Muslim message falling on deaf ears

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

You could tell he’d had enough.

I’m talking about Ibrahim Hooper. If the name is familiar, it’s because Hooper, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, has become the news media’s go-to guy on issues related to Islam and terrorism.

This particular morning, he was being interviewed on an all-news radio station in Washington when the anchor asked a pointed, predictable question: Why don’t we ever hear Muslims and Muslim leaders condemn terrorist atrocities carried out in the name of their faith?

You could almost hear the vein in Hooper’s temple begin to vibrate. He answered in a frustrated voice that he in fact condemns such barbarity all the time, and that he e-mails statements saying so to a wide variety of news outlets, including this particular anchor’s own station. The newsman said he’d never received such a statement. Hooper asked for his e-mail address.

He was still fuming when I reached him by phone an hour later. The question, he said, surfaces in every radio interview. “I spend half my time writing condemnations of terrorism,” he told me, “and nobody seems to be paying attention. And when we say something like, ‘Gee, an Islamic Center in El Paso was firebombed on Friday, isn’t that worthy of condemnation, too?’ … it’s almost as if people believe Muslims deserve it.”

The reference was to an incident a little more than a week ago wherein a man tossed a beer bottle full of gasoline with a makeshift wick at a group of Muslim kids. Tragedy was averted when the gasoline failed to ignite. CAIR has asked Texas officials to speak out against what it calls “Islamophobia.” At this writing, there has been no response.

I support CAIR’s contention that it condemns Islamic terrorism, having frequently seen such statements in news coverage and on the group’s Web site. “I don’t know what more we can do,” Hooper said.

But it occurs to me that maybe we’re debating the wrong question. Maybe it isn’t why don’t American Muslims condemn terrorism. Maybe it’s why should they have to.

I am reminded of a 1985 controversy in Los Angeles. Louis Farrakhan was coming to give a speech, and Jewish leaders were pressuring Tom Bradley, the city’s mayor, to denounce him. Bradley, a black, believed he had negotiated a deal with Farrakhan to moderate his rhetoric, and he refused. If there was an agreement, Farrakhan reneged. In his speech, he called Israel a “wicked hypocrisy.”

Still, some of us were irked by the Jewish leaders’ demand. Bradley enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a cross-cultural coalition builder; there was nothing about him that indicated even a whiff of anti-Semitism. But in requiring him to denounce Farrakhan, leaders of the Jewish community seemed to say none of that mattered, seemed to say he still needed to prove himself.

Hooper can relate. “This thing of, you’ve got to jump through these certain hoops and if you don’t jump through these hoops you’re with the enemy, it’s getting kind of old,” he said.

Indeed, it’s a paradigm that’s as old as pluralistic society. It would never occur to us to require that Billy Graham condemn Eric Rudolph, the nominal Christian who allegedly bombed two abortion clinics, a gay nightclub and the Atlanta Olympics.

But the rules are different for minorities, whether religious, sexual or racial. Them we keep on probation, their acceptance conditioned on an unspoken understanding that their loyalty to our mores is always suspect.

It’s not fair, but it is real. So Hooper swallows his frustration and dutifully sends out a statement of condemnation every time some Muslim fanatic misbehaves.

At the end of our conversation, I thanked him for his time. He asked for my e-mail address.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com