U.S. Muslims react to furor with deft diplomacy

American Muslims Celebrate Eid al-Fitr
Muslims gather for prayers at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in this Nov. 3 photo. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file
/ Source: msnbc.com

As Muslims in Europe and the Middle East have led violent protests against cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, American Muslims have responded to the furor with quiet diplomacy, condemning the violence accompanying those protests while explaining why the caricatures drew such an angry reaction.

“There’s outrage,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), “but there’s just an appropriate response to the concerns that Muslims feel.”

To Hooper, communications director for CAIR, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group, the anger of American Muslims is much the same as their foreign counterparts — just more moderated. 

American Muslims, he said, have “faced depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the past, and we’ve dealt with them in the appropriate manner — by writing letters to the editor, by working with the media. The American Muslim community is aware of how to deal responsibly with these kinds of things.”

‘Exactly what I expected’
For Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, there were few surprises in the way U.S. Muslims have reacted.

“It was exactly what I expected,” said Bray, the public-policy arm of the Muslim American Society, based in Falls Church, Va. “The Muslim community is appalled by the cartoons, but we’re experienced enough to deal with controversy. While we condemn the cartoons, we also condemn the violence connected to it.”

Bray said his organization had recently met with the Danish, Norwegian, French and Australian ambassadors to express their concerns. “We've done what any advocacy group does when things are done wrong: find positive and nonviolent ways to respond,” he said.

On Wednesday CAIR, Hooper’s organization, issued a statement calling on an Iranian newspaper to abandon plans to solicit cartoons denying existence of the Nazi holocaust. “Now is the time for responsible people of all faiths to avoid inflammatory actions that are clearly designed to incite hatred,” the statement read in part.

Praise for U.S. press
The American press has garnered generally high marks for its handling of the controversy. “The respectability of the journalists here has been sensitive enough,” said Eide al-Awan, interfaith outreach director of the Islamic Center of America, the Detroit-based Islamic resource center housing the largest mosque in the United States. “I haven’t seen a low-brow attitude within the news media.”

“Basically it's a free press, but a little plain old common sense can carry a long way,” Bray said. “It’s a story, no question about it, but most of the American media — and the State Department as well — have exercised restraint and dignity.”

“Other media sources are piling on and giving ammunition to the haters and extremists,” he said. “The story deserves to be covered, but unlike the French, German and Italian media, journalists in America have shown you can still cover the story without exacerbating the issue.”