Safeguarding Muslims` Civil Liberties

Category: World Affairs Topics: New York, United States Of America, World Trade Center Views: 2146

In the days following the unprecedented terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, American newspapers were filled with images of people at prayer. Politicians, police, the military, professional athletes, corporate managers, and children were all kneeling with eyes closed, praying. Praying for what? Presumably for the deliverance of those souls so cruelly murdered in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard the four hijacked aircraft. In their agitation and sudden vulnerability, it is probable that most of those praying included an appeal for national solidarity.

The question is to what extent did those prayers include the safeguarding of civil liberties both in the US and -- in the likely event of a war -- abroad?

US intelligence has identified the suicide terrorists as Arabs and has stated that many more Arabs and even Arab "host" countries are implicated. As a result, many Americans feel suspicious of all Muslims, or of people, like Sikhs, who seem to resemble Muslims. But we must remind ourselves that Islam is the most populous religion in the world, and that Arabs constitute only about twenty percent of Muslims world-wide. Of that number, no more than the most minuscule percentage is dedicated to inflicting grievous harm on the United States. The dread word jihad, commonly rendered as Muslim holy war against infidels, actually means contest or struggle in Arabic. Like crusade, a word that makes most historically-minded Muslims cringe, jihad's meaning is elastic and dependent on context.

Muslims, it need hardly be said, are fundamentally no less civic-minded and law-abiding than Christians, Jews, and Buddhists. Hence the United States must take special care in the wake of our national trauma to insure that there be no racial or religious profiling, that Muslim people's rights be fully protected. Many Californians remember with chagrin the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. We must not repeat that cruelty, or anything resembling it, with regard to American Muslims.

To say that Muslims are law-abiding is not to deny that some -- perhaps even many -- are convinced that the US government has not addressed their needs and has in significant ways disrespected their faith. That is a conviction, not a crime. But one must wonder how such convictions will be viewed officially. Under Attorney General Ashcroft's newly imposed powers, non-citizens may be kept in detention for an indefinite period. And the Los Angeles Times reports that "dozens of Middle Eastern nationals are already being held."

This next is a crucial point, which must be stated clearly. Every civilized human feels -- or should feel -- sympathy for the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks. Nor does anyone have the right to cynically deny the individual acts of heroism, such as those performed by firefighters and police at the World Trade Center, or in the passenger jet above Pennsylvania. But that is only one half of the equation. The other half has to do with our disposition to the terrorists. Are we simply to demonize the terrorists and their sympathizers as haters of American-style affluence, freedom and human rights; or attempt to understand what it is about recent United States foreign policy that has engendered such rage?

The unhappy fact is that not only in the Middle East, but in Europe, Asia, South America, and indeed throughout the world, the US is commonly perceived as myopically self-righteous while actually committed, sometimes brutally, to, in the words of a British commentator, the "domineering pursuit of national self-interest, [to] punishing the crimes of its enemies while rewarding the crimes of its friends."

Specifically, critics, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have cited the US's opportunistic support for despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, along with the stationing of American troops and military hardware on the Arabian Peninsula; its continuing sanctions of Iraq which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and children; its (as reported in the UK daily, The Independent) deliberate introduction into both Libya and Iraq of the so-called screw-worm fly, a flesh-eating insect which, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, "attacks wounds, scars and cuts, the navels of newborn babies and tic bites of both warm-blooded animals and humans"; its aggressively one-sided role in the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict; its bombing in 1998 of one of Sudan's two pharmaceutical factories on the disputable premise that it was linked to Osama bin Laden; its flip-flop on Afghanistan, first supplying the Mujahedeen with arms and technical assistance in their war against the Soviets, now itself preparing to invade the country with the anticipated deaths and dislocation of thousands of innocent Afghan people.

How much of this litany of US evil-doing is actual and how much alleged cannot be readily sorted out. The reality is that those "crimes" and others have been persistently reported by newspapers and other media both in and outside the Middle East.

The attacks and mass murders of September 11 were vile, indefensible. And that single fateful day has instantly wrenched the American people out of their seemingly secure geographic isolation into the bloody world battlefield. Now, both the Bush government and the Taliban terrorists are appealing to God to justify their right to wreak war. It is tempting for a people in their wrath to confuse ideology with theology, to condone heartless terrorism or massive war never mind the "collateral" deaths and damage to the innocent. But it is our responsibility, not God's, to counsel understanding and even dialogue, and at the very least to insure the civil rights of innocent Muslims both in the US and abroad.

Harold Jaffe is an author, editor, and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. His tenth volume, a collection of writings called False Positive, will be published in Spring 2002.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: New York, United States Of America, World Trade Center
Views: 2146

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
you absolutely ignore in all your site the crimes made by muslim governs to other folks, such as Bahais in Iran, christians and animist black people in Sudan, chrisitans in Sulawesi and Ambon (indonesia), copts of egypt who can't even repair or build their churches, the state of minority of the Assyrians in Iraq and the total discrimination of people living islam there...not a great track sincerly

Yes, I agree the civil rights of Muslims both here and abroad are important. But certainly not more important then the protection of American "civil rights". The right to go to work and not have an airplane attack the building you are in! Lets face it America's enemies ARE MUSLIMS!!!!! Let us not forget! Of course, they are radical fundalmentalist and do not represent the majority of peace loving Muslims. But Muslims none the less. As an American, I wish we could get more support from our "Muslims Brothers" This network of terrorist could be wiped out if we could all come together and agree that killing innocents is not acceptable.

I am a black american female who is a buddhist, and I, and my ancestors have known all to well what it is like to not have or have to fight with are lives for our civil liberties. The basis of this situation seems to be nothing new but, to be about power and control which is at the bases of our human nature, but we forget about all the lives that are destroyed in the process. I don't see why Islam must be manupilated and brought into this situation. This is cleary not about Islam, but again about those who chose to have power and control over others. I am a buddhist and if I do something wrong buddhism should not be the issue of my actions. I should take responsibilty for what I have done or said. I wish that peoople will understand more about, and have more tolerance for each religions and belief and not act on behave of them just to hide behind there out actions and making them correct by calling out on the name of God on there behave. It easy to say I am right their wrong, or their wrong and we are right but, that not the answer. Having dialoge to resolve for peace world wide would be a start to handle or differences whether here in american or abroad.

If Muslims want to allay suspicions and promote harmony, they must play a role that only they can play.
That role is to preach to other Muslims that terrorism is wrong and blasphemous. They must preach it so loudly that both those in their community and those outside of it will be constantlly aware that the message is being sent.
Terrorists are still among us, plotting evils as great as those that have already occurred. The terrorists go to mosques, not churches. They socialize with Muslims, not Buddhists. So if the terrorists are to be reached at all, other than by rockets and rifles, they must be reached by other Muslims.
This is obvious.
And yet there is no news of such attempts to convert them.
And so Americans are suspicious. The Muslims know that the terrorists are among them and perhaps that they might, just might be persuaded by religious reasoning. Yet Muslims do nothing. And one may fairly ask if it is because they really don't care, or heaven's forbid, agree with them.
Is this an unfair burden ? Maybe. Is it as unfair a burden as the one's the terrorists -- the Islamic terrorists as they describe themselves-- laid on New York and want to lay on the rest of the city.
Muslims have a job to do. And that duty is to realise that the terrorists are within the reach of their voices and hearts, and to avail themselves of the opprtunities that that reach allows.
You can be heroes now or goats later.


Harold Jaffe seems to be a practical visionery whose words are comforting in this unstables time.

Muslims can not defend, perserve or expand their civil liberties by means of EMOTING to events and oppositions.

We have to learn the necessary THINKING PROCESSES invovled to group together people and resource to address this particular campaign for civil liberties.

Most muslims want to tell the non-muslim politicians how great we are and how great is our religon but do not want to spend time to learn HOW TO TALK TO HIM. WHAT LANGUAGE DOES HE UNDERSTAND AND REACT TO. HOW TO PREPARE THE LOCAL MUSLIM COMMUINITY TO HELP THE LOCAL POLITICIANS TO REACT TO OUR NEEDS.

We constantly one to tell people how great we are. This is not being helpful.



An American who understands the true values of freedom and liberty would comprehend the meaning of Mr. Jaffes' position. But it is interesting to see so many of my fellow citizens react so negatively. If we are to follow the logic of some of the earlier comments... Who is to say when extreme measures are allowed or not? In the minds of the criminals of the WTC attack extreme measures was justified up to the extent of giving up their own lives. An eye for and eye will only create a generation of blind people. I do believe the crucial question is.... as Mr. Jaffee points out the need ... to understand what it is about recent United States foreign policy that has engendered such rage? Let me also make it clear that I like the vast majority of Muslims condemn this act. Any one who fails to do so denies their own humanity. Heartfelt thoughts and prayers to all who have suffered and those whose families or friends have suffered.

You are not too convincing when you say, "the attacks and mass murders of September 11 were vile, indefensible". You seem to make quite a point to defend them.

You take the easy road and don't provide any concrete ideas on preventing future tragedies. Your one general idea is that rather than going after these people, we convince them to stop with a foreign policy in their "self interest".

I by no means defend every bit of US foreign policy. However, I tire of folks using the smoke screen of US foreign policy or the infringement of civil liberties.

Why did you need to disrespect so many people reflecting in prayer after such a tragedy? How are such remarks conducive to dialogue or understanding?

Half of the equation? Please be advised Mr Jaffe that your aticle offends me! In your obnoxious attempt to somehow tie the murderer's actions with US policy, you and some in the Muslim community fail to take the Socratic approach: look in the mirror! While it must be comforable to have a big, bad US to blame for all Muslim problems, Do a little soul searching, perhaps, if you are honest (a big if) you will find many of your problems are self inflicted. As for US support of "Despotic Regimes" Is there any Muslim country "WITHOUT" despotic rule? Do I hear your voice raised in condemnation of the suffering of the Afgan people? Any passion there? Probably not. It would not fit into the cliches you live by. Does the term, separation of Church and State, have any significance? Might it help? Would any rational person have a mullah dictate economic policy? These are not questions I have to answer.
It's time for Muslin countries to clean their own toilets. Or, we will be forced to clean them. To those disaffected by US policy I say be true. Killing innocent people is not the way of God. Remember, the Crusades were a result of Islamic expansionism. Let us hope that a Crusade will not be necessary to protect the American way of life.


Extreme measures in the defense of liberty are justifiable. Extreme measures in the defense of an exclusive theology are not. This is because liberty is inclusive and guarantees the right to express your ideology or theology, whatever it may be. This is certainly not the case in muslim nations, and indeed, it is quite apparent that there is NO liberty in many islamic nations.

This is why liberty for the tolerant, non-extremist majority is worth defending, even if comes at the expense of some individual liberties enjoyed by all, especially intolerant extremist minorities. I would include in this category any minority group that is intolerant of liberty for all, whether islamic anti-semites or extremists, white supremacists, enivronmental militants, communists, or any group that espouses hatred.

If a muslim feels that the United States is self-serving, then he/she cannot see the forest for the trees. If the United States were not so self-serving in the defense of democracy and liberty, it would eventually lose its power and degenerate into a rigid, intolerant, totalitarian, culturally biased sham of a society similar to the ones muslims seem so desperate to defend.

You are implying that because "the US is commonly perceived as myopically self-righteous while actually committed, sometimes brutally...domineering pursuit of national self-interest, [to] punishing the crimes of its enemies while rewarding the crimes of its friends." it is somewhat deserving to be attacked by terrorist.


Professor Jaffe makes an excellent case. I am glad that a few people are upholding the founding principals of this nation... One nation under God..with freedom, liberty and justice for ALL. But I wonder what will happen if God forbid there is another attack? Will the majority of the people still care about civil liberties? I am apprehensive about the challenges that our liberty, for all, loving nation might face.