It is regrettable that Amir Abdel Malik Ali has become a regular speaker at Muslim student events on several southern California college campuses, including, recently, UC Irvine and UC Riverside.
Ali is a convert to Islam and an imam at an Oakland mosque who has expressed overtly anti-Semitic views and bizarre conspiracy theories, especially regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is noted for incendiary rhetoric regarding “Jewish control” of the media, although he appeared deeply confused about who is Jewish when he wrongly cited Rupert Murdoch as an example. Ali’s rhetoric is often implicitly violent, and, by any standards extreme and intolerant.
Though Ali is frequently invited to speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his only qualifications regarding the complexities of the Middle East appear to be his religious and political fanaticism. Ali is not only categorically anti-Israel, he has also denounced the Palestinian national leadership as “Uncle Tom Palestinian leaders.”
“Silence is Consent” was the title of one of Ali’s recent talks at UC Irvine — an ironic reminder for responsible Muslim Americans to vocally reject the idea that he is a worthwhile contributor to the dialogue about the Middle East.
It seems that national and California Muslim-American organizations have not succeeded in convincing these student groups that by inviting speakers such as Ali, they do palpable damage to the interests of the Muslim-American community.
Student groups will ultimately do what they like, but if responsible leaders fail to take a public stand against this kind of speech, the silence will indeed be taken as “consent.” The organizers of these events should ask themselves what they hope to achieve by inviting Ali to speak, and what they think the political consequences are likely to be.
It is immoral and counterproductive to promote extreme and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Moreover, it is impossible to take a serious and effective stance against “Islamophobia” while promoting or condoning anti-Semitism. These two forms of bigotry are intimately connected, both thematically and historically. Neither the Jewish community nor the Islamic community can advance its legitimate interests or perspectives by promoting fear and hatred of one another.
Intolerant views and defamation only serve to discredit any cause. In this case, invitations to speakers such as Ali discredit rather than promote the Palestinian cause. In addition, extremist speech by such otherwise marginal figures helps to feed fear and hatred of the Muslim-American community, especially when it is endorsed through repeated invitations by large student organizations.
At a time when an increasing number of Jewish American individuals and organizations are recognizing that the occupation in Palestine is bad for Israel and the United States as well as for the Palestinian people, supporters of Palestine and friends of Israel should look for common ground rather than waste time hosting religious and political fanatics.
Historically, there has been little scope for common ground between American friends of Israel and American friends of the Palestinians. However, with a growing consensus nationally and internationally about the urgent need to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security, unprecedented opportunities for cooperation are beginning to emerge. The development of a common purpose in favor of peace requires goodwill and outreach on both sides.
Rhetoric that clings to an outmoded “zero-sum” analysis that pits Israeli and Palestinian interests as irreconcilable and diametrically opposed, even though the future of both peoples depends on peace, is bad enough. Speakers who engage in demagoguery and spread anti-Semitic and violent ideals poison the national interests of the Palestinian people and their supporters in the United States. With “friends” such as Amir Abdel Malik Ali, the Palestinians need no additional enemies.
Muslim Americans, including student organizations, should steadfastly reject anti-Semitic language. This would best serve their own interests, the interests of the legitimate causes in which they believe, and the interests of our country. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”