Rachel Williams / Mar 14, 2006

Moderate Muslims in America frequently claim to feel disagreement and disassociation with the extremists in the Middle East and Europe. Clearly, it is a time of strong division in the Islamic community.

This interreligious disagreement is not unlike those experienced by the other major Abrahamic traditions throughout history.

The fundamental difference, however, lies in the current inaction and silence of the general Muslim community.

Until now, one could argue that this community is simply unrepresented or unable to act, but when looking at the recent outcry against the Danish political cartoon, it's clear that Muslims around the world are quite willing to become vocal - and even violent - against something they disagree with.

This brings into question how these so-called "moderate" Muslims truly feel about the atrocities committed regularly in the name of their faith. Instead of yelling about global acts of terrorism, oppressive dictatorships and the sexist, racist manipulation of the Quran by their leaders throughout the world, Muslims in the United States have united to fight against a handful of cartoons and, in doing so, the very core upon which this country stands: freedom of speech.

I recently read Muslim students at USC expressing their personal anger inspired by the now-infamous Danish political cartoons in the pages of the Daily Trojan. Students, including former president of Muslim Student Union Ahmed Darwish and junior Farah Tamer, expressed agreement and solidarity for the global Muslim anger over the cartoon.

Darwish said of the 1 billion "upset" Muslims in the world that the media has chosen only to depict the "20, 50 or 100 people turning their anger into violence," creating a skewed representation of Muslim behavior.

Unfortunately, the burning of the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon, the attacking of police and death of a teenage boy in Somalia, the pelting of Petrol bombs at the Danish embassy in Iran, the chaotic protest-turned-riot in India, the stomping on Denmark's flag in Thailand, the attempted storming of the European Union office in Gaza, the mobs shouting death to Denmark and death to France at murderous protests in Afghanistan, the anti-American protest at the uninvolved U.S. airbase in Bagram and the protest at UC Irvine that required physical police intervention prove that violent responses are not as rare as Darwish believes.

Furthermore, Darwish mirrors Muslims across the country who claim the cartoon is blasphemous and unacceptable.

"When it comes to religion, you have to respect people. In
Saudi Arabia, he'd be dead; that's blasphemy," Tamer was quoted as saying.

What Tamer, Darwish and the Muslims of this country fail to understand, however, is that this is not
Saudi Arabia. This is the United States of America and a fundamental right of this country is the freedom to speak, write and even draw what you want, regardless of the opinions, beliefs and religions of others.

Not only has the Muslim reaction caused violence and challenged the foundation of this country, but it also has overlooked the relevance and poignancy of the cartoon's message. Tamer said that the cartoons are "stereotyping Muslims, saying (they're) all a bunch of potential terrorists."

But instead of simply brushing off the cartoon as outlandish and nonsensical, perhaps Muslims should have taken a closer look at what the cartoon was saying and why. Muslims should have seized the chance to absorb the full impact of recent actions - from embassy burnings in
Tehran to train bombings in London - committed in the name of Allah.

The cartoonist's portrayal of Muhammad serves as a reflection of a reality-inflicted image of Islam, a religion with prominent sects desperately in need of reform, a religion bitterly divided with followers in this country and around the world expressing disapproval of the hateful actions of its most radical constituency.

This type of interreligious division is nothing new in history. In the 11th century, disputes over Christian liturgy led to the Great Schism, during which the religion was divided in two. Again, in the 16th century, Catholic disagreement with the behavior and actions of their leadership led to the breaking away of thousands of Catholics, known as the Protestant Reformation. In the 19th century, Jews who disagreed with the ancient and strict practice of their religious laws restructured and adapted Judaism for their modern world, forming Reform and then Conservative Judaism.

It is now time for misrepresented Muslims to take a stand against a religion that they claim no longer defines them.

There must be as much sheer uproar from these Muslims after the next homicide bombing in
Israel and after the next honor killing in Syria as there is about the Danish cartoon.

Until such a union surfaces, Muslims, because of their own inaction, will be connected with their extremist brothers.

There are intelligent, peace-loving and moral Muslims. This is their time to act, both in the name of peace and in the name of Islam.


Published 3/7/06 in the Daily Trojan, The Student Newspaper of the University of Southern California:


With special permission from the author.

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