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American Muslims Are My Fellow Americans

[America] sets these ideals of liberty and equality for all, and our battle right now is to uphold them. Slavery and Jim Crow laws, prejudice against Irish and Catholics and Jews, women's rights—this is our history. We have to always be fighting the forces that push in a different direction. It cannot be liberty and justice for all except "them."

What ultimately changed things in all of those cases is when there was a cultural realigning—when people began to see those groups in terms they could relate to—as not foreign. One of those terms for change has always been the media—for example, The Cosby Show, gays being portrayed in televisions shows. Some of the early programs that did this were revolutionary. They were creating this cultural change.

Right now Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain, if they had said what they said about any other group, their political process would've been immediately dashed and finished. But Muslims are still a group you can isolate, because this cultural shift still hasn't happened, because to some degree, Muslims still are invisible. In the ten years past 9/11, people on one side of the argument are taking advantage of the fact that the vast middle has not yet signaled their disapproval.

Will the "My Fellow American" project bring about this shift in the "vast middle"?

Take the example of the anti-sharia bills—it's a way of bringing people to the polls.

These [non-important] issues are used, and until there's a political cost or a public cost in doing that, they will continue to be brought forth. Only when the public begins to feel uncomfortable about hearing these things [will this end], and that will happen when people have a familiarity and an affection for people of that other group.

This takes the efforts of many people. We're trying to make a film that's edgy enough to capture people's attention, to offer a bit of a choice, to create a platform, a pledge that people can sign by which people can make that affirmation that American Muslims are my fellow Americans.

6/23/2011 4:00:00 AM
Dilshad Ali
About Dilshad Ali
Dilshad D. Ali is managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos. An experienced journalist, she has covered Islam and Muslims in America for more than ten years for a variety of print and online media outlets, including Beliefnet and Illume, Islamica, and Azizah Magazines.