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Islamophobia reaches an epidemic level

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Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004 10:00 pm

About two years ago, when I attended a service at Lodi United Methodist Church as part of Celebration of Abraham events, I remember the congregation singing a Cat Stevens song that he wrote and sang in the '70s: "Morning has broken like the first morning … "

This song, like many of his others, clearly depicts the depth of his feeling for peace and humility.

Throughout his life, Cat Stevens, who changed his name to Yusuf Islam, has been and still is a very peace-loving person. Last Tuesday while flying to New York, his plane was diverted to Portland, Maine, and he was arrested while traveling to the United States from the United Kingdom.

Taj Khan

While devoted congregations may be singing "Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning, God's recreation for the new day," the writer of this song has been deported. His crime: He converted to Islam about 25 years ago and got himself involved with charitable causes and preached moderation. Arguably, he is the most respected Muslim in the world today. He has not been charged with any crime, however, thanks to the Patriot Act and the zealots who enforce it.

This is not an isolated case. There seems to be an effort underway by the current administration to silence the voices of reason and moderation among Muslims. Islamophobia has reached an epidemic proportion. Every one of the billion or so Muslims worldwide is a suspect. It is becoming alarmingly more common for people who fit a "Muslim" profile to be victims of discrimination, whether that entails being pulled out of airport lines for detailed searches, having visas denied or revoked during the course of travel, or, in this case, having a plane diverted for nothing more than threatening national security by being Muslim.

Here is another example. The U.S. State Department revoked Tariq Ramadhan's visa, days before he was to begin his visiting professorship at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute of Peace Studies. Ramadhan is a scholar of Islam who was born in Switzerland. Time magazine honored him as one of the 100 innovators of the 21st century.

Ramadan is a professor of philosophy and of Islamic studies at the College of Geneva at the University of Fribourg. He advocates moderation and dialogue among adherents of various religious faiths. His books preach a philosophy of reinterpretation of Islamic thought commonly called "Ijtehad."

His lectures are attended by thousands of younger generation Muslims. His ideas are not secret. He wrote books with a clear non-violent vision. Yet the State Department considered him a significant enough security risk to revoke his visa days before he was ready to teach at a Catholic university while his household furniture was packed and enroute to Indiana.

Jane Lampman, writing in the Christian Science Monitor says, "If the U.S. government is serious about winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world and avoiding a clash of civilizations, it might consider sitting down for lengthy discussions with Tariq Ramadan, rather than barring his entrance." I could not have said better.

Here in our own backyard at Travis Air Force Base, Senior Airman Ahmad Al Halabi was arrested for an alleged 12 counts of serious espionage during his duty as language interpreter at Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The penalty for such a serious crime is life imprisonment or death. After 10 months in prison all espionage charges were dropped.

It is clear to everyone that he was arrested because his name is Ahmad. If he were named John and he were a Southern Baptist they would not dare touch him. It appears from all the news stories and commentaries that Islam is demonized and Muslims are villanized in this war on terrorism -- it does not matter whether a Muslim is innocent or preaches peace and moderation.

Our nations just inaugurated the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. When Christopher Columbus landed on the North American continent there were about 5 million people living here. When the United States was all settled there were only 250,000 left. If history teaches us that a whole people can be dehumanized, then Yusuf Islam, Tariq Ramadhan and Al Halabi do not stand a chance.

So now the humiliating campaign against the American Indians is over. The people who were here first get to be in the last place in the row of the honorees on the National Mall I imagine there will be a memorial for the people we have wronged during our current campaign.

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