We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
A 9/11 message from Ambassador Osman Siddique, the Chairman of AUA’s Diplomatic Council and the first Muslim-American to serve as a US ambassador.
In September, 2006, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I publicly called on American Muslims to come forward – despite some of the unfair insinuations against us – to be unequivocal in our support of homeland security, and create within our community a culture of zero tolerance towards those with extremist tendencies.
Since that time, I’ve been gratified, as an American and as a Muslim, to see that the Muslim community has played a pivotal role in the defense of our homeland. Through the cooperation and vigilance of American Muslims, many potential attacks have been averted, from New York to Oregon – cooperation due, in no small part, to the crucial positive outreach made by the Bush and Obama administrations.
With that in mind, what lessons can we draw today, as we mark the 10th anniversary of that dark September day? I believe that it is time for all Americans to join together to shape our collective destiny, both here and abroad – but most particularly American Muslims.
America faces hard times, and hard times often give fertile ground to those who play to our fears and divide our society. In many cases, faith is used as a weapon to scapegoat others. This kind of stereotyping not only misrepresents to the world what America is, but also gives fodder to those who would undercut our global standing.
While many on the right and left have created the impression that American leadership is being eclipsed across the globe, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true during my international travels – and this is nowhere more true than in the Middle East, where the Arab Spring was fueled by values and aspirations intrinsic to the American Idea.
Without getting the deserved credit, the Obama Administration has signaled a refreshingly new approach to this region. In the past, both Republican and Democratic administrations have cited geo-strategic interests and happily befriended regimes that violated the human and democratic rights of their own people – but the Obama Administration broke with that tradition, siding with the people rather than their unpopular rulers.
While this approach created temporary dislocations in our security arrangements, I believe that being on the right side of history will serve us well. By acknowledging our affinity with all those fighting for their rights throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, America has the opportunity to demonstrate that this county is with them as they create a new reality in an era of expanded democracy.
We’ve been so preoccupied, however, with winding down the ill-advised misadventure in Iraq and managing the difficult drawdown in Afghanistan that the American people hasn’t paid close attention to the contests going on in the Arab
street. What better time than the 10th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attempt to pit America against the Muslim world for us to become more visible and engaged with these promising but fragile movements?
Other countries, most notably Iran, are actively seeking to exploit the uncertainty and longing for change in order to assert influence and gain credibility. We cannot allow this to happen – we need to mobilize all our resources and relationships to properly project and represent America to this new and rising generation of activists, people who have been willing to face live ammunition, time and again, in order to gain their liberty.
American Muslims – as American as any other American, and as Muslim as any other Muslim – can provide the connectivity, the cultural background, and the leadership to achieve these goals. In the course of doing so, we will also advance the values of pluralism, enterprise and civic responsibility so central to our shared national ideals.
If we want to truly defeat the message of violent hate sown on 9/11, all Americans must reach out to the people who al-Qaeda hoped to win to its side. In deepening our commitment to the freedom seekers in the Middle East, we will deliver an unequivocal message to all extremists: America is not the enemy of the Muslim world – indeed, we must be friends.
If we approach the ongoing revolutions with a helping hand, a region that has for decades been seen as “hostile territory” can in fact become some of our sturdiest allies – and the best people to provide that bridge are the members of my own community.
Ten years ago, violent criminals murdered 3,000 of our fellow citizens in an effort to get Americans to hate Muslims. There is no better way to defeat those terrorists than to work with Muslims around the world for a better future for us all.
Ambassador M. Osman Siddique, served as US Ambassador both under the Clinton and Bush administration.