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For American-Muslims, dread


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american muslims, Chechen, chechnya, Tsarnaev
“We are doing a bad job of reaching out to young people. Extremists are doing a great job.”

Louisville, Kentucky: Friday morning, four Pakistani-American doctors dressed in business suits and medical scrubs sat in one of this city’s most popular breakfast spots and fretted. At an adjacent table, a middle-aged woman grew visibly nervous when their native land was mentioned. One of the doctors, a 47-year-old cardiologist, was despondent.

“We were all praying this wouldn’t happen,” he told me.

“No matter what you do in your community, that’s the label that is attached.”

Another doctor worried that years of outreach efforts by the city’s 10,000-strong Muslim community, a mix of Bosnians, Somalis and Iraqis, would be lost. Thursday, he sent a letter to the local newspaper condemning the Boston attack “no matter who committed it.”

When news broke Friday that the two suspects were Chechen Muslims, his family grew nervous.

“Five minutes ago my mom called from Copenhagen to see if I was ok,” the 41-year-old geriatrician said. “It rattles all of us.”

Clearly, Bostonians have and will suffer the most from the marathon bombings.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent people “sheltered in place” in and around Boston Friday. The injured now face months, if not years, of arduous recuperation. And the families of the dead will never recover.

It is by no means equivalent but the attack also impacts the United States’ roughly 2.5 million Muslims. As television screens displayed the words “the terrorist next door” Friday, a sense of dread spread among Muslim community leaders here.

“When this happens,” the cardiologist said, “it just gets tough.”

Twelve years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, some see it almost as a cliché to say all Muslims should not be blamed for the actions of a radical few. But it is vital that understandably anxious Americans adhere to that principal. Whatever their motivations, the Tsarnaev brothers are not representative of Muslims in the United States — or the world.

In the days and weeks ahead, Americans will learn chilling details about the Tsarnaev brothers. Links to groups outside the United States may be revealed. Their years in the America will be dissected. The immigration policies that allowed their families to emigrate will likely be criticized.

But it is important not to exaggerate their impact. Days of chaos have unfolded in Boston but the attacks have not paralyzed the country. Four deaths and 176 injuries are heart rendering but they are a tiny fraction of the 3,000 who perished on September 11. The attack’s primary legacy is fear. The actions of two young men will focus an enormous amount of suspicion on Chechens and Muslims across the nation.

Based on initial reports, the Tsarnaevs’ story is chilling. Two brothers, one an aspiring boxer and the other a high school wrestling captain, were seemingly transformed overnight into soulless killing machines. I suspect, though, that the process took years.

In 2008, the Taliban kidnapped two Afghan colleagues and me after inviting us to an interview. Held captive in the tribal areas of Pakistan for seven months, we found that Arab, Afghan and Pakistani militants had created a sophisticated system of schools, training camps and indoctrination videos that slowly severed young men’s bonds with their families.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God. The only cause that mattered, clerics preached, was stopping a vast – and nonexistent – Christian-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy to obliterate Islam from the face of the earth. For six weeks, I lived with a suicide bomber who was convinced that American forces were forcibly converting Afghan Muslims to Christianity. Neckties, he insisted, were secret symbols of Christianity. Deeming them unclean, he burned newspapers with photographs of women without veils.

No matter how long I spent talking with him, I could not alter his attitudes. Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

Louisville’s Muslim leaders embrace an entirely different interpretation of Islam.

Tolerant, worldly and passionately committed to education, they accuse Saudi Arabia of spreading an intolerant Wahhabist interpretation of Islam that distorts their faith and endangers their lives. The cardiologist, who asked not to be named, said he does not fear attacks in America. Rather, he fears for the safety of his family in Pakistan.

Last year, militants in Pakistan killed 400 Shias, particularly doctors. One victim was a close friend of the cardiologist and a fellow physician. Jihadists sprayed the man’s car with bullets, killing him and his 11 year-old son.

“My brother is a doctor over there,” the cardiologist said.

“They target all the high-end professionals.”

Mohammad Babar, the Pakistani-American geriatrician, was happy to be quoted by name. Only his grandmother remains in Pakistan.

He said the United States was a “safe haven” where he can practice and spread a moderate form of Islam without fearing assassination. In the wake of the Boston attack, he vowed to redouble his efforts.

“We are doing a bad job of reaching out to young people,” he said. “Extremists are doing a great job.”

Tensions exist in Louisville. Residents of a neighboring county recently rejected an effort to create the area’s first Muslim cemetery. And clearly not every member of the Muslim community here is as broadminded as Babar.

Since moving to Louisville in 1995, the peripatetic community activist has joined the local Rotary club, formed a close relationship with the mayor and set up meetings between Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders. Next week, he is holding an interfaith “open house” at his mosque. Next month, he is helping coordinate a visit by the Dalai Lama.

“We need to let people know,” Babar said.

“We need to let our communities know what we think.”

The problem, he argued, was radicalism.

“In the whole world,” Babar said, “the far right is getting stronger.”

He is right. The enemy is not Islam. It is extremism.

Comments (19) Closed

Pramod Apr 23, 2013 06:40am
There is whole lot of difference between a person who takes out his licensed revolver and shoot people and two people who makes a bomb and do proper analysis of the situation where bomb can cause maximum damage. More over a single person can do it in depression but they were two brothers who were given everything by US govt. I fully agree with AHA that until Muslim will not open up to discuss and understand why it is so easy to incite a Muslim using Islam.
Umesh Gupta Apr 23, 2013 08:07am
I have no idea whether my comments will be published but I have studied Quran many many times cover to cover. What I understood that there can not be any one born as Muslim. Some can become Muslim only after he/she becomes adult, understand the concept of Bismillah, Inshallah, Namaz (remembering God) and surrender (in other words, Shariat, Tarikat, Marfat and Hakikat) may be allowed to become Muslim. No one talks about prophet spiritual side and every one talks about war which was imposed upon him due to circumstances. Therefore under these circumstances, Islam can not remain religion for peace and only misinformed Jihadis will be produced.
Milind Apr 23, 2013 05:32am
Well that's because your bearded brothers blasted the Bamiyan Buddhas and ran afoul with the peaceful Buddhists!!!
Quantum Apr 23, 2013 03:29am
They maimed the citizen of the country that provided them safe haven. You should outright condemn this atrocity.
HNY2013 Apr 23, 2013 03:24am
Same as what's happening in Syria
Mustafa Apr 22, 2013 10:04pm
Excellent article. There is a saying in Farsi language
Abbas Apr 22, 2013 06:15pm
I am a muslim and I live in the west I love the western values and I don't feel ashamed or guilty for any thing which I have not done wrong just like all my white and black friends that they don't feel bad or guilty of anything their govts are doing in all the Muslim countries.
Quantum Apr 23, 2013 12:33pm
Great answer
AHA Apr 22, 2013 03:12pm
G. Din - I think the two issues are related. Our lack of acceptance of others' viewpoints makes us unable to assimilate with the wider world, and hence, as you put it, we live in our 'ghettos'. BTW, I think there is nothing intrinsically wrong with 'ghettos'. One could consider Jackson Heights in New York to be a Hindu ghetto, but I always saw that as a place for finest Indian cuisine and grocery in New York, and nothing more.
AHA Apr 22, 2013 10:50am
Excellent piece. Muslims will never be able to resolve the issue of terrorism among us till we become willing to openly debate the question of why is it so easy to use Islam to entice the most extreme form of extremism.
ahmed_1 Apr 22, 2013 03:14pm
The right wing is the wrong wing. In Pakistan and in the US.
G. Din Apr 22, 2013 12:35pm
"...till we become willing to openly debate the question of why is it so easy to use Islam to entice the most extreme form of extremism." Excellent observation. But, even before that, you ought to debate "why do Muslims the world over gravitate towards their own ghettos?" If you shun ghettos, the mentality of your young ones might not remain limited to the constricted society. You don't find Hindu ghettos anywhere, do you?
farhan Apr 22, 2013 03:01pm
One of the biggest difficulty I face when I am not living in the so called Ghettos is getting Halal Meat and going to the mosque. I have to travel every month 200 miles to get Halal Meat. There is no mosque either in the vicinity. I can afford to drive such distances so I am living without any complaint. My english neighbours are the best I have ever found. But I can see why people prefer to live in Ghettos. I think if churches are used as a Multi faith facility and local shops also keep halal meat then we will be able to abolish this Ghettos culture.
G.A. Apr 22, 2013 11:58am
I don't see any difference between these brothers and the plenty of white kids involved in school shootings. There is something seriously wrong in the American society itself that urgently needs to be addressed.
John Apr 23, 2013 08:06am
I sure would not want you as my neighbor.
Raman Apr 22, 2013 02:50pm
There is something certainly wrong with the US society but it definitely does not need the kind of savagery that Islam uses to sort it out.
Eddie Apr 22, 2013 11:16am
I'll tell you, in spite of many good Samaritans like Babar around though, USA has become a haven for the extremists with the same inter-sectarian hatred and disdain spreading like fire. Watch out USA.
dsp Apr 22, 2013 03:17pm
yes probably in pakistan where they are decreasing like endangered animals in over populated countries, thanks to the insane ideologies, perhaps the same fate awaits them in bangladesh
A Apr 22, 2013 01:01pm
and oh yeah, whats happening in burma!