American Muslim organizations again have come out in full force to object to something unobjectionable. This time they're angry about 24 , the popular TV drama on Fox. When a recent episode ended with a terrorist network detonating a nuclear device in a Los Angeles suburb, the Council on American Islamic Relations announced its fear that "this would serve to increase anti-Muslim prejudice in American society."
This season's premiere follows an 11-week run of suicide bombings, apparently by radical Islamist terror cells, in cities across the country.
It's time for Muslims to stop blaming the messenger and stoking the flames of victimization. Instead of blaming Hollywood for depicting what many New Yorkers, Spaniards and Londoners have already horrifically experienced first hand, we should thank 24's producers for giving us an opportunity to experience within the protection of fiction the grim realities of what we need to wake up to.
What actually harms our current predicament as American Muslims more – television like the fictional 24 or recent factual events across the globe? Arrests in the past few years of known Muslim radicals in Seattle, Lodi, Toronto, Lackawanna, Miami and London seem to spur less activity from leading Muslim organizations than a fictional drama like 24.
As an American and as a Muslim, I find 24 to be a profoundly engaging program. Its plotline ignites the most genuine sense of American Muslim fury within me against the radicals who attack our citizens and malign our faith with their political barbarism.
24's portrayal of Muslims is actually quite fair. In the show, the president's sister works for a leading Muslim civil rights organization in D.C.; she is portrayed as a protector of constitutional freedoms. The head of this Muslim organization, who is in detention, actually risks his life in order to report to authorities on other Muslim prisoners and terrorism-related conversations that have alarmed him.
The show also shows the darker, extremist side of political Islam, or Islamism. For example, an Arab Muslim youth, a previously beloved neighbor in suburban LA, turns out to be a terrorist thug who provides a key part of the nuclear device.
Many heroic Muslims have certainly privately aided our security in finding and dismantling such networks behind the scenes. But, as a faith community we have done virtually nothing publicly to fight the core political religious ideology that breeds terror.
For American Muslims, 24 offers an opportunity to address a key question: To the extent Muslims have a bad image on TV and in American culture, what can we do to change that? We need to provide a new and very public American Muslim reality that can then be written into future Hollywood scripts.
The public face of American Muslim activity against terror – and against the ideology that feeds it – has so far been inadequate. Other than press-release condemnations, there has been virtually no palpable concerted public effort from the greater Muslim community in this regard. If that public American Muslim movement against Islamism and its radical offshoots existed, 24's writers would have included it in the story line.
So if this drama hits too close to home, perhaps offended Muslims should use that fear as a visceral stimulus for change. It's time for hundreds of thousands of Muslims to be not only private but public in their outrage – and to commit themselves to specific open engagement of the militants and their Islamism.
We, as American Muslims, should be training and encouraging our Muslim youths to become the future Jack Bauers of America. What better way to dispel stereotypes than to create hundreds of new, real images of Muslims who are publicly leading this war on the battlefield and in the domestic and foreign media against the militant Islamists.
We need to create organizations – high-profile, well-funded national organizations and think tanks – that are not afraid to identify al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood by name and by their mission, as the enemies of America.
Political Islam cannot be defeated by non-Muslims. It can only be defeated from the position of a spiritual love for our own faith, which needs to be liberated from theocracy.
To regain our credibility, this movement will need to specifically launch the following:
- Public Muslim analysis and criticism of Islamist sermons and their exclusivist ideologies.
- Public debate over the rightful place of sharia (literal religious laws) at home, not in government.
- Public effective encouragement of our youth to enlist in the military, homeland security and other frontline security agencies.
- Public deconstruction of the so-called Islamic goal of a caliphate and the political nature of the ummah (the Muslim community), which threatens national sovereignty.
- Public and specific identification of the enemies of America and the enemies of a pluralistic Islam.
That is just a start. We should also remember to never give any one Muslim organization or any single Muslim too much credit on behalf of the entire faith community.
The reality remains that if Muslims, our organizations and various Muslim leaders publicly created just such a national and generational plan to fight Islamism – rather than searching for reasons to claim victimization – the issues and complaints surrounding such TV shows as 24 would disappear.