Amplify These Voices

If any news story merits wide distribution, it's the one headlined "Muslim Leaders Wage Theological Battle, Stoking ISIS's Anger" published May 8 in the New York Times. Alas, it didn't make the Times's online "trending" list, and seems to have quickly disappeared from view.

Written by Laurie Goodstein, the article focuses on Western imams and scholars whose vigorous repudiation of ISIS has put them on the terror army's hit list. All of us, inside and outside the media, should amplify these Muslim voices, which merit at least as much coverage as those hijacking their religion.

A journalist myself, I understand why the atrocities of ISIS grab more attention than the good deeds of millions of Muslims peacefully practicing their religion. But if we are at war with ISIS, as generally agreed, then surely we ought to appreciate hearing from some of its most effective opponents.

Typically we only hear from legitimate Muslim leaders after a terrorist attack by groups or individuals, like ISIS, claiming allegiance to Islam. They are trotted out for a few comments, and you can almost hear cable and network news producers say, "Check," before swiftly moving on.

Not surprisingly, at times like this Muslim leaders are on the defensive, airing concerns that their communities and their religion will be blamed. Meanwhile, their offensive efforts against terrorism go largely underreported.

Goodstein writes that Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American Muslim scholar based in Berkeley, Calif., "has pleaded with Muslims not to be deceived by the 'stupid young boys' of the Islamic State." Millions, she reports, "have watched excerpts from his sermon titled 'The Crisis of ISIS,' in which he wept as he asked God not to blame other Muslims 'for what these fools amongst us do.'"

Millions have watched—but not me, and probably not you. He wept. Surely that would make for some compelling television. Yes, Yusuf speaks in Arabic, but how hard would it be to attach subtitles?

"It is a religious rumble," Goodstein writes, "that barely makes headlines in the secular West since it is carried out at mosques and Islamic conferences and over social media. The Islamic State, however, has taken notice."

So has the F.B.I., which has been helping Muslim opponents of ISIS to, among other things, protect themselves. ISIS knows it's easiest to find recruits amongst those of any background who know little or nothing about Islam. Ignorance is ISIS's best friend. That's why Muslim scholars make them sweat.

If I could talk to Yusuf, I would say that for what it's worth, I can't imagine Allah blaming him and other Muslims for the barbaric deeds of ISIS. But plenty of non-Muslims do, a lot of them here in America.

Much as I hate to pile on the media, which is already being blamed (rightly, but too broadly) for helping enable an Islamophobe to become the GOP's presumptive nominee for president, the media deserves some blame for failing to amplify the voices of Yusuf and others like him in the Western world.

To be fair, when Donald Trump promised to ban all Muslims who aren't U.S. citizens from entering this country, the media amplified remarks by other politicians, Democrat and Republican, who said he had gone too far.

But to be really fair, it should have also amplified Western Muslim leaders contributing to the war effort against ISIS, many of whom, under Trump's proposal, would be banned from entering the United States.

ISIS reportedly welcomes the fear and anger Trump stokes, because it supports ISIS's narrative that the West is at war with Islam. I presume that's why Trump, to my knowledge, hasn't shown up yet on ISIS's hit list. You don't, after all, want to kill off one of your best recruiting tools.

Whether ISIS likes Trump or not, the media  is obligated to amplify his anti-Muslim rhetoric so that voters will know the stakes. Doubtless it will give equal time on this topic to the Democratic presidential nominee, and to disaffected Republicans. But the media shouldn't stop there—nor should we.




Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

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