How Arab Americans Really Responded to September 11

As our nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims around the country will join their fellow citizens in pausing and reflecting upon the horrors of that day and its aftermath. Some media pundits and other well-known figures-including notable evangelist Franklin Graham-have recently accused Muslims of remaining silent after the terrorist attacks. Such charges, which have been covered widely but superficially in the mainstream media, deserve serious analysis.

In reality, even a cursory review of press releases, newspaper articles, opinion pieces, and internet websites reveals that Muslims were uniformly shocked, saddened, and outraged at the vicious attack on our own soil-and they did not hesitate to voice their unequivocal condemnation. In fact, American Muslim and Arab-American organizations and leaders were among the first to react in an organized fashion to condemn the terrorist attacks on that very same day, long before it became clear that individuals calling themselves Muslims were involved in the attacks.

On September 11, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest grassroots American Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, distributed a statement which read: “We condemn in the strongest terms possible what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts. All members of the Muslim community are asked to offer whatever help they can to the victims and their families. Muslim medical professionals should go to the scenes of the attacks to offer aid and comfort to the victims.”

CAIR also issued an alert to the Muslim community on September 11, urging that the following additional actions be taken: “Muslim relief agencies should contact their counterparts to offer support in the recovery efforts. Individual Muslims should donate blood by contacting the local office of the Red Crossa*|They should also send donations to those relief agencies that are on the scene of the attacks.”

Similarly, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued the following unequivocal statement: “We feel that our country, the United States, is under attack. All Americans should stand together to bring the perpetrators to justice. We warn against any generalizations that will only serve to help the criminals and incriminate the innocent. We offer our resources and resolve to help the victims of these intolerable acts, and we pray to God to protect and bless America.”

And in a September 11 letter to President Bush, community leaders stated: “American Muslims, who unequivocally condemned today’s terrorist attacks on our nation, call on you to alert fellow citizens to the fact that now is a time for all of us to stand together in the face of this heinous crime.” This letter was signed by the leaders of CAIR, MPAC, the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North America, and American Muslims for Jerusalem. These groups represent most of the seven million Muslims in the United States.

Muslims abroad were also unequivocal in their condemnation of the attacks. The 57 member Organization of Islamic Conference issued a communiquA(C) stating: “The Conference strongly condemned the brutal terror acts that befell the United Statesa*|.It further reaffirmed that these terror acts ran counter to the teachings of the divine religions as well as ethical and human valuesa*|.”

In the West Bank thousands of Palestinians attended candlelight vigils to express their grief and solidarity with the victims of the attacks, and Palestinian school children observed five minutes of silence. In Tehran, Iran (one third of the President’s proclaimed “axis of evil”), the main soccer stadium observed one minute of silence in sympathy with the victims of the attacks.

Despite the unanimous and vocal condemnations by American Muslim and Arab-American group and leaders nationwide, some in our country were not satisfied. In subsequent weeks and months, numerous unsubstantiated references appeared in newspaper opinion columns and on television talk shows about American Muslims’ alleged “silence” after the terrorist attacks. Such claims were clearly not based on facts, but rather were the products of either outright ignorance-which is inexcusable-or deliberate defamation by some with thinly-veiled Islamophobic agendas-which is utterly deplorable.

This accusation of silence in the face of the September 11 attacks is now coupled with increasingly aggressive rhetoric about Islam being an “evil” religion and Muslims a “fifth column.” Efforts to even teach about Islam in public schools and universities are now routinely attacked if they do not focus on the most extreme interpretations. When Muslims try to correct uninformed statements about Islam, we are labeled apologists. Open and honest discussion about Islam in the public is increasingly silenced by the bigoted attacks of individuals like Franklin Graham, who recently called for Muslims to apologize for the 9/11 attacks.

While Muslims join most Americans in seeking unity and solace with their fellow citizens, some Americans are sowing seeds of hatred and ignorance. As Americans we are all confronted by a number of daunting challenges that we must face together, including concentrated efforts to tear us apart from within. Bigots seem to be the biggest winners in the post-September 11 environment. If they win, then we all lose.

Riad Z. Abdelkarim, MD, is Western Region Communications Director and Jason Erb is Governmental Relations Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest grassroots American Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. They can be reached at:

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