An Open Letter to President George W. Bush

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing for two reasons.

The first is to extend my prayers to you, your family, and your White House staff for providing this country with strong leadership in these difficult times. I can only imagine that, since September 11th, precious little of the decisions you must make on a daily basis are pleasant ones. I pray that God continue to bless you with the wisdom and strength you need to persevere as a national and world leader at a time when so much of the world and its politics are undergoing such great stress and flux.

The second reason I’m writing is to protest, in the strongest terms possible, the recent raids on the homes and offices of Muslim citizens and community leaders in Virginia and the D.C. area. I realize that ensuring national security in times like these occasionally requires a resort to extreme measures. I also realize, however, that if attacks on this country were carried out by a group like the IRA, it would be highly unlikely that federal agents would be raiding the offices of Roman Catholic archdioceses around the country. Yet that is the magnitude of what has happened here.

It is almost as if, because the Muslim community and its leadership is not structured according to clearly defined clerical and lay distinctions (which do not, by and large, exist in Islam–especially not in Islam in the U.S.), the respect accorded the leadership of mainstream Christian and Jewish communities simply does not apply to their Muslim counterparts.

Unfortunately, it appears that such obvious discrimination goes unchecked because the voice of the Muslim community in this country is simply not yet strong or influential enough to afford its members the protections enjoyed by members of more numerous or influential religious communities.

This affront to the integrity and rights of the Muslim community in the U.S. is compounded by the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, its leadership has repeatedly and sincerely offered to cooperate fully with law enforcement authorities in the current imperative to dismantle terrorist networks here in the U.S. Nonetheless, the homes of some prominent, civically active Muslim individuals have been invaded with what appears to be little to no consultation with them or other members of the Muslim community who could have helped investigators pursue their task with the caution, scruples, and due process demanded by our Constitution for every U.S. citizen.

My fear is that our government has taken the lead of a self-appointed and media-anointed “terrorist expert” like Steven Emerson who simply points his finger at each and every Muslim organization with any tie to Palestine, and declares them hornets’ nests of terrorist activity. Does the FBI, for example, consult regularly with those key members of the Muslim community who can raise substantive (rather than rhetorical) objections to the observations of someone like Emerson? My sense is that it does not. Rather, it seems that in its dealings with the domestic Muslim community, federal law enforcement is operating on Emerson’s McCarthy-like assumption of treachery rather than loyalty among the American Muslim community.

I would think, Mr. President, that this would gravely sadden and outrage you as it does the rest of us who have deep ties with the Muslim community and who are terribly concerned for the welfare of its members as we continue to struggle for ways to increase our security without compromising our most cherished values.

As an American citizen, I want very much to trust in my government at a time like this. I want very much to trust that we are doing what’s in the best interests of this country and all its citizens. I must say, however, that my trust is being eroded by a combination of “extreme circumstance” excuses, secret evidence privileges, surprise raids on the homes of respected Muslim leaders, and sentiments by our chief law enforcement officer (i.e., Mr. Ashcroft) and the religious culture of his roots (e.g., Franklin Graham) which betray a profound ignorance of and antipathy toward Islam.

Not long after the day of our great national tragedy, with courage and foresight you came before the American people and stated quite explicitly that our war was not a war on Islam and Muslim peoples. I, for one, believe you were–and are–sincere in this belief. I wonder, however, whether this important statement still rings true. As you know, it’s not enough simply to say that the rights and dignity of American Muslims will be protected during this trying episode in our history. Certain clearly defined steps must be taken, and firm commitments made to see to it that this be the case.

Are such steps being taken? If they are, many of us both within and without the Muslim community cannot identify them. Have such commitments been made? If so, many of us do not recognize them or see them being carried out.

In the name of God, and in the name of all that is noble and good in our great nation, I respectfully implore you to take immediate and concrete steps to prove to all Americans–and the rest of the world–that the rights and dignity of the Muslim community in the U.S. will be afforded all the protection they legally and morally deserve.

Once again, thank you for your leadership. And, as always, may God bless you and guide you to act solely to His greater glory.

Sincerely yours,

Scott C. Alexander, Ph.D.

Scott C. Alexander, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Islam, Director of Catholic-Muslim Studies and Chair, Department of Cross-Cultural Ministries at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL, USA.