A LETTER FROM JACOB BENDER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CAIR-PHILADELPHIA
Dear Friends and Supporters of CAIR-Philadelphia, As Salaam Alaikum:
Exactly thirteen years ago today, on that late summer morning of September 11, 2001, the world — and the American Muslim community — were forever altered by the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington DC.
The lives of millions of American Muslims continue to be impacted by the long dark shadows of the falling Twin Towers. We should all be thankful that the Council on American-Islamic Relations already existed on the morning September 11th, for it is no exaggeration to say that in the years after 9/11, it was CAIR that became the leading voice of the Muslim American community by:
- Condemning the attacks as a desecration of Islam;
- Publicizing the worldwide Muslim condemnation of Al-Qaeda;
- Cautioning that the US invasion of Iraq and the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan — with its legacy of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Afghan, and American dead and wounded, and a still increasing price tag of trillions of dollars — would be an unmitigated disaster for American interests;
- Warning of the dangers of an endless “War on Terror” to the relationship between the US and the Muslim world;
- Defending Muslims in America against illegal government surveillance and private discrimination; and finally,
- Countering the bigotry of the Islamophobic network by educating non-Muslim Americans about the true nature of Islam as a religion or peace and justice.
CAIR has led the defense of the American Muslim community despite weathering bigoted attacks and countless false accusations. It is a record in which the organization and its supporters should take pride. It is one reason that I am so honored to be working with CAIR-Philadelphia, as I approach the first anniversary of my appointment as its Executive Director.
As some of you know, 9/11 impacted the future of my family in profound ways. My own response to the attacks was to spend 12 years producing and screening my documentary film “Out of Cordoba“, a labor of love that led to my deep involvement with the American Muslim community, extensive travel in the Arab world (including lecturing at Al-Azhar University in Cairo), and ultimately to CAIR-Philadelphia.
And for the past six years, my wife Katharina has served as Operations Manager of “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows“, an amazing group of people — all of whom lost loved ones on 9/11 — who joined together in 2003 to oppose the American war in Iraq, and who have attempted to turn their grief into sources of reconciliation and peace.
On this, the 13th Commemoration of 9/11, “September 11th Families” is launching an ad campaign to promote interfaith understanding and address the scourge of Islamophobia that has risen in recent years. Below is their poster which will be placed in the New York City public transportation system.
One of the members of “September 11th Families” is a Muslim woman named Talat Hamdani. Talat’s son Salman, a New York City police cadet, was a “first responder” at Ground Zero and was killed by the falling towers, only to come under suspicion himself, as a Muslim, in the first days after the attack. Talat’s sorrow, her courage and her steadfastness, should be a beacon of hope to all who seek peace. To see a short video about Talat, click here.
I have continued to be inspired by “September 11th Families,” as I have by the continuing warm welcome I have received throughout the Philadelphia Muslim community, and the commitment of your community to an Islamic vision of justice, inclusiveness and pluralism.
Yet, tragically, 13 years after the World Trade Center was agonizingly transformed into Ground Zero, the “Post-9/11 World” has overnight become the “ISIS World,” with its spectacle of chattering talking-heads and ignorant “terrorism experts” vying with each other for air and face time on network and cable TV, radio, the internet, and social media. That American foreign policy might have contributed to the current disaster in Iraq and Syria is rarely or ever mentioned in the American mainstream media.
No matter the historical amnesia that appears at times to be guiding American foreign policy, CAIR believes it is the religious and moral responsibility of Muslims to condemn injustice, especially when committed by Muslims:
“Oh you who believe: Be persistently firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or your parents and relatives.” (Qur’an 4:135).
No more fitting condemnation of ISIS — and their chilling executions, mass murders, and expulsions — can be uttered than this verse from the Qur’an. CAIR has again taken the lead in reminding the American public that terrorism and brutality against unarmed civilians is an affront to Islam, as I have reiterated in the over 50 interviews I have given to the media in the past year.
Nonviolence is not just a tactic, but a goal in and of itself. With all due respect to President Obama, the defeat of ISIS — and the building of foundation of peace and security for all the peoples of the Middle East — cannot be built upon a bombing campaign, as the carnage of Israel’s campaign in Gaza this past summer made abundantly and brutally clear. (Israel is arguably less secure after the summer than before, as its killing of over 500 children has guaranteed the continuation of anger and despair among its neighbors.)
As the President said in his speech last night, there are no quick solutions to the tragedies unfolding in Iraq and Syria. Yet, anyone knowing the history of Western intervention in the Arab and Muslim world must surely realize that this intervention often contributes to the growth of violent extremism.
Guided by a commitment to Islamic values, CAIR continues to advocate for an alternative to the present American policies of permanent warfare.
“And Allah invites to the Home of Peace and guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (Qur’an 10:25).
On this day of remembrance, please help CAIR build this “Home of Peace” by supporting our work through your generous donations.
With my best regards,