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Open Letter to the Arab and Muslim Communities
in the US and the West
(Arab-Westerners and Muslim-Westerners)

 Arab-American and Muslim-Americans and the entire Arab and Muslim communities in the Western world are now living in a very negative environment affected by the tragic events that took place in New York and Washington DC on the morning of Sept 11, 2001. They are also afraid that such horrific events could be repeated in other places. They are worried about their future as citizens in Western countries. They are concerned and angry that the media is tarnishing their image, more so since those who committed the terrible crimes had been residents of the West and the US.  These fears and concerns are legitimate; however, Arabs and Muslims in the West have a historic opportunity to establish bridges with the rest of the communities in their respective countries. It is high time for them to embark on a large-scale and sustained effort to educate their neighbors, their friends, and their entire nation about their heritage, their religion and their customs.  This is an opportunity to correct the negative image that has been portrayed by the media over the years.   

Arab and Muslim citizens of the Western world are at a critical juncture in their history. They can either fall into the trap of isolation and self-accusation, or they can become active in their communities, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their countrymen in the West who risk falling or have already fallen into the trap of hate and discrimination.  The Arab and Muslim citizens of the West must fulfill their duties and obligations toward their respective Western countries, and they must also take full advantage of the human, social, economic, and political rights granted to them by the constitution of their country. They must affirm their commitments to their new country, and they must be proud of their contributions to the new society and the fact that they are not a burden on their communities but rather full contributors to the tremendous economic success of the nation. It is no secret that Arab and Muslim citizens have been very successful in all aspects of political and economic life, contributing significantly to their country, especially in taxes! 

Arab and Muslim citizens of the Western world must emphasize and fully practice the civil and constitutional rights. This includes freedom of speech and expression, the right for protection under the law for all citizens regardless of color, race, gender, religion and ethnicity.  This means that any hate crime or act of discrimination, no matter how small one might think it is, must be reported to the police and other law enforcement officials.  In cases of physical violence or psychological distress, one should also consider filing law suits and seeking compensation.

At this critical time, the Arab and Muslim citizens of the Western world must continue with their normal lives, using reasonable caution, of course, and they should not feel isolated and afraid.  They should engage in dialogue with their communities and be active in their local associations and social centers, even if that requires asking for protection from local law enforcement officers.  It is the duty of local police to protect all citizens and lawful activities.

It is important that there be peaceful protests against any hate crimes and acts of discrimination that may occur against individuals, places of worship, social centers or any other property.  Peaceful gatherings and rallies at important intersections especially in the evening are a good way to get attention. Carry candles and ONLY flags of your country of residence!  There should not be flags of any other country!  Posters or pictures should not be carried, but pamphlets describing the reason for the gathering and the danger of racism on the country should be distributed.  It may be more effective to have such gatherings with other local anti-discrimination associations and organizations.  Of course, be sure to inform the local police of such intended activities and obtain permits, if required, beforehand.  

Finally, Arab and Muslim citizens of the Western world have five main obligations that can be summarizedas follows:

1)  Challenge the current negative atmosphere that seeks to assert that the struggle is between the Christian West and the Muslim East! This negative campaign can be countered by distributing articles that categorically discredit such claims.

2)  Engage in dialogue with all members of the local community from all races, religions and backgrounds, to address their concerns and answer their questions about Islam and Arab cultures. The dialogue must be conducted in a very calm, friendly and receptive atmosphere no matter how HOT and sensitive the topic may be!

3)  Members of the Arab and Muslim communities must organize their social and intellectual affairs by more effective means.

4)  There must be coordinated activities (not competition!) among all Arab and Muslim associations and social groups. We are all in the same boat!

5)  Finally, Arab and Muslim countries must be influenced to reduce their level of rhetoric and negative sentiments! They must also be engaged in dialogue to help them better understand the Western world and its human culture, and not to lump governmental policies and average citizens together into one basket!

It is time for all Arab-Westerners and Muslim-Westerners to engage their countrymen in the West in an open dialogue. Reach out to your neighbors and their churches and temples. Educate them about your culture, heritage and religion. Make them understand and appreciate that you are part of thier community, that you are just as loyal to your new country as they are.
                                                                                            -Al-Hewar Center  (09/25/2001)


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