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The latest display of an anti-Muslim slogan sign near a recently built mosque in Clarence shows how we Americans have been influenced by actions of a minority of Muslims who have successfully distorted the image of a religion, which in sixth- and seventh-century Arabia was a pioneer in advocating social justice. Muslims, Jews, and Christians, along with other religious groups, have lived in peace for centuries next door to each other in large and small communities around the world. Religion has never been a dividing factor until the colonization of underdeveloped countries: first by Europeans, followed by Americans, who continued the tradition by their takeover of the American Indian nations.

Then politics started entering into the picture, followed closely by economics and wealth resources, such as oil. Although oil has brought much wealth for a certain class, it has also caused friction between communities and has created very wide gaps in terms of social classes in the Middle East.

Last week during a long return trip by train from a conference on conflict resolution recently held in Tarrytown, New York, I had a lot of time to reflect on the notion of Islam phobia, which has been headlining in the news. A number of articles in print media have described a recent event in which several Muslim clerics, on their way to a conference on Islam phobia, were barred from boarding the plane.

A fellow mediator earlier on at the conference had asked me: “Is there any hope of resolution between Muslims and [non-Muslim] Americans?” I said, “Not until we take the religion out of the relationship.”

Simply put, the words Islam and Muslim create discomfort in many people’s minds, as if Islam is a disease which could spread and take over America. But Islam is like the theory of relativity. Everybody has heard of it but not many understand it, and of course we have the extremists to thank for that. Let us see if we can explain it from the point of view of familiar concepts from the Constitution of the United States, which our nation is built upon.

Our Constitution is based on a set of principals derived from religious beliefs (the Ten Commandments), which form the basis of Christianity. These principles are the bedrock of our civil and criminal laws that lawyers use in court rooms every day. These principles are at the heart of how we try to live our daily lives, our moral code of conduct. We as Americans are proud of our Constitution and we refer to it so often and in so many ways that we may not even realize it. The First Amendment, which declares our right to Freedom of Speech, is one of many principals that almost every person from other nations around the globe envies and refers to when asked why they desire to be Americans. Islamic laws (Shariah), like our Constitution, are derived from sets of principals set by the Koran and practiced by its prophet in his lifetime. Muslims try to live within the set of parameters that are exemplified by the prophet’s righteous conduct.

Recent polls show that 45 percent of Americans believe that the state of conflict with Muslim societies is rooted in either religion or culture. However, the primary motivation of extremist Muslim violence and terrorism is political grievances towards dictatorship governments of their own, not religion and culture. Keep in mind that our government’s support of the Middle East’s governing dictators has tarnished the American image as the champion of democracy and human rights. Our government does not have the same standard of human rights outside of our country and in dealings with foreign nations.

Why is the distinction and clarification between roots of the problem important? If we understand that the root cause of Muslim-West tensions is political, then tension between Muslims and non-Muslims could be avoidable. However, when we think of terrorism as religious in motivation, then the tension is unavoidable. Mediators are very familiar with the importance of the “framing” of a conflict. Here, if the conflict is framed as “political,” people are more likely to work to find a solution. But bring in the religion and it becomes morality issue, and religion speaks to feelings that are closer to the heart. This is in our minds much harder to get past.

Muslim terrorists try hard to find verses from the Koran to justify their destructive behaviors, as all fundamentalists do, regardless of the religion. Shakespeare has said that the devil cites scripture to support his position. Terrorists do the same.

On a more personal level, those who commit “honor killings” also attempt to justify their actions by relating them to religion and culture. Once religion and culture is considered the justifiable source, then it is a losing battle for those who oppose the so-called religion-motivated acts. Moderate Muslims refer to scriptures in order to equate Islam with peace and social justice; extremists cite verses from the Koran to advocate violence and destruction.

To use a metaphor for the necessity to view Muslim extremism as political rather than religious, let us ask: Why is it important for doctors to distinguish one disease from the other? Why not call all forms of cancer just that instead of distinguishing between pancreatic versus stomach or renal cancer? Why is finding the root of a disease vital to the search for cure? Isn’t it that the cure must target the specification of the disease to eliminate it, or try to? Similarly, if the root of Middle Eastern “Muslim” extremism is political, but we are calling it religious, then we will attempt to cure the wrong thing. Which means no matter how hard we try to eliminate the disease it will grow back, perhaps even more resilient.

In my research and findings since the decapitation of Orchard Park resident Assya by her husband Mo Hassan, I have realized that we Americans are the most politically correct people, even at times where there is a necessity of labeling deadly behavior. But if we don’t distinguish domestic violence homicide from honor killings, then we may not be able to fight the belief at the root of such killings. Again, we will miss the mark and not address the real issue. The root of honor killings is not religion, but patriarchy and chauvinistic Arabs. If we as Muslims and non-Muslims all agree that the root is non-religious, then let us find out why majority of honor killings are done by Muslims on Muslims. We need much more representation from moderate Muslim communities not only to denounce these crimes but to actually confront and challenge those Muslims who are killing under the name of and disguised of religion and culture. Silence at times of grievances is unspoken support.

We, as Americans—Muslim, Jew, Christian, and all other religions alike—should remember that our essential beliefs and laws are based on a code of conduct that is generally considered universal, a code that has even been found to exist amongst societies who had no Bible and no Koran. We must remember that the majority of Muslims uphold the same moral code as the Christian and the Jew. As Jefferson said centuries ago: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

God bless.

Nadia N. Shahram, Esq., Buffalo

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