It's a Gray Area: Muslim Americans deserve our understanding

Recently I attended a fundraising dinner for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel.

This stimulating and uplifting event involved more than 1,800 mostly Muslim people celebrating the theme of "Making Democracy Work." Had you been there, you would have been just as proud of these loyal Americans as I was.

The program was based upon the fact that a real and common enemy of us all continues to be fear, intolerance and ignorance. And in fact the enemy of radical Muslims is not so much America as it is moderate Muslims, and other moderates all around the world.

Many of the Muslim speakers went on to say that, "We don't want sharia law either!"

And if you think about it, that makes perfect sense. Their common greeting of Assalamu Alaykum, or "May Peace Be Upon You," is further evidence of that fact. (This statement should not be confused with Allah Akbar, which I understand to mean, "God is the Greatest," and which has sometimes been shouted by radical Muslims while atrocities have been perpetrated.)

Further honest reflection will lead us to the conclusion that discrimination against the Muslims in our country is actually the civil rights issue of our day. Put yourself in their situation, or even that of those whose names simply sound like they came from the Middle East. Then place yourself in a restaurant or courtroom, or, even worse, in an airport.

How do you think you would you react to the treatment you would receive?

How would you feel?

To bring that point home further, but in different contexts, we heard presentations from an elderly man of Japanese ancestry who had been interned as a child at Manzanar during World War II, as well as representatives from the Latino and black communities. All of them discussed their experiences while being on the receiving end of actions and programs in our great country based upon fear, intolerance and ignorance.

Other speakers reminded us that the Constitution of our great country was not created by the Founding Fathers because we are perfect beings. To the contrary, it was created because we are imperfect. So with that in mind, we must continue to be vigilant in protecting our sacred liberties for Muslims, along with everyone else. This is our common battle.

I confess that I often do not understand the Muslim faith, and sometimes I have been intimidated by the "foreignness" of the Arabic language, as well as some of their customs and apparel. Upon reflection, this is probably a normal reaction for most of us imperfect beings. But are you aware that more than half of the dialects of the languages of the world make no distinction between the word for "stranger" and the word for "enemy?" That means that in those societies anyone who is a stranger is automatically their enemy. We must not allow ourselves to fall into that trap.

All of this is not to say that we should lower our guard regarding security at our airports or anywhere else. And I also reaffirm my wish that moderate Muslims everywhere would be more vocal in condemning all atrocities from whatever source — and several times I have told them so.

But CAIR is working for us all by being on the front lines of protecting Muslims from discrimination in our country. And that discrimination can be appreciable, because there are still many people in our country who automatically think of all Muslims as terrorists or at least terrorist sympathizers.

Honestly, I am not familiar with all of the activities and involvements of CAIR, or all of the issues it is working on. But nevertheless, I donated some money to the organization. If the good people I know who are working with CAIR are considered to be terrorists, then I publicly want to be considered to be a terrorist right along with them. And our ranks would probably be joined by two sitting members of Congress as well as Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca, who were all in attendance at the dinner.

I know that there are many radical Muslims in the world today who actually are terrorists, and they have done some truly cowardly and hideous things. But so have many radical people of other religions as well, or even people of no religion at all. So let us not stoop to the view that all strangers are our enemies.

If any people violate our laws, they should be prosecuted and appropriately punished if convicted. But otherwise the struggle for equal rights and fair treatment of people who happen to be from the Middle East and/or Muslim is the rightful struggle of all good Americans.

In summary, we must remain forever mindful that if we give in to fear, intolerance and ignorance, and thereby diminish our freedoms, we will be giving up our soul that makes our country great. And that will in turn allow terrorists to win. We have given in to these influences in the past, with some Japanese, Latinos, blacks and others in our country, so let's learn from our mistakes and put an end to this present fear with Muslims.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at

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