Extremism: Why did you say that?

Extremism: Why did you say that? August 2, 2005
If it bleeds…

I received a bunch of flak (mainly from close family) about my most recent Chicago Tribune article. They kept telling me: “Why did you say some of those things? Why do you want to make Muslims look bad? They already are saying those things about us. So, why do you have to say it? Is it so you can get published?”

This is not the first time I have heard such comments, and it has come from others outside of my family. First of all, it is not so I can get published. I am not writing for fame, or notoriety, or money. I have a day job. I write to help myself, my community, and my country become better. So, let’s get that issue out of the way.

But, to answer the larger question of why I say the things I say about Muslims, it is really quite simple. My medical training taught me that the first step in treating an illness you have is to acknowledge the fact that an illness even exists. If you don’t even admit to yourself that you have a lump in your breast, or a mass in your chest, or blood coming out of your butt (sorry about being so graphic), you will never make the next step of getting examined and treated. Denial can be very deadly indeed, and I have seen so many tragic cases of denial: patients who knew they had a problem months ago – when it had a better chance of cure – but waited until it was too late.

Denial is one of the most powerful human defense mechanisms. If you deny that there is a problem, maybe it will go away. If you deny that there is a problem, you won’t have to deal with it. Our community has been in such denial for a very long time. Thus, I have decided to talk about the issues of our community openly, so that I can start the process of making our community better.

For example, in my Tribune article I wrote:

“We see that the biggest threats come from Muslim extremists wishing to kill Americans. Thus, we have to analyze the root causes of terrorism at the hands of these extremists.”

“Why did you say that?” I was asked.

What’s wrong with this statement? Don’t you think this is true? Don’t you think that the biggest threat to our national security is extremists acting in Islam’s name? If I did not write that, would anything change? Would the threat diminish? Absolutely not. So, what’s wrong with saying something that is obviously true? It may not be the most pleasant thing to admit, but we as a community have to admit it nonetheless.

“Yeah, but, what is an extremist? They say that an extremist is someone who keeps to the letter of the law of Islam.”

Yes, there are some that want to define an extremist as any Muslim who is devout or does not agree with their world view. That is not my definition. To me, an extremist is one who straps a bomb on his chest and kills himself and others at a pizza parlor, or mosque, or market, or subway station, or bus, etc. An extremist declares all those who do not agree with his perverted version of Islam as “infidels” and orders them to be killed. An extremist is one who blatantly ignores the word of God to advance his murderous agenda. THAT is an extremist, and that is the “extremist” to which I referred in my article.

In my article, I also wrote:

“Within Muslim communities, there must be absolutely no room for hateful and violent rhetoric. Not even one mosque should allow an imam, such as British radical Abu Hamza al-Masri, to stand on the pulpit and tell his followers to get an infidel and ‘crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat. Forget wasting a bullet, cut them in half!’ Anything that comes from the pulpit has the connotation of religious authority; hate speech defiles that space and must never be allowed.”

“Why did you say that?”

I just look at the questioner with shock and awe. What do you mean, “why did I say that?” Hello! There are people like that among Muslims. They are a tiny minority; they do not represent the views of the mainstream; they are a problem that must be dealt with; but they still do exist. Failing to mention their presence will not make them go away.

Yet, still, so many people don’t like the fact that I say those things. And I have to admit, I worry about “airing our dirty laundry.” But, to keep it hidden will not solve the problems of our community. We have kept silent about the racism in our community; it has not gone away. We have kept silent about the problem of domestic violence in our community; it has not gone away. We have kept silent about the disaffection of our youth; the problem has not gone away. So, what has keeping silent done for us? Absolutely nothing.

Now, I agree that these problems – even the problem of extremism – is not unique to the Muslim community. Every community has problems of racism, domestic violence, disaffected youth, and extremism. I am frequently taken to task for not pointing this out: “Why don’t you tell them that they have terrorists too!” Yes, they have terrorists too, but I am not a member of their community. I am a Muslim, and thus, the problems of the Muslim community are highest on my list. Pointing out the problems of others, while neglecting to deal with your own, is an exercise of doom and failure. The stakes are too high for me to waste my time doing that.

So, I will continue to speak out about the problems of our community (and our country). It is the least I can do as a God-fearing, law-abiding, American Muslim citizen.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at

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