After the arrest of the (World Trade Center) bomb plotters in New York I once again got crank calls. One guy said, "We'll get you, Saddam Hussein--go back to Iraq."
I am from New Delhi.
Half a million Muslims live in Southern California. We have more than 50 Islamic centers and mosques and the communities are scattered all over. They are not confined to one area. But where Muslims live, the community knows them. It is when they are not known, when they are walking in the street and suddenly somebody who has seen an image on television, or read an article in the paper that defines Muslims as fundamentalist terrorists, as blood-thirsty people, then the problem comes up.
The people who suffer most are the schoolchildren. They are the ones who basically face the racial slurs and all these kinds of offensive comments. Many people in the community have complained that their children have been called followers of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini and of terrorists. Sometimes they are asked, "How many bombs do you have in your school bag?"
The argument that some people are trying to give, and this is the argument that was given by an assemblyman in New York who said that every time a Muslim hits a Western target he scores a point with Allah, with God. This is baloney. This is nonsense.
Here in the United States, approximately 6 million Muslims are making positive contributions as partners of the society like any other community.
Something interesting that I have noticed is that Muslim immigrants do not see themselves as immigrants. They see themselves as partners. As part of the American fabric. They don't have that kind of "back home" syndrome of, "Well, we'll have to go back after earning money from here." And they are making their contribution. You will find that the number of drug addicts and alcoholics among Muslims is almost nonexistent. You will find that kids from the Muslim community are not part of the gangs. We are keeping away from these things.
So on the one hand you see that sort of picture. They have strong family values. They maintain the values that most Americans cherish. And yet when eight people are arrested in New York who tried to use Islam as a certification, each Muslim is considered a suspicious person.
To say that Islam justifies any kind of terrorism or violence against people with whom it is at odds is a misstatement. It happens that some people use religion for their own political motive and political ends. But the community as a whole has no control over them. American society has no control over the KKK, or neo-Nazi groups. So how can we expect a billion Muslims to have control over three or four or five or six people who are indulging themselves in these kinds of things that are abhorred by religion.
Saddam Hussein and Moammar Kadafi are not freely elected leaders. Those leaders do not allow the people of those societies to participate in the decision-making process. They basically terrorize people. And they use whatever name they want to use. When it's convenient for them, they use Islam.
This one guy in Brooklyn, (Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman), who put him on the cover--Time magazine, Newsweek? You will not find any Muslim magazine or paper reporting about his religious convictions and ideals. You will not find mosques around the U.S. broadcasting his interpretation of the Koran or his political analysis or commentary. It's being put out by the Wall Street Journal, by Time, by ABC which proclaim him to be a leader. Who is he leading? The Muslim community does not know him.
Some people say that the Muslim people are behind this terrorism, but they forget that the targets they are choosing are not exclusively for non-Muslims. The U.N. building houses more than 56 Muslim ambassadors and their staffs. The auto tunnels that were the targets are used by Muslim drivers and Muslim passengers. In the World Trade Center there were Muslims that were working there.
Muslim people here are hurt emotionally. The community feels hurt spiritually because their religion is becoming the target of a vicious campaign. They feel hurt politically because they feel they are making contributions in all walks of life, and yet because of the actions of some individuals they are being persecuted.
These kinds of moments give us an opportunity to explore more about other cultures. If schools are more sensitive, they could arrange an interfaith effort to inform students. Information about Islam could be made available to students. And the Islamic centers could be involved in that to help dispel the fears. The people who would benefit from that would be the children of Christians, Jews and Muslims because, after all, they have to live in this world together, and they have to live in Southern California together.