I'm sick of hearing the same old tune about how Muslims are silent in their condemnation of terrorism. It's high time for a different song.
The other day, I received an email from a sensitive and caring 80-year-old American Jew I have been corresponding with for the last few months on various topics, including the Middle East. He forwarded me a letter that was apparently written by an American airline pilot entitled “YOU WORRY ME!” (the pilot's capitals).
“I wonder if you would comment on the concerns of this American who may very well reflect the feelings of the great majority of his fellow countrymen,” my e-pal asked me, hoping that my views would help still his and his friends' anguish and worries.
After expressing understanding for the genuine fear many Americans must feel, I told him that I found it unfair that people such as the letter writer insisted on tarnishing all Muslims with the same brush.
The pilot asked: “How do I differentiate between the true Arab/Muslim-Americans and the Arab/Muslim terrorists in our communities?”
It is very easy to distinguish, I informed my e-pal, which western Muslims are not terrorists: all the millions of them except a few hundred extremists at the very most. So, that means all Muslims are innocent until proven guilty.
The pilot added: “I want to know where every Arab Muslim in this country stands and I think it is my right and the right of every true citizen of this country to demand it.”
Instead of writing a glib, self-righteous letter and forwarding it to his friends, why didn't he get off his backside and go out and ask some Muslims what they think of terrorism? It put me in mind of that Queens of the Stone Age album Songs for the Deaf. Since he's too lazy to do so, I can give him some indication.
Violent Islamic extremists are as abhorred and hated by Muslims as they are by westerners. One reason for this is that more Muslims die in Islamic terror attacks than westerners.
To illustrate my point, I sent my friend a link to the subtitled version of a song that is currently No 1 in the Pakistani music charts. Yeh Hum Naheen (This is not Us), officially released in the UK this week.
The venture was the brainchild of Wassem Mahmood, a UK-based Pakistani media consultant, who was inspired by his children to show that Muslims do not approve of the atrocities being committed in their names.
“I wanted to give a voice to young Muslims who reject terror and are sick of the image of terrorism that has been attached to their faith,” he told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.
Given that Bin Laden is the most famous “poster boy” of the stereotypical “Muslim man” and the popular idea of Muslim pinups are burkah-clad “Talibabes”, I am glad that the clip sheds light on the modern and trendy face of Pakistan, in the form of its slick and well-groomed pop artists, including the beautiful and brainy Hadiqa (whose name means garden), a classically trained singer who holds an MA in psychology.
Although it is not my type of music, I hope this video, given its message, gets lots of international airspace. However, I doubt it will beat Bin Laden's latest offering in the global charts.
Yeh Hum Naheen does not intend to share the fate of one-hit-wonder boy or girl bands. Mahmood has already set it up as a foundation that will work “to build on the essence of Islam as a faith that promotes tolerance, peace and harmony removing prejudices within the community and amongst non-Muslims around the world”.
The American pilot claimed: “I don't want to be consumed by the same rage and hate and prejudice that has destroyed the soul of these terrorists”.
Well, his letter struck me as being filled with that same “rage and hate and prejudice”. In fact, it was the braying for vengeance after September 11 that allowed a cynical and embattled Bush administration to lead its people down the path to an endless war.
But I do not blame ordinary Americans for the deadly terror their government has inflicted on other peoples, even though they elected it democratically, because I know that most Americans are decent folk at heart. So, I urged in my response, please do not blame Muslims for the actions of people whom they neither elected nor support.
The pre-Iraq Not in our Name movement in the West has found its Muslim cousin. Perhaps the next step is an international protest song targeted at the wilfully deaf on both sides, grouping together top western and Muslim artists to voice young people's rejection of terrorism and the so-called war on terror.
This article first appeared in The Guardian on 20 July 2007.