Our mission is to educate American Muslims about national security issues, so that (1) American Muslims can resolve the tensions they feel because their country is at war with some of their fellow Muslims around the world, and so that (2) American Muslims can become informed, effective participants in the national discussion about what domestic policies and what foreign policies will make America and the Muslim world safer.
Through “mock debates,” we teach American Muslims about three areas relating to national security: Religion/Identity, Civil Liberties/Domestic Security, and Foreign Policy.
We have prepared colorful, one-page, double-sided “debate handouts” dealing with various issues in these three areas. Each of these “debate handouts” asks a controversial question and then presents strong arguments on both sides of the issue. Each “debate handout” is actually a debate on paper.
For example, we have a Religion/Identity “debate handout” called “Should American Muslims Be Loyal To America?” We present six arguments by those who believe American Muslims should be loyal to America, followed by six arguments by those who believe American Muslims should not be loyal to America.
In the Civil Liberties/Domestic Security area, we have a “debate handout” called “Should American Mosques Be Watched By The Government?” We present seven arguments by those who oppose watching American mosques, followed by seven arguments by those who favor watching American mosques.
In the Foreign Policy area, we have a “debate handout” called “Would Being Neutral, Between Palestinians & Israelis, Make America Safer?” We present five arguments by those who believe that being neutral would not make America safer, followed by five arguments by those who believe that being neutral would make America safer.
American Muslims use these “debate handouts” to hold “mock debates” at mosques, at Islamic schools, and in private homes among friends and family.
How do the “mock debates” work?
At the beginning of the “mock debate,” we distribute the selected “debate handout” to everyone in the audience. Then we ask for two volunteers who will be the “mock debaters.” The two volunteers come to the front of the group. From the “debate handout,” Volunteer A reads point 1 on his side out loud to the audience; then Volunteer B reads point 1 on her side out loud. The “mock debaters” go back and forth with point 2 on each side, point 3 on each side, etc. As the two “mock debaters” read their arguments back and forth, the audience members follow along on their own “debate handouts,” and they listen to the “mock debaters,” and it sounds to the audience members like there’s an actual debate going on in front of them. After the 10-15 minute “mock debate” is over, we open up the floor for discussion, so that audience members can share their own views about the topic. We always have spirited, informed discussions.
Why do we use this neutral “mock debate” approach? Why is it useful to give American Muslims differing points of view (including “politically incorrect” views) on controversial issues?
Many American Muslims (like other Americans) often take positions on national security issues based on emotion rather than information. The problem with this is that those American Muslims unfortunately lack the knowledge and the confidence to go out into society and have a serious discussion about these issues with other Americans, because emotion can only take you so far. And sometimes, emotion can get you into trouble.
So what happens to these American Muslims who rely on their emotions? They start to feel isolated and powerless. They feel like no one is listening to them. They get depressed. They give up on trying to share their views.
And the rest of the country loses the potential benefit of the insight that American Muslims could offer on important issues.
That’s the problem that Muslims For A Safe America seeks to address through our “mock debates.” After going through our entertaining and educational “mock debate” process a few times, American Muslims have the basic information and the confidence that they need to go out into society and to get involved in the discussions that the rest of the country is already having about national security issues. These American Muslims are better prepared to start having serious and informed discussions with their neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and friends. They are better prepared to start calling in to radio shows and writing letters to the editor. (Imagine what it would be like to hear an informed, educated American Muslim caller on the air, talking about the issue of the day, every time you turn on the radio.) They are better prepared to start talking to their elected representatives.
In addition, providing American Muslims with information about the “big picture” encourages them to broaden their thinking, to think not just in terms of what makes Muslims around the world safer, but in terms of what makes Muslims around the world safer AND what makes America safer. Our approach encourages American Muslims to look for an overlap in the interests of Muslims and America, and to look for options that produce a win-win situation.
We hope that if other Americans see American Muslims taking thoughtful (rather than emotional) positions based on facts and critical thinking, they too will start to do the same thing.
Why is it important to get more grassroots American Muslims involved in the ongoing national debate about national security issues? Why don’t we just leave those discussions to professional spokespeople from existing American Muslim organizations?
The challenges that American Muslims, America, and the Muslim world face are so great that we can’t expect existing American Muslim organizations to overcome these challenges if our community’s greatest resource sits depressed on the sidelines. Millions of grassroots American Muslims around the country are our greatest resource. They can reach vast numbers of Americans at the grassroots in a way that no “spokesperson” can. And if they speak from the heart, explaining their personal views about what’s good for Muslims and for America, they can have more credibility than “spokespeople” who may be perceived to be “public relations” people spinning the issues.
Is it a good idea to encourage discussion about controversial national security issues? Isn’t it better “public relations” for American Muslims to keep quiet about such issues?
Muslims For A Safe America doesn’t “create” or “manufacture” any issues. We deal only with issues that have already become the subject of public debate in American society. The problem, of course, is that very few grassroots American Muslims participate in ongoing public discussions of these issues. These discussions will not go away just because grassroots American Muslims pretend the discussions don’t exist. Instead, the discussions will simply continue without our input.
Is one “debate handout” on each issue really enough to help American Muslims get involved?
We don’t claim that our “debate handouts” are comprehensive; after all, there’s only so much we can include on one sheet of paper. But these “debate handouts” are a good starting point for American Muslims who don’t have the time to do the research for themselves. Our “debate handouts” are a good way to quickly get the “big picture.”
Where do we get the information that we put in our handouts?
We get our pro and con arguments by researching materials produced by people who actually hold those various points of view. Then we present each side as it would present itself, without any editorial comment by us. In other words, we try to make the best case argument for each side, so that the audience gets a real sense of the debate. The arguments we present aren’t original. What is original is the way we present all the basic information in a short, neutral, easy to understand format.
Administrative Information: The founder of Muslims For A Safe America is Kamran Memon. In 1997, Mr. Memon graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a student of Professor Barack Obama. Mr. Memon works as a civil rights attorney in Chicago. He has represented Muslim victims of discrimination before and after 9/11. He is a co-founder of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago and CAIR-Chicago. He is a former member of the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former host of Radio Islam on WCEV 1450 AM in Chicago. (His weekly, hour-long talk show dealt primarily with Islam and national security.) He is the former editor of Islamic Horizons, published by the Islamic Society of North America. Mr. Memon can be reached at 200 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 201, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 961-2354, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Muslims For A Safe America does not receive funding from any government agency or any foundation; we operate solely based on small contributions from individual supporters.
Muslims For A Safe America is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Your contributions to Muslims For A Safe America are tax deductible. If you would like to support the work of Muslims For A Safe America, click the DONATE button at the top of this page or make your check payable to “Muslims For A Safe America,” and mail it to Kamran Memon, Muslims For A Safe America, 200 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 201, Chicago, IL 60604.