Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslims Move to Dispel Terrorist Image

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslims Move to Dispel Terrorist Image

Article excerpt


Hours after news broke of the Aug. 7 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzaniya, the Muslim Public Affairs Council notified the media of a Friday sermon to address the East African tragedies and a press conference to follow at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

The dust had barely settled at the bombing sites, but local Muslims obviously didn't want accusatory fingers pointing at them as happened in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Regardless of whether the victims are Africans, Americans, Muslims or Christians, this is human life that has been violated," stated MPAC spokesman Dr. Maher Hathout during the well-attended press conference. "A crime has been committed and it should be condemned."

"On the other hand we ask reporters to be balanced and restrained," he continued. "There was a shooting at the nation's capitol a few days ago and we still do not know the perpetrator's religious affiliation. We don't know if he was a Catholic, a Protestant or a Jew. But if he had been a Muslim, we would know.

"By tomorrow, there will be a flood of accusations. This is a crime that can't be justified. To kill people is criminal if it is Israel bombing civilians in south Lebanon, or Muslims being bombed in Kashmir or Kosovo."

Subsequently, when U.S. intelligence targeted Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden as the likely mastermind of the U.S. Embassy bombings, MPAC spokesmen Dr. Hathout and Salam Marayati spoke on numerous talk shows and published op-ed pieces emphasizing that Islam does not preach violence.

In the wake of the embassy bombings and U.S. missile attacks on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and sites in Afghanistan identified with Bin Laden, the Muslim community was dismayed to learn of yet another Hollywood film in which the villains are Muslims. Entitled "The Siege," the 20th Century Fox film, directed by Ed Zwick, deals with a Muslim bombing campaign in the U.S. that brings about martial law and the mass arrest of American Muslims and Arab Americans.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), based in Washington, DC, had received complaints from Muslims in Brooklyn who had seen graffiti in the streets and had viewed trailers of the film. The previews featured a split screen showing Muslims at prayer on one side and blowing up U.S. landmarks on the other.

CAIR officials met with Zwick and producer Linda Obst, who conceded that they might modify scenes depicting Muslims cursing and drinking alcohol, but the basic plot was to remain. The two filmmakers, both of whom are Jewish, argued that the film challenged Islamophobia and group hysteria by demonstrating how innocent members of a religious or ethnic group could be rounded up as Japanese Americans were at the onset of World War II.

In response, CAIR called a national press conference Aug. 26 across the street from 20th Century Fox Studios in West Los Angeles. National CAIR executive director Nihad Awad and communications director Ibrahim Hooper stood with Prof. Jack Shaheen, author of books on Hollywood's negative stereotypes of Arabs, and MPAC's Marayati in front of an array of TV cameras and print media reporters.

Awad said that Muslims have come to wonder -- given 20th Century Fox's anti-Muslim films, "True Lies" and "Executive Decision" -- if the studio has a political agenda to propagandize Muslims and Arabs as a threat to American society.

"We are your neighbors and your coworkers," Awad pleaded. …

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