolved soon, could doom another generation to the prejudices and venal hatred many of our parents brought when they made difficult choices to migrate to the US.

The voice of America's 6 million-strong Arab and Muslim population is dominated by special-interest groups such as CAIR, the American Muslim Council, and others who have hijacked the community's larger interests by expertly learning lobbying techniques of more experienced immigrant communities. They use elaborately constructed schemes to bring foreign money in to fund their operations and then make boisterous claims that they represent the community in matters of national importance. They do not.

They neither understand the value of the citizenship they so brazenly exploit, nor represent the growing but still silent majority of American-born and -educated Arabs and Muslims who are busy getting college degrees, decent jobs, and that first home. But not having the cash, or the time, to play Washington's power politics is no excuse for the next generation to forgo learning the central tenets of model citizenship that sometimes require personal sacrifice.

Shortly after Sept. 11, I voluntarily left a flight I was booked on because some of the passengers were nervous about traveling with a "Middle East looking person." It was as much my fault they felt the way they did as it was about me being the target of traditional cultural prejudices that have confronted other minority communities throughout American history. …