Friday, May 27, 2011

Herman Cain, Stupidity from a Smart Man

Not too long ago, Atlanta-based commentator, successful businessman, and potential presidential candidate Herman Cain, was asked whether there was a place for a Muslim appointee in his administration. His response: “No.” He followed with “There is this creeping attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.”

Cain is no doubt a bright man with a knack for business and politics. But his comments on Islam in America are so obviously ignorant and misguided that it makes you wonder whether Cain actually has any sense at all.

You might expect the remainder of this piece to go into the lunacy of Cain’s overtly discriminatory beliefs, or perhaps delve into an explanation of how the fear of Sharia law is about as rational as fearing Jewish elected officials forcing Kosher laws on us all.
It will not. All of these arguments could very well be logically sound and factually accurate, but they are, I argue, irrelevant.

First, it really doesn’t matter, and engaging in this type of argument and discussion with people who hold beliefs like Herman Cain is a waste of time. For one, even responding to such an absurd accusation that Muslims in America want to force Sharia law on everyone dignifies the claim in the first place. Why do we not argue with the disheveled man on the subway who says the world will end tomorrow? Because we recognize the argument to be so devoid of any merit that a response would be both unnecessary and unwarranted.

Second, responding to people like Cain is worthless because they won’t be convinced by what you have to say. If I sat down with Herman Cain tomorrow, no matter what I said, I can promise you his opinion of Islam would not change one bit. Short of me sticking a piece of paper in front of his face that objectively and demonstrably proved him wrong, he would not change his mind. And the problem with a religion that is faith-based and relies on a book with varying interpretations is that I can’t necessarily provide that proof.

So what do we do? How do we convince America that Islam is not a religion of violence? Is there no way for Muslim-Americans to handle people like Herman Cain?

There is one, but it’s not what you would expect.

Muslim-Americans joining the PTA, playing Little League baseball, and having a Memorial Day barbeque with their neighbors will do more to improve Islam’s image than anything we can possibly say ever will. It’s about showing, not just telling people, that Muslims in America are much like any other group of people in this country.

Here’s an example I use all the time:

In the past two decades there have been six murders and five attempted murders of abortion doctors by anti-abortion organizations. When these anti-abortion organizations commit these reprehensible acts in the name of morality grounded in the Christian faith, there is not a national debate on whether Christianity, as a religion, promotes violence.

Why not?

The reason this occurs is not because we have all read the Bible and know it doesn’t teach that, it is not because we went to an inter-faith panel and learned about the commonalities between Christianity and other faiths, and it is certainly not because we engaged in an argument with someone about it and were convinced out of our position simply because someone told us we were wrong.

The reason we know Christianity doesn’t teach violence is because we all know someone who is Christian. It may be a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. And we know that person does not share the sentiment that led some extreme anti-abortion group to murder someone. (To be fair, I know this example is not exactly akin to a concerted movement by Muslim extremists against America, but all that means for us Muslim-Americans is that we need to work even harder to dispel these fears of Islam.)

So we, as Muslim-Americans, should stop trying to fight words with more words. We need to take action. We need to go out there and get to know our neighbors, let our children play with children of other faiths, and show, not just tell, our fellow Americans that we share far more in common than people like Herman Cain would like them to believe.

There is only one place where we should be vocal. Our denouncement of terrorism, terrorists, and any individual or country that harbors these views, harbors terrorists themselves, or funds these terrorist groups. That will get us some common ground with our fellow Americans. The rest of it, needs to come from the actions we take to further invest ourselves in American society.

You see, Herman Cain may never be convinced that Islam is a religion of peace. But if there was ever a way his opinion would change, it would be because a Muslim doctor saved his life, or because his nephew played basketball for a Muslim coach, or it might just be because the political consultant who turned around his lackluster campaign for the White House, happened to be a Muslim.

Khurram Dara is currently authoring “The Crescent Directive: An essay on improving the image of Islam in America.” A Muslim-American from Buffalo, NY, Dara is a graduate of Emory University where he double majored in Political Science and Finance. He will attend Columbia Law School in the fall.


  1. Beautifully written piece, and solid wisdom. I'm a Christian and would happily welcome Muslim neighbors at my Memorial Day BBQ. :) Thanks for being a voice of reason, my friend.

  2. thanks for the kind words...

    anyone else interested in, follow me on twitter @khurramdara
    and on facebook: or online at

  3. The problem with your argument is that 6 murders and 5 attempted murders over a 20 year span is a far cry from the 3000+ killed when self-described Islamists flew planes into civilian buildings and we had to watch images for days of people dancing in the streets in joyous wonder at "how successful' the attack had been at killing infidels.

    Then we watch as thousands march in violent pretest when a newspaper in Denmark publishes a picture of Mohammed.

    I wish you well in your efforts to shine a better light on Islam. You're going to need it, because the many thousands we see constantly protesting this injustice or that in violent fashion sure isn't helping.

  4. Hi ConleeC, thanks so much for joining the conversation. Before I get to your comments, let me just say that the irony of arguing with you in light of Khurram's claims that arguing over these issues solves nothing is not lost on me.

    I want to push back against your critique of Khurram's argument. I grant you that there is certainly a difference of scope between the numbers of deaths caused by violence against abortion service providers and by the violence on 9/11, but I do not buy your argument that their is a difference of substance in terms of how these actions were rationalized by those individuals carrying them out. In both cases, we have individuals who possess religious views completely incompatible with those of nearly all of their co-religionists who use their own ahistorical understandings of their faith to justify violence against others. As Khurram so rightly points out, neither group can rightly claim to speak for their entire religious tradition, although both may certainly attempt to in an effort to justify their violent actions.

    Let's consider the scale of the individuals and the religions involved, and I will let the numbers speak for themselves. Now, I cannot stress this enough. Estimates put the world's total Muslim population at 1.5 billion. I am going to say that number again, because it is very impressive: 1.5 BILLION.

    So let's look at the famous video of Palestinians celebrating after 9/11. The video rolled out to support this narrative of Muslims "dancing in the streets" was filmed by a Reuters TV crew and aired on CNN before being rebroadcast ad nauseam by other news outlets. You can see the Fox News rebroadcast of the same footage here:

    Now, you yourself put the number of people "dancing in the streets" in the thousands. Watching this video, that seems like a pretty generous appraisal of the crowd size, but ok, let's roll with it. In fact, I will do you one better. Let's give you the benefit of the doubt and say that some celebrating Palestinians were not caught on camera. Let's say maybe some wished they had been, but missed out on the festivities. Maybe now the number is indeed up in the thousands.

    But let's situate these numbers in some context. In the West Bank, where the video in question was filmed, there are about 2,345,000 people. For the sake of argument, let's pretend there are 10,000 people in the streets in that video (although I dare you to watch it and count more than a hundred). 10,000 dancing in the streets would still only be .004% of the population just of West Bank. And that is just in one part of Palestine. Consider those numbers in terms of the world's broader Muslim population. Do you know what 10,000 into 1.5 billion looks like?


    If you prefer fractions to decimals, that number is 3/500,000.

    Either way, that number is really, unbelievably small.

    What I suppose I'm trying to get at is this: out of a population of 1.5 billion souls, the mind cannot mathematically comprehend how small the population of Muslims who use their religion to promote violence actually is.

    To claim that the rest of the world's Muslim population, with its truly stunning diversity, is somehow guilty by association for the actions of such a small population smacks of the same injustice I'm sure most all Christians would feel for being associated with murder in the name of their faith.

  5. Are you familiar with the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on the topic of discrimination against Mosques? You may find it of interest.