In a public relations campaign triggered today, an active American Muslim organization, the Council for American Muslim Relations CAIR, released a political commercial (PSA) on national networks responding to what it believes has become surging inquiries about violence and religion. (See CAIR TV Ad) The ad airs seven sentences:
(See my comments)
1) The first sentence starts with a young woman wearing a scarf stating: “We often hear claims Muslims don’t condemn terrorism.” The question is about the “we.” Who is it? Is it the organization? Or is it Muslims at large? Or is it an assumption that all Americans hear such a statement and find it offensive? It is important to understand who the “we” is. For if it is CAIR only, it would indicate that the organization, not necessarily the whole community is not satisfied with the issue: The difference is important as many Muslim citizens and a growing number of Muslim organizations are indeed claiming that there are not enough condemnations by the community’s clerics. If the PSA hint at community wide position, it then should be signed by the many organizations that represent the millions of Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslims in the United States. This will in turn open the question of who represents the 4 or more million Muslims in this country. Is it CAIR, the fundamentalists in general or is the community deeply diverse? Hence, would the majority of the various tendencies agree on CAIR’s assumptions that the community is frustrated by calls to condemn Terrorism?
This first statement is indicative of the aim of the ad: It attempts to position all Muslims as victims of a campaign pressing them to state what is obvious, that all Muslims condemn Terrorism just as all other Americans do. The philosophy of this ad is clear: Muslim Americans are unjustly “seen” by others as not doing enough to combat Terrorism, which would be unfair. And CAIR, the legitimate representative of more than 4 million Americans is fixing the problem. That’s what the PSA is designed for.
2) Second sentence: An African American male says: “And that Islam condones violence.” Heard without any explanation or historical background, the sentence leads the average viewer or listener to believe that there is a conspiracy by unrevealed parties to depict Islam as a religion that “condone” violence. The actual issue is not addressed and the subject of debate is over-generalized. Neither the PSA indicate who is portraying Islam as endorsing violence, nor does it explain how. It simply bypasses the elephant in the room: Jihad. If there is an issue to address it is how Islamists claim Jihad as a religious duty. Unfortunately the PSA fails to mention it.
3) The third sentence shows a Muslim woman saying: “As Muslims we want to state clearly” followed by a fourth sentence by the African American male: “that those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam are betraying the teachings of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad.” That statement taken alone would be very valuable if confirmed as the center of the political philosophy. If strengthen with Koranic verses and references and made into the response to any act of Terror committed by al Qaida and the Jihadists, one could see the early signs of a reform. That would be encouraging. One would project that the ad would at some point conclude in that direction. But as it unfolds, it doesn’t.
4) The fifth sentence is uttered by a woman: “We reject anyone of any faith who commits such brutal acts.” It is followed with a sixth sentence by the same male stating: “And we’ll not allow our faith to be to be hijacked by criminals.” The readers and listeners would then wait for the next sentence and most important conclusion that is “who?” Indeed, rejection of brutal acts and obstructing criminals from hijack is a universal principle. It could apply to common criminals, dictators and all sort of theological extremists too, depending on the circumstances. But the particular statement Americans, and now all democracies are waiting for, is an unequivocal condemnation of Jihadism as a legitimate political tool, and the Jihadists as an acceptable force: At least a clear condemnation of al Qaida and its ideology, because of whom and which many have been questioning the link to the religion. The PSA is strangely silent about it.
5) The last sentence could have done it and served the cause of Muslim visibility much better: It could have simply said, we condemn al Qaida, we condemn Osama bin Laden, al Zarqawi, the Jihadi clerics. The PSA could have stated that al Qaida is about hatred and violence while Muslims seek peace. Instead a woman concluded: “Islam is not about hatred and violence. It’s about peace and justice.” It would be the equivalent of a saying in Arabic: man daraba al ma’a bil ma’a. (treating water with water), meaning no tangible results achieved.
In the final analysis, CAIR’s initiative could have been a basis for a strategic resistance to the Jihadists in general and al Qaida in particular. Language is everything here. While I’d leave the political intentions behind the campaign to others for now, it is clear to connoisseurs in Islamic politics that the PSA aim at shielding a political lobby from growing public inquiries rather than triggering an anti-Jihadist campaign. All what the lobby writers had to do was to call al Qaida and Bin Laden by the name: Terrorist. One, not seven sentences would have sent a huge message to the American public. And that is not so difficult, if the intentions were available. Other Muslim groups have done it, such as Free Muslims against Terrorism and American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The difference is this: The latter have the intentions of fighting real Terrorism, but they don’t have the money. See CAIR backing of American Fatwa)
Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a Professor of religions and world politics