A Hijacked Identity: Muslim American Reflects on Sept. 11

The events of Sept. 11 changed the lives of many Americans, including American Muslims. Arsalan Iftikhar, a regular contributor, and former representative to the Council on American Islamic Relations, explains how the attacks affected his work as a spokesman for Muslim Americans in the national media.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And finally, a commentary. We hope you've had a chance to hear Arsalan Iftikhar give his irreverent take on all things political and cultural on our Friday Barbershop segment. But you may not know that after the 9/11 attacks, Arsalan became a prominent spokesman for the American Muslim community. Here, he tells us how 9/11 changed his life.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (National Legal Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations): Even though I was born 30 years ago, in many ways, my life only truly began at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on September 11th, 2001. Because as an American Muslim, that was the day that my country was attacked by people who would also infamously hijack my religion.

Since then, my entire existence has revolved around presenting a genuine Muslim voice to the American public. So basically, my life has now become one big absurd game of television musical chairs in YouTube video clips.

Unidentified Man #1: These criminals…

Unidentified Man #2: Right.

Unidentified Man #1: …who committed this pseudo-execution, and these perpetuators, these animals, unless being brought to justice…

Unidentified Man #3: Since September 11th, we've been presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: From "The O'Reilly Factor" to "The Today Show," to BBC World News, I have spent a dizzying chunk of the last several years on the proverbial hot seat as one of the honest voices for the seven million American Muslims who do not want to be represented by the bobble-headed terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

I sat on studio sets from CNN to Al-Jazeera explaining that the godless maniacs who killed civilians in places like Bali, Madrid and London have lost their bloody minds and are committing irreligious acts of mass murder that have nothing to do with the true faith of Islam.

In addition to condemning terror all around the world, it has also been my goal to also denounce every form of racial and religious intolerance in existence today. But some people just don't listen. I still get called a terrorist by knucklehead racists because of my unabashed love of Islam, and I'm still called the Muslim hippie by knucklehead extremists for my unabashed platform of peace.

So since Islam means peace anyway, I'll wear the Islamic peacenik label as a badge of honor. Because with such seething hatred in the world, all that anyone can condemn me for is my seething love.

And now that I've told you a little bit about the meaning of Islam, I'm going to let you know about some of the great things that Muslims have given to the world. For example, it was Muslims who invented algebra. And you would probably be surprised to learn that it was a Muslim who designed the Sears Tower in my sweet home of Chicago, Illinois. Also, the greatest American boxer ever, Muhammad Ali, and the funniest dude in America, Dave Chappelle, are both Muslims.

More significantly, Muslims have won three out of the last five Nobel Peace Prizes. But more important than Nobel Peace Prizes, Muslim culture has brought crunchy falafel, henna tattoos and yummy hummus to our American shores. But all because of one terrorist cave dweller, 1,400 years of pan-Islamic cultural and societal progress have gone down the drain. Thanks a lot, Osama.

So, as a voice of the next generation of Muslims and of humanity, I will continue to sit on the hot seat in Bill O'Reilly's frigid studio, unspinning Osama bin Laden's ungodly spin of Islam and continuing to wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we have done to each other.

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MARTIN: Arsalan Iftikhar is contributing editor of Islamica magazine and a regular contributor to our Barbershop segment. After 9/11, he served as national legal director for the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CARE, in Washington, D.C.

Remember, on this program, the conversation never ends. Please let us know how September 11th changed your life. You can go to our blog at npr.org/tellmemore. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522.

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MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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