Court tactic troubles Muslim community
By AREF ASSAF
The American inquisition against Islam and its adherents has started. Guilt by association and insinuations has superseded presumption of innocence and due process. Signs of anti-Muslim rhetoric, actions, and even policies have been a dominant feature of relations with the American Muslim community since the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. government has steadfastly denied allegations of harboring such sentiments or condoning anti-Muslim tactics.
We hope so.
Still, a misstep with potentially serious ramifications unfolded during the second day of the Imam Mohammad Qatanani’s immigration trial when a religious text was used to embarrass a rabbi who has come to the aid of his Muslim friend. If we do not appropriately deal with this transgression, no one could possibly predict the long-term ramifications.
While cross-examining Rabbi David Senter, who was testifying as to his knowledge of and friendship with Imam Qatanani, the U.S. prosecutor read a statement about how God has divided people into righteous believers, disbelievers, and hypocrites.
The government lawyers then asked the rabbi if he found it discomforting that such a statement was coming from the imam and is based on his Muslim religion.
This brought a dramatic response from the rabbi. He said that in every religion, one can easily find disagreeable words or statements, including the Jewish and Christian scriptures.
Notwithstanding, such passages should never be used by anyone to condemn the followers of a particular faith. He reminded people of how Jewish and Christian scripture were used during the Spanish Inquisition to discredit Jewish leaders, force them to convert and kill them if they refused.
The rabbi’s statement was indeed a proud moment, a triumphant rebuttal to those who seek to cause sectarian friction and disunity.
A careful examination of the imam’s sermon in question provides little clues as to the prosecution’s intentions. One could easily deduce that the government, to use its words, was simply on a “fishing expedition” to debase the public support the imam has received from so many interfaith leaders.
Still, reliance on out-of-context quotations to castigate our faith has been the hallmark of many right-wing pundits and self-anointed Islamophobes.
It is inconceivable that our own government would condone or utilize such specious tactics especially in a court of law. My gripe is not with the use of a relevant and specific statement or Koranic verse in such a setting but with the very notion of so irreverently diverting legal proceedings into religious bashing and xenophobic
I believe the government’s plot was more menacing. By reading the statement, it seems the government hoped to create a wedge not only between the rabbi and the imam but more so between the Muslim and Jewish communities. Considering the volatile political divide that separates Muslims and Jews over Israel/Palestine, it is presumed that government lawyers were intent on instigating doubts and even distrust.
It is my belief that because of these two visionary individuals, New Jersey’s interfaith efforts are considered a model for other states.
Undoubtedly, the imam and the rabbi have risked personal reputations to forge a deeper respect for the differences but more so to celebrate the commonalities that unite two monotheistic faiths. Neither is without criticisms from within their rank and file for their outreach efforts.
The Muslim community feels disillusioned by what is happening to Imam Qatanani. He has come to symbolize everything good and positive about the emerging community. Its massive and public support for the imam can be seen as a reflection of the community’s growing resentment of and distrust in our government’s perceived intentions to shatter the achievements of the Imam.
An attack on the imam’s good character is seen by many as a direct and indeed a personal insult to every member of the Muslim community and all its friends from across the ethnic and religious spectrum.
I hope this court incident will not prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Aref Assaf, Ph.D., president of the Paterson based think tank, American Arab Forum, which specializes in Arab and Muslim Affairs.