CAIR: ISLAM, FREE SPEECH AND ENLOE
RALEIGH - The uproar about Kamil Solomon's appearance at Enloe High School, where he gave a speech and distributed literature hostile to Islam, may be a good thing.
Although as a professor teaching Islam I am certainly not happy to hear of the kinds of materials the students were given, time was when such a talk would have been acceptable, even unremarkable. So I hope that the outcry indicates two things.
First, I hope it indicates a rising knowledge among non-Muslims in the region that, like all other faiths, Islam has a variety of adherents, most of whom reject fanaticism, terrorism and hate.
Indeed, many parents and students spoke up against the talk's content.
Second, the reaction from the local and national Muslim communities was swift, offering concrete responses and a clear denunciation both of the speaker and the kind of extremist Muslims that Solomon had described. This coordinated and direct action by individuals and groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) may represent an increasing efficacy in countering negative stereotypes about Islam. . .
Too often Muslim voices denouncing terrorism are not heard outside of Muslim circles. Sometimes this is a problem of language, sometimes a question of access. It is not because such denunciations have not been made -- they were either not heard or ignored. Indeed, while CAIR is accused by some of being an apologist for terrorism, its role in organizing and publicizing a legal ruling or fatwa against terrorism endorsed by well over 300 national organizations, mosques and clerics is rarely heralded.
That fatwa against terrorism came out in July 2005, yet many non-Muslims still seem unaware of its existence.
The fact that in the Enloe case the voices of local and national Muslims were heard may indicate increased skill in negotiating the system and, I hope, that the system is learning to hear and represent their voices. Muslim groups and individuals were widely quoted in the news media and publicly offered their services (as have I) to the school to provide programming that will help give the students the materials they need to make sound judgments of their own.
I hope that Enloe will avail itself of these opportunities, and that other schools will use this unfortunate event as a chance to develop students' capacities for critical thinking about the issues that are essential to the growth of responsible, informed citizens.
(Anna Bigelow is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at N.C. State University.)