Muslims On Boston Bombings: We're All Disgusted
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we will meet one of this country's most influential tech executives. We'll also hear about his very interesting personal story about how he rose from humble beginnings in Mexico to become one of this country's top leaders in high tech. That's later in the program.
But, first, we want to continue our conversation with three thoughtful Muslim Americans in the wake of the attack on the Boston Marathon and the news that two of the suspects were indeed Muslim.
Still with us are Asra Nomani. She's an educator and a writer. She also trains the U.S. military in cultural sensitivity. Also with us, Dalia Mogahed. She's an author, former director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and she has done extensive work on sampling Muslim public opinion around the world. Also with us, Congressman Andre Carson. He's a Democrat representing Indiana's Seventh District. He's one of two Muslim Americans serving in the U.S. Congress right now.
Congressman, before the break, Asra Nomani was suggesting that one of the things that this incident has done is remind us that there are elements of extremism within the community and she says it is the community's job to confront it. She also made the point that the uncle of the suspects has actually done more, in her view, to advance dialogue, if you want to call it that, with his statement of responsibility and accountability than all these, you know, press releases that have gone out over the last couple of years. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.
REPRESENTATIVE ANDRE CARSON: No. I think she's quite right. I salute the uncle, in fact. You know, on any given Friday you can go to an Islamic service and see the United Nations represented in terms of its cultural richness and racial diversity. But having said that, pre-9/11 presented a numerous challenge in the Muslim community. 9/11 was unacceptable. We certainly condemn it, but it presented a challenge, post-9/11, because it forced Muslims to deal with some of our issues. Pre-9/11, I can remember going to mosque trying to register folks to vote and those religious gatekeepers, these self-appointed gatekeepers, were saying no, that's against the religion. You can't do that.
Now, coming from the African-American experience, coming from the African-American Muslim experience, I can still remember deep divides racially between the communities. There was a sort of cultural nationalism that was pervasive in the Muslim community where a lot of Muslims wouldn't even give - return the Assalamu alaikum to African-American Muslims.
ASRA NOMANI: Right.
CARSON: And African-American Muslims were constantly saying throughout the years, we were speaking to these civil rights issues because we lived through it, and these racial issues, and so now what you're seeing is some of our immigrant brothers and sisters who are now feeling what we've dealt with for decades and even centuries.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask each of you in the time that we have left, what do you think it is that - what would you like to see happen now? Congressman, you kind of started us on this path; what would you like to see happen now in the wake of this terrible event, which, you know, scars, you know, all of us? I mean, there are so many points of connection that we all have. If you're a runner, you know, if you ever lived in Boston, if you love to enjoy public events on a beautiful day, I mean this is a very searing experience and obviously you feel it, you know, in a particular - what would you like to see happen now, Asra?
NOMANI: I speak to you on three levels. First as a mother, I would like us all to just hug, embrace and love our children and our families and watch over them, because this is testimony to what happens when there is disjointed situation of identity and so many other levels.
As a Muslim, I would like us to get out of what I call our 3-D defense of denial, demonization and deflection, where we don't deal with the very serious issues that we've got confronting us.
And then as a citizen of this country what I would hope that we could do is heal and deal with these issues in a compassionate and loving way so that we can move forward and actually help our society and create safe and beautiful lives for each one of our children.
MARTIN: Dalia, what about you?
DALIA MOGAHED: Well, first, as an American, I want to see justice done. I want to see those who are responsible for this punished. As a mother, I want to make sure that these kinds of things don't impact the self-esteem and sense of identity of our young people, whoever they might be. And then I pray for the day when this thing - when these things happen that we look at each other as Americans and assume that we are all as disgusted by these horrific acts as anyone else. I don't want to prove that I am against the killing of an eight-year-old. That to me is outrageous.
CARSON: I appreciate Dalia's sentiment, but you know, it's the world that we live in, unfortunately. I mean people are influenced by what they see on television. People are influenced by stereotypes. People are influenced by assumptions. And unfortunately the Muslim community has allowed these self-appointed gatekeepers to be so consumed with a kind of religiosity that I think has corrupted the true Islamic spirit.
And for me, I think we have to expand our outreach and deepen our connection to the law enforcement community. Now, there have been historical divides going back to J. Edgar Hoover's COINTEL program and going back to other programs, especially the most recent where the New York Police Department has worked with the CIA to spy on mosques. And so that kind of activity exacerbates hostilities.
But Muslims have a responsibility to work with law enforcement. But the relationship has to be beyond the transactional for law enforcement. They have to make an honest investment in terms of recruitment, in terms of diversity training, in terms of getting to know what it means to be a Muslim and all of our diversities and idiosyncrasies, beyond just a one-week training course.
MARTIN: OK. Can I ask you, though, about Asra's point, though, which is it's true that there are a lot of people with grievances in this country, but not everybody is called upon to harm a lot of people at once, to leave a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And Dalia's also correct that we have terrorist movements in this country who've been white supremacists...
MARTIN: ...and so forth. But at the moment that's kind of what we're talking about. I mean is there some particular thing that you feel called upon to do or that you feel others should do to address whatever particular grievance seems to have led to that particular kind of behavior?
CARSON: I think both of these young ladies - just doing their job is a form of educating the public. Dalia's out there on the front lines. Asra's out on the front lines with her cultural diversity training. And I think even doing that is helping to change the image of Muslims. Whether they want to do it or not, it's still having an impact on how people view Muslims.
And I think the question for the Muslim community - though we're monotheistic, we're not monolithic, and so we have a plethora of issues that we have to address. Some are deeply concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian question. Others are concerned about how do we improve our educational system. My wife is an educator. And so these are the things that we wrestle with because we're proudly American and we're just as complex as other Americans.
MARTIN: Dalia, I'm going to give you the - oh, OK, Asra. You can jump in there. Fine. We only have a minute left, so...
NOMANI: A really important point that you made about the grievances - there are wounds in every community and every society, and I think that the idea is that terrorists are wound collectors and we in our societies and our families and our communities have to make it so that folks can have legitimate nonviolent solutions to their grievances and their wounds and not turn to these violent means, and religion should not be used as a means of sanctioning that kind of violence. And we have to take the slam out of Islam. That's very bottom line for me.
MARTIN: OK. Dalia, I'm going to give you the final word.
MOGAHED: I think that all terrorists are motivated by an ideology and some perceived grievances, but they all belong to some group and it's important that we not conflate extremists with the entire group, because if we do that, we actually hand the extremists the legitimacy that they desire, to represent the entire community, which they do not.
MARTIN: Dalia Mogahed is the co-author of the book "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think." Congressman Andre Carson is a Democrat. He represents the Seventh District of Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Asra Nomani teaches journalism at Georgetown University and she's the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam."
Thank you all so much for joining us today.
CARSON: Always an honor. Thank you.
MOGAHED: Thank you, Michel.
NOMANI: Thank you, Michel. It was wonderful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.