October 10, 2003 | Op-ed

U.S. Muslims as patriots

By Oubai Shahbandar

Where is the outrage in the American Muslim community?

Two years after 9/11, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Council (AMC), the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and similar groups are still respectfully regarded as the voices of American Muslims, despite the fact that members of these organizations have been apologists for extremism and even linked to terrorist groups. Almost no one – Muslim or non-Muslim – dares criticize these groups for their positions or their associations.

What's more, these groups shamelessly attack, demean and attempt to intimidate Muslims who are loyal to this great nation. They continue to attempt to persuade American Muslims to view themselves not as patriots but as victims.

Muslim community newspapers are silent about these issues. They write nothing about the MSA-directed groups that stage anti-American rallies, attack people who speak out about the pernicious activities of the Saudis, or simply challenge the talking points of the establishment Muslim groups on anything taking place in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

In particular, proud Muslims who are also proud Americans need to tell the truth about Wahhabism, the intolerant and militant brand of Islam being exported from Saudi Arabia and which is defended in the United States by CAIR, AMC and MSA.

I know about these issues firsthand. As a Muslim student at Arizona State University who abhors Wahhabism, I've been the victim of MSA's hate campaigns. For my efforts in organizing a “Support our Troops” rally the day that Operation Iraqi Freedom started, I was told by several MSA members that I was “going to hell.” In a letter to the editor in the campus paper, the president of the MSA even accused me of being guilty of bigotry toward Arabs and Muslims. In his view, it was anti-Muslim of me to want to see Iraqi Muslims liberated from the oppression of Saddam Hussein, who has murdered more Muslims than anyone else in this century, and perhaps in any century.

Terrorism has not been far from the Arizona State University campus. On May 9, a Saudi student at ASU, Muhammad Al-Gurashi, was arrested; he had been the driver who escorted convicted terrorist supporter Faisal Al-Salmi to President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch on what were apparently reconnaissance missions.

In April, the home of Hassan Alrafea, president of the ASU chapter of MSA, was raided and his computers were confiscated by the FBI. Another radical Muslim student at ASU, Ahmad Saad Nasim, staged a “hate crime” two days after the 9/11 attacks. Nasim wrote “Die Muslim Die” on his forehead and wrapped a plastic bag over his head and laid down in the school parking lot waiting for the police to discover him. Incredibly, the campus MSA chapter continues to defend him.

Nor is ASU the only school with this kind of problem. The MSA has hundreds of chapters at schools across the country; most of them are working against America's vital interests. For example, in February, Sami Al Hussayen, a Saudi citizen and former president of the University of Idaho Muslim Students Association, was arrested by federal officials for his role in raising funds for al-Qaida's terror network. The national MSA organization, of course, rallied to his defense.

And U.S. Army Sgt. Asan Akbar, the American Muslim accused of throwing a grenade into the living quarters of fellow soldiers last March in Kuwait, killing two and wounding 15, attended the student mosque at the University of California, Davis, which was controlled by MSA. The MSA has yet to forthrightly and unequivocally denounce that act of terrorism.

Off campus, the leaders of CAIR and similar groups also have been active. The U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down a long list of terrorist-related charges this August against Soliman Biheiri, a senior figure in the American Muslim Council. Bassem K. Khafagi, CAIR's former community affairs director, pled guilty Sept. 10 to committing bank and visa fraud while running an Islamic charity that the federal government has deemed a front for associates of Osama bin Laden.

It is the challenge and responsibility of the American Muslim community to confront the evil rot in our midst. We know who among us preach death and destruction for America and its citizens. But many of my fellow Muslims remain trapped in a delusory groupthink. We ignore or even deny the possibility that fellow Muslims could be guilty of treason and terror.

It is now up to a new generation of American-born Muslims to show our pride in being Americans, and our willingness to advance our chosen brand of moderate Islam, not the Wahhabi despotism backed by our so-called leaders. The sooner that Muslim Americans come to realize the error of following groups like CAIR, AMC and MSA, the sooner we can be welcomed and respected wholeheartedly by the rest of America. It is our nation, too; we must expose and denounce those who would destroy it.

Oubai Shahbandar is a senior at Arizona State University and an Undergraduate Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.