A better alternative to boycotting the White House Iftar
Originally Published in The Washington Post
This is the story of two Washington Iftar dinners.
First, the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren invited Muslim leaders to a diplomatic Iftardinner last week and Imam Antepli of Duke University wondered aloud if the event was meaningful. And then the Obama administration invited Muslim leaders to the White House Iftar dinner and Omid Saifi, the Islamic studies professor from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, called to boycott it.
It’s obvious: We, the American Muslims are struggling to identify the right posture: Boycott, and you sever a diplomatic tie; attend, and you are seen as endorsing a policy.
While I empathize with the demands laid out by Professor Saifi -I believe the Obama administration should abandon overseas drone attacks, halt nationwide racial and religious profiling, and release select Guantanamo Bay prisoners – I knew the boycott will fail to achieve anything beyond creating a social media ripple.
Because that’s the history of our boycotts. A Danish newspaper published offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and what was the response? Boycott Danish products. Iran’s largest mobile phone company, Irancell, sent a religiously offensive text message and what was the response? Boycott Irancell. Israeli dates were sold at American Muslim stores during this Ramadan and what was the response? You guessed it. (Yet Muslims consume Danish cookies, Irancell is still in business and the “Jewish dates” – if there is such a thing – are selling like hot cakes at my local ethnic store.)
Internal Muslim discord is part of the reason these boycotts fizzle out. We all know the sectarian rifts that lurk beneath the diplomatic smiles. No surprise, both Muslim Congressmen and over four dozen diplomats attended the event on July 25th.
But our misplaced reliance is the larger reason; we are barking up the wrong tree. Want to change anti-Muslim discrimination? Then also go to the “right” house, not just the White House. The “right” house of God who warned us in the Holy Koran, “Allah changes not the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts (13:11).”
Just like Professor Saifi, the Koran also made a “call to conscience.” But who wants to hear about that? Boycotts are glitzy; introspection is dull. It makes us go out of our comfort zone and ask hard questions.
Yes, drone attacks are immoral and should be stopped. But where is the call for boycott of the Saudi funded madrassas that have fueled terrorist attacks that have claimed over tenfold Muslim lives as compared to the drones?
Yes, we should stand up for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners who are being force fed. But let’s also stand up for the well documented and sustained extrajudicial killings of prisoners at the hands of Muslim officers of the Pakistani army.
Yes, the pockets of racial and religious profiling by the U.S. authorities should be protested but who is going to wail against the institutionalized racial and religious oppression (and in some cases, killings) of the Shias in Pakistan, Ahmadis in Indonesia, Bahai’s in Iran and Copts in Egypt?
Demanding the same rights in the U.S. which we so blatantly trample in the Muslim countries takes away the strength of our moral arguments. It equates us with the very mindset we resent. It enables the White House to fill up the sought after Iftar dinner to its brink despite our calls for a boycott.
My Muslim friends, don’t be quick to blame me of causing dissension. I, in fact, am striving for the unity of Muslims by recalling what Prophet Muhammad said 1400 years ago: “There will be discrimination after my death and there will be other matters that you will disapprove.” His companions asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What do you command us to do when we encounter such a phenomenon?” He answered, “Give what is due from you and supplicate to Allah for your rights.”
For us Muslims, Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer. Let’s reflect, introspect, and be charitable to those who are discriminated in our own backyards – both Muslims and non-Muslims and spend the remaining fasts in heart melting prayers.
Even if the White House ignores our demands, the “right” house might accept them.