American Muslim leaders who have endorsed the war on terrorism are facing a growing backlash from community members concerned about the impact on Afghan civilians and broader U.S. war aims.
The concerns have led the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization with a
large grass-roots base, to draft a statement calling for an end to the
bombing in Afghanistan.
groups so far have declined to sign the statement, prompting the council
to debate whether to issue it.
Some Muslim leaders hesitate to sign
for fear of provoking a backlash in the wider population and projecting an
image of being unpatriotic. Others fear alienating the Bush administration
at a time the community has made great strides in gaining political
influence in Washington. Several prominent Muslim organizations in the
U.S. backed George W. Bush over Al Gore in the presidential campaign last
year, seeking to create a unified Muslim political position for the first
The debate over the antiwar statement illuminates the
divisions within the American Muslim community. Leaders until now have
tried to portray a united front in support of U.S. policy. But significant
opposition to that policy exists in the community.
leadership is in a real dilemma," said Aslam Abdullah, editor of the
Minaret, a Muslim magazine in Los Angeles. "If they oppose the war, people
will point their fingers and say they are soft on terrorism. But if they
support it, they may be speaking against their
Abdullah, a board member of the Muslim Public Affairs
Council, has opposed the attacks on Afghanistan from the beginning of the
U.S. bombing campaign, but was unsuccessful in persuading his organization
to adopt his view.
Instead, in a statement issued Oct. 7, the day
the air campaign began, the council said it wholeheartedly endorsed the
campaign on terrorism without explicitly addressing the military
Local representatives of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations said they received e-mails from members disappointed by what
they perceived as a timid stand and de facto support of an attack on a
Muslim country. Kaukab Siddique, editor of New Trend, a Muslim newspaper
based on the East Coast, circulated a call for leaders of the council and
other "bootlicker organizations" to resign if they wanted to be considered
Such strains are likely to grow as antiwar sentiment mounts
among Muslims concerned about civilian casualties and the possibility of a
wider war aimed at toppling regimes in Iraq and other Islamic
U.S. officials have disputed charges by Afghanistan's
Taliban leadership about the number of civilian casualties in the
bombings, but have said that some civilians have been killed and that the
number has increased as the military action continues.
opposition to the Afghan campaign is also hardening overseas. Shaykh Yusuf
Al-Qaradawi, a popular Muslim religious authority in the Persian Gulf
nation of Qatar, has called on Muslims worldwide to resist the U.S.
effort. Al-Qaradawi previously condemned the terrorist attacks on America
as a perversion of Islam.
Mizgon Zahir, editor of the San
Francisco-based Afghana Journal, said many Afghan Americans accepted the
airstrikes initially in the hope that "America would smoke the Taliban out
of their holes and maybe another government could be installed." But now,
she said, a growing number of people are changing their minds as word
filters back of relatives still stuck in Afghanistan, villages and medical
facilities being destroyed and Osama bin Laden still at large.
civilian casualties grow, people are asking, 'If there were terrorists in
America, would you bomb the whole country?' "
In an online poll by
Web site www.IslamiCity.com, 73.8% of 1,435 respondents said they oppose
the airstrikes. The poll is by nature unscientific, but it provides some
evidence of the attitudes of the Web site's users.
REACT: Debate Among U.S.
Continued from A10
Altaf Husain, president of
the national Muslim Student Assn., said some of the differences within the
community are generational. The student group was one of the few Muslim
organizations in the country to explicitly call for a cease-fire after the
bombing began, which Husain attributed to the younger generation's greater
confidence in their identity as Americans and their right to be in
"It's a fairly distinct separation," said Husain, whose
organization represents 100 of the 500 Muslim student groups on college
campuses nationwide. "The second generation has no problem speaking out
and still being seen as patriotic. The elders sense we've made such
political gains in the American public sphere, and they are concerned
about how American we appear in the stands we take."
resistance to the military campaign grows, however, some Muslim
organizations--as well as some Christian groups--are beginning to oppose
In drafting its statement to end the bombing, Nihad Awad,
executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stressed
that his organization fully supports efforts to bring the terrorists to
justice. But he said the bombing campaign is starting to inflame Muslim
In Los Angeles, Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim
Public Affairs Council said his organization had asked the White House for
greater disclosure about such issues as bombing targets, damage and the
expected length of the campaign.
But, despite "strong sentiment" in
the community to stop the military campaign, Al-Marayati said his group is
not planning to call for a halt because of fears of a backlash that could
target Muslim individuals, schools and mosques.
concern is the security of the American Muslim community," Al-Marayati
said. "There is strong sentiment throughout the nation that you're either
part of them or us."
In Washington, Aly Abuzaakouk of the American
Muslim Council said he continues to support the airstrikes because they
have not yet achieved their objective to bring to justice the perpetrators
of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, opposition to
military action is surfacing in some other religious
Christian evangelical leader Jim Wallis, editor of
Sojourners magazine, now says the U.S. bombing campaign has become
"counterproductive." And the influential Roman Catholic magazine America
published an editorial challenging whether the U.S. military campaign was
adhering to Christian "just war" principles.
leaders, however, continue to back the U.S. campaign. Asked if the
airstrikes were inflaming Muslim public opinion, Richard Land of the
Southern Baptist Convention said: "Who cares? If the Islamic community
can't police its own nut cases, we will."