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Interview: Rocking Against Peter King

Salman Ahmad, a Pakistani-American activist, rock star, UN goodwill ambassador, and author of the book "Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution"
Salman Ahmad, a Pakistani-American activist, rock star, UN goodwill ambassador, and author of the book "Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution"
American Muslims organized rallies that they were calling "I Am Muslim Too" to protest against the March 10 hearing in the U.S. Congress on the perceived "radicalization" of American Muslims. Among those opposed to the hearing -- which was called by congressman Peter King (Republican, New York) -- is Salman Ahmad, a Pakistani-American activist, rock star, UN goodwill ambassador, and author of the book "Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution." He has been an active participant in rallies to protest the hearing. In an interview with RFE/RL's Muhammad Tahir, Ahmad described the hearing as "racist" and "un-American." He warned that it would divide the nation and alienate American Muslims.

RFE/RL: Can you tell us why you are opposed to Congressman King's hearing?

Salman Ahmad: Well, I think the premise is based on it being un-American, bigoted and racist.

RFE/RL: Why do you say it is un-American?

Salman: At this rally I attended on March 8 in Times Square -- I want to quote the Rabbi Mark Shiner who spoke -- [Shiner said that] 'To single out Muslim Americans as the source of homegrown terrorism and not examine all forms of violence motivated by extremist elite is an injustice.' And I would add to that that not only is it an injustice and bigoted, but it is going to help the extremist agenda in America by dividing it through fear. Extremists want to create fear so that they can divide communities. And so what these hearings do by focusing on Muslims, Muslim-Americans, is almost as if it’s a group indictment. Rather than helping create a more hopeful and united America, it’s going to create further division.

RFE/RL: Congressman King alleges that Muslims haven't done enough after 9/11 to fight terrorism. What's your response?

Ahmad: Three to four years ago "Newsweek" magazine did a cover story on American Muslims -- I think it was called 'Islam in America." According to a Pew poll, at that time it showed that Muslim Americans are in the top 20 percent of the economic bracket; they are [in] the top 20 percent of the education bracket; they have constituted the community as teachers, cab drivers, CEOs, authors, musicians. So the fact is when you look at American Muslims, it is a very different social stratum as compared to Muslim immigrant communities in Europe or elsewhere who are not as affluent as American Muslims. So I think this disingenuous plan to lump all Muslims together under one umbrella is naïve, at best.

RFE/RL: Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square last year, appeared to be an integrated member of American society. Yet he planned an attack that was aimed in killing his fellow citizens. How do we prevent these types of things from happening?

Ahmad: Absolutely the best way to further violence is to target the entire Muslim community and look at them being complicit. One should build bridges with Muslims in America who consider themselves American first and Muslims second. In order to prevent future terrorist attacks or any member of the community who is getting radicalized, the best way to do it is to build bridges and not cast aspersions on them.

RFE/RL: Do you think the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the radicalization of Muslims in America in some way?

Ahmad: If you look at the two or three instances that took place, one was at Fort Hood, where, I forget the name of the individual, I think it was a psychologist who went berserk. And then there was this novice attack, and why I call it a novice attack is because this Shahzad was someone who didn’t even know how to build a bomb. The fact is that it was Faisal Shahzad's parents who first of all noticed his odd behavior. Also the failed Nigerian bomber, it was his father who alerted the embassy in Nigeria. My point is, within communities, if there is radicalization, you need to build bridges. You don't need to alienate them. If you alienate them, you will have a greater chance of people being radicalized because they will feel themselves being wrongly accused.

RFE/RL: My question was whether the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the radicalization of Muslims in the USA?

Ahmad: I don't have any stats on that at all. But the fact is, for example: the guy who went to Arizona and shot 18 people including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, one could say that because of the divisive politics in the US that that's happening. I don't know what the stats are on that. But to prevent radicalization, if the aim is to keep America safe, we need to build bridges with American Muslims, not destroy them.

RFE/RL: Then can we say that Muslims in America perceive events like the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan the same way that other Americans do?

Ahmad: I think most Americans, whether they are Jewish Americans or Irish or Catholic or Muslim, now believe that George Bush's war based on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction has been exposed as a lie. So, yes, I think all Americans know that the war in Iraq was based on a false premise.

RFE/RL: At this stage when the hearing will be taking place and you are having rallies, do you worry about increasing sentiments against Muslims in the United States?

Ahmad: Well, if you look back into American history, Joseph McCarthy and the famous McCarthy trials, this was to cast aspersions on anyone who had communist connections. Many, many Americans -- hard-working, sincere American lives -- were turned upside-down because of the McCarthy trials. Similarly, [Former FBI director] J. Edgar Hoover attacked the civil liberties of Americans based on racial, political, and religious leanings. So Peter King is the latest incarnation of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover.

RFE/RL: Can American-Muslims be treated as a single group? They come from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, don't they?

Ahmad: Well, if you read "Newsweek"'s cover story about Islam which came out a couple of years ago, "Islam in America," the cover picture of that magazine shows you the incredible diversity of American Muslims. You have African-American, you have European, South Asian -- it covers 57-plus different regions of the world. They are all Americans who have come together because of the idea that America is based not on your racial or religious background but [on] if you believe in the central principles of liberty and freedom.

RFE/RL: Finally, how do you balance the need for security with the need for continuous tolerance in the United States?

Ahmad: By being smart, by not having these ham-handed approaches toward homeland security. It's about knowing that the American-Muslim community is an asset to the United States. Knowing who they are, what their belief systems are, what they do in their private lives, what they do in their public lives, and building bridges with them. That is how America will be made more secure.

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