If there are "moderate" Muslims, I still hear critics ask, why don't they condemn Islamic terrorism? In fact, most Muslims do condemn such barbaric acts, but their critics aren't always listening.
Arsalan Iftikhar could tell you. He has been condemning Sept. 11 since that very morning. Having turned 24 years old 10 days earlier, he calls it his "second birthday," the day he was "reborn" as a voice for millions of American Muslims, whether he intended to be or not.
The suburban Chicago native and son of Pakistani immigrants was a law student at Washington University in St. Louis when he watched the twin towers fall on TV. He was also Midwest communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations. It was time, he decided, to start communicating.
"I was working with the largest civil rights group for Muslims in America, and I knew that we Muslims were going to have to condemn this right away."
He wrote an open letter, mourning the tragedy and condemning its perpetrators. "Let it be known that people of all creeds perished Tuesday," he wrote in part. "Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists were all victims of this unspeakable tragedy. This act was not consistent with the teachings of Islam, nor can it be condoned by any living human soul."
Within a couple of days, his essay appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and other newspapers. TV called. Soon he was on "The O'Reilly Factor," "Today," BBC World News and on and on. "From there I was doing 20 interviews a day," he told me, also in an interview.
He denounced the "godless maniacs" who "lost their bloody minds" with the "bobble-headed terrorist, Osama bin Laden." For this he received a mix of praise and death threats. "When you're basically the Muslim guy on TV, you have a bull's-eye on you," he told me.
He has since embraced that title at TheMuslimGuy.com, which he founded in Washington, D.C., where he's an international human rights lawyer.
And I was not surprised to hear that he also has a book coming out soon, "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era." As a non-Muslim-American who looks for silver linings in our occasionally boiling melting pot, I like the sound of that. Perhaps the uprisings known as "Arab spring" signal the end of a long winter of Osama bin Laden-style backwardness that infects the Muslim world.
Like Iftikhar, I like to think that bin Laden was a sad and lonely man in his final days as a new generation of Arabs and Muslims appeared to be rejecting autocratic rule while elbowing al-Qaida to the sidelines. And here in the states, American Muslims overwhelmingly ignored or openly resisted bin Laden's call for new recruits and terrorist warfare against the country he hated so much.
Unfortunately, there have been some hate-related crimes against innocent, law-abiding Muslims. But fortunately, there also have been encouraging acts of kindness. It is an unfortunate irony that President Obama has not felt as free as President George W. Bush to stand with American Muslims. Although Obama has proudly visited mosques overseas as president, a recent Washington Post story noted, he has not visited any here.
I understand. Too many Americans still incorrectly believe he's a Muslim. If they believe that somehow that makes him less American, they don't know him or Muslims -- or America.