Mormons and Muslims: brothers from another mother? Think about it: Judaism and Christianity updated by a controversial new prophet, the prohibitions on alcohol, the historical polygamy, homophobia, etc. By some estimates -- without a U.S. Census asking about religion, this is always a tricky thing to nail down -- their numbers in America are even comparable, somewhere around 5 million each.
These days, it would behoove America's Muslims to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a group that's no stranger to dealing with bad publicity, ranging from historical violence to present-day fundamentalists like Warren Jeffs. But nowadays, it's more common to hear LDS folks chuckling about things like Broadway's wildly successful "Book of Mormon" musical and launching feel-good campaigns like "I'm a Mormon" (borrowed from the Mac & PC guys?), rather than getting defensive about their presidential aspirations, Prop. 8 funding and persistent depictions of polygamy in "Sister Wives," "Big Love," and "Love Times Three," etc. It's a savvy public relations shift.
I was reminded of this at an Oct. 3 Seattle press conference, as the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced it was petitioning the Department of Justice to investigate a disturbing pattern of anti-Muslim experts and information at FBI training programs.
They had me, and then they lost me -- by emphasizing that according to the FBI's own data, "from 1980-2005, only 6 percent of terrorism in America was committed by Muslims." I'm a bit of a numbers gal, so a quick glance at the FBI spreadsheet pointed out obvious shenanigans: it includes nonviolent crimes like "vandalism" and "arson," and most of them don't have any injuries, let alone casualties. If you just look at the cases that hurt or killed people, obviously Muslims shoot to the top, with the 9/11 attacks alone. Also, it's ridiculous to include the 1980s -- the U.S. was still friendly with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden back then, for crying out loud, and England was anxious about the IRA, not al Qaeda. Plus, the numbers seem incomplete for 2004-2005, and obviously it's highly relevant to consider the past six years (which aren't on this spreadsheet), as well as the terrorist plots that were foiled before they could become incidents.
That's not to say that CAIR and other organizations shouldn't keep advocating for religious freedom and civil rights for Muslims, and fighting against Islamophobia in law enforcement policies. But be careful how you make your case. And maybe expend at least as much energy alerting the media to positive stories in your community.
In other words, as Aman Ali writes for CNN's Belief Blog, maybe it's time for U.S. Muslims to quit playing the victim card.
This article first ran on Beliefnet's Belief Blog.