Monday, February 4, 2008

The Demonization of Islam

2/4/2008--A very disturbing, and extremely well-done, story appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday. The story illustrates the self-defeating way the American government treats Muslims, even American citizens, in the post 9-11 age.

The story, written by Sally Kalson, describes how Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni, a naturalized American citizen born in Egypt, was stripped of his security clearance and barred from continuing to work at Bechtel Bettis, Inc., where he had worked as a nuclear physicist, without any complaint against him, for 18 years.

After Dr. El-Ganayni was removed as chaplain in a Pennsylvania State Prison, he was questioned by FBI agents about a book he distributed to inmates at the Prison and about speeches he made in local mosques and prayers that he led.

The actions of the FBI in the story ranged from the bizarre—questioning whether a book about ant behavior was a hidden code for suicide bombing (despite the fact that the offending passage was lifted from biologist Edward O. Wilson and despite the fact that no one heard Dr. El-Ganayni ever utter support for violence)—to the outrageous. The FBI asked for explanations of the meaning of passages from the Qur’an, as if Islam itself were a terrorist organization and as if the Bible did not contain passages condoning genocide.

Reading the story, it was obvious that the FBI did not really care about these other matters. What got Dr. El-Ganayni in trouble was his opposition to the FBI effort to recruit informants from within the American Muslim community. He did oppose this effort, stating specifically in the story that “it’s not good for us to report on each other… .”

All Americans should understand the resistance of a community to this kind of government spying. As I wrote on this blog in September, “I would feel the same way if asked by the FBI to report on even genuinely illegal activity in my synagogue.”

I know Dr. El-Ganayni personally and no doubt that colors my certainty that he is both loyal to America and a peace-loving man. But anyone reading the article is likely to suspect that there is nothing to the allegations against him.

What we are seeing in the treatment of Dr. El-Ganayni, as well as in many other instances, is the demonization of Islam. This is unjust, but it is also short-sighted. America cannot win the war on terrorism without convincing the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world that America does not wish to wage war on Islam, but only to protect itself against violence by a relative handful of heretical Muslims. Every story like that about Dr. El-Ganayni undermines any such protestation. And religious people in this country should remember that they always come for the “others” first, before they come for you.

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