What’s a Muslim American supposed to do?

Off the Beat

On Dec. 6, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on the San Bernardino tragedy, “the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.” The president discussed both his policy position and the need for Muslim Americans to be proactive in fighting terrorism, all within a concise 12-minute speech. Some might focus on the fact that the president of the free world didn’t take a commercial break to get closer to filling a 30-minute television slot. But what caught my attention was what Obama had to say about the role of Muslim Americans in combatting terrorism. “Muslims must confront, without excuse,” extremist ideology, he declared. And as a patriotic Muslim American, I totally agree with the president. I’m just waiting for the White House to tell me how to do it.

I will readily admit that there are problems in “some Muslim communities,” as our president put it, but I’m just wondering how to find those communities. Should I try to get invited over to the homes of every first-generation Muslim I meet? I’m willing to do some snooping around for my country. After all, I did dress up as Sherlock Holmes for Halloween.

Maybe that is overly ambitious — besides, there are watch lists already, right? Obama should just email me a list of names in my area, and I’ll invite them over to Peet’s for coffee and a danish. That way, I can get my caffeine fix and fight budding extremists. I’ll call it “Operation Cup of Jihad Joe.”

I guess I’m wondering: If our president believes that “it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization,” what do I do if I’m a Muslim in the United States, and I don’t know any extremists? Sadly, I’m not the “typical Muslim” who is supposed to know where those pesky jihadis hang out so I can give them a stern talking to. In fact, I really don’t know all that many Muslims in the United States to begin with. As it turns out, there aren’t that many of us here.

I’d also love to “decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda promote,” as Obama encouraged. And I am all for speaking out “against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance.” I just hope that radicalized individuals will think about the pro/con charts I can make for them before planning their next act of terror. Again, I’m all for speaking out against acts of violence, but my guess is that radicals aren’t willing to listen to me — except my friend Abass. Not only is he a great listener, but the things he can do with a skateboard can only be described as “radical.”

Obama made clear that we must “reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.” This is only slightly ironic, because it was prefaced with an admonishment that Muslim Americans need to do a better job of babysitting extremism. I guess being a good Muslim American involves accepting burdens based on a connection that can be as tenuous as sharing funny sounding names — thankfully our president doesn’t see this as being treated differently. I’m willing to ride a bald eagle to the Levant for my country, but I’m a bit weary singling out all Muslim Americans, as needing to combat extremism creates an impression that we are somehow at fault for not preventing terror attacks. The last thing I was sure I was at fault for was leaving the toilet seat up, and even then it might have been the person after me.

If I could make a humble suggestion to our president, I’d point out that rhetoric like “Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us” is unproductive. It both creates a false equivalence between Muslims Americans and those around the globe, ignoring a world of difference in practices, dogmas and traditions. It also creates an unnecessary us-versus-them dichotomy.

I’m still on your side, Mr. President. I get it though. Being a Muslim today is just plain difficult. I feel as powerless as everyone else to stop terrorism, but the only difference is that people keep yelling at me to fix things. All I’m saying is that if I can’t put an Ikea drawer together when my parents are yelling in the background, how am I supposed to win a multinational ideological war — especially if I’m working off information as flimsy as those Ikea wrenches?

I still have no doubt “America will prevail,” Mr. President. I’m just waiting for more instructions on what the hell you want me to do — besides your job, apparently.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff writers until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected.

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