I’ve written about this before, (for example, here and here) but the most recent example appeared in the Washington Post kicking off a series on American Muslims pegged to the upcoming 10th anniversary of the atrocities carried out by self-proclaimed Islamic holy warriors on Sept. 11, 2001. Marc Fisher, a veteran journalist whose work I generally admire, profiled Fawaz Ismail, proprietor of a thriving Virginia flag-selling business. Prior to 9/11, he felt so all-American that he called himself “Tony.” But after 9/11, “Ismail felt his adopted homeland pushing him away.”
In what manner? Did people threaten him? Did they hurl racial or religious epithets? Did they boycott his business? Did they throw garbage on his lawn? Did they tell him to get out of the country? Did they call for a ban on Muslim immigrants? Trust me: If anything like that had happened, Fisher would have included it in the story.
But all that happened was what Fisher reports: Ismail had a bad feeling about his fellow Americans. So he “decided to push back.” He stopped calling himself Tony. “A lot of people use a nickname to make it easier for Americans to pronounce,” he says, “but now, I don’t care. They’re going to have to pronounce my name. It’s not that hard — Fah-wahz.”
There was, Fisher explains, “pride in that decision but also a real and still-growing anger” – though not, curiously, directed at the terrorists who incinerated thousands of Tony/Fawaz’s fellow American citizens, justifying such barbarism in the name of his religion and thereby staining it.
No, he is angry at “Americans who assume that anything Islamic is shorthand for terrorism” Who are these Americans? President George W. Bush who called Islam “a religion of peace”? President Barack H. Obama who went to Cairo to pay his respects to “the Muslim world”? The many Christian and Jewish groups that have initiated outreach and inter-faith programs in recent years?
Ismail says only: “It’s hard hearing your faith put down all the time as this scary, evil thing,” Fisher helpfully adds: “And hard to endure the cloud of suspicion that American Muslims feel has grown rather than dissipated over the past decade.” There’s that word again: feel. This is all about a feeling, a free-floating sense of victimization, humiliation and self-pity -- its basis in fact not substantiated in a story that is almost 4,000 words long.
We learn instead about Ismail’s Muslim friends who resort to “sleeping pills and antidepressants … I smoke because I’m stressed. Sometimes I wish I was born a Swede.” Yes, who has ever heard of a Swede suffering from angst? They’re all cheery and giggly – you know, like Ingmar Bergman.
Fisher asserts that “every day” American Muslims must cope with “stares, cutting comments, airport humiliations.” And as Washington Post readers surely know, Evangelicals, Mormons and Jews never suffer such indignities. For non-Muslim Americans, the procedures put in place at our airports in response to the jihadi threat are an absolute delight.
Fisher does note that “over the past 18 months alone” American citizens who subscribe to a militant reading of the Koran did carry out a massacre at Fort Hood, Tex. and did attempt to bomb Times Square. Also, there have been “sting operations that led to the arrests of alleged Muslim proto-terrorists” in several cities.
The consequence of all this: “U.S. Muslims have felt compelled to explain.” If that were true, would it really be so cruel and unfair? In fact, however, who has explained what to whom? In Fisher’s story, no one even discusses the links between fundamentalist Islamic theology and bloodshed.
One American Muslim interviewed by Fisher reveals how her family has suffered. In a Virginian supermarket “a woman looked at Sadaf Iqbal’s oldest daughter, 4-year-old Asiyah, and said: ‘She has such beautiful curly hair. It’s a shame she’ll have to cover it up.’ Iqbal, 30, who has covered her hair in public since she was 11, reacted with stunned silence. … Iqbal’s husband, Ibrahim Moiz — a 31-year-old Fairfax City lawyer who handles small-business and family cases, often from Northern Virginia’s large, rapidly growing Muslim community — would not have stayed silent. His anger, he says, would have ‘taken control of me.’”
The same day this article came out, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page piece by Yaroslav Trofimov, author of “The Siege of Mecca,” a book that must be read by anyone who hopes to understand modern Jihadi movements. The piece he filed from Egypt reported on Coptic Christians. They, too, are feeling persecuted. But for Egyptian Christians it’s not just a feeling. Islamic militants set fire to Ayman Anwar Mitri’s home. When he went inside, they beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then, they cut off his ear with a box cutter.
Not to worry. Qureishi Salama, an Egyptian Islamist leader, tells Trofimov: "Only those Christians who did something wrong should be fearful." If such treatment of Christians in Egypt – as well as the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities throughout the Muslim world – troubles the American Muslims interviewed by Fisher, we don’t hear about it.
It happens that I read both the Trofimov and Fisher articles while attending a conference on counterterrorism in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Two of the speakers at the conference were practicing Muslims. Neither complained about their feelings; neither told us they were taking anti-depressants or smoking.
Instead, Salim Mansur, an author and professor at the University of Western Ontario, emphasized how serious is the threat posed to Canada, America and Europe because, he said, “jihadism is a means to snuff out the democratic experiment.”
Raheel Raza is an award-winning writer, diversity consultant and grass-roots activist. She’s been seen on both American and Canadian television arguing that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and other Muslims who insist on building a mosque at Ground Zero in New York are, at the very least, grossly insensitive. She is concerned about the “hundreds of Islamic schools training young Muslims to become jihadis and terrorists.”
Near the very end of his article, Fisher does quote an American Muslim who “heard an imam — ‘a guy with a long beard and a Saudi dagger’ — teach that music is forbidden and dancing is forbidden and boys and girls should be educated separately. ‘I went to this imam’s board members and I said, ‘Look at what you’re shoving into your children.’ There were 700 people in that room listening to that crazy guy. And the board members said, ‘Yes, we know, but we don’t know what to do.’”
Why don’t they know what to do? Is the problem that it would be dangerous to stand up to such an imam? Or does the imam come not just with a Saudi dagger but also with Saudi money that’s difficult to refuse? The story provides not a clue.
Perhaps that’s because reporting on those whose reading of the Koran not only justifies but demands the spilling of infidel and apostate blood might distract from the authorized narrative of American Muslims as victims.
They’re angry about it and their anger, we’ve been warned, may “take control” of them. So someone needs to change his ways – and that would be you. That’s the mainstream media’s story and they’re sticking to it.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and political Islam.