Akbar Ahmed: I think if you’re looking down the road this question relates to the context within which we need to look at the problem. And the context really is what is happening in America today? So while we think we are talking of the Muslim community and we are on one level, we are really discussing American identity; what does it mean to be an American? And unless that question is resolved and answered you cannot answer the first question about Muslims. You cannot resolve the issues around a tiny minority until the majority that is concerned about the minority is satisfied in terms of its own identity. And because America right now is going through this period of intense debate about its own identity it’ll probably be a couple of years before it can be completely at ease with the question of being American. Now to us and I’m not a scholar of American history, I realize unless I read up on American history and American culture and society I would not be able to write a valid book on America. So I began a very intense period of reading I got my team the young team to read everything on the subject. So we spent the whole summer reading everything; the literature, culture, history and going right back to the roots of American society and American history. And we learnt many things that inspired us. One of the things that inspired us and a lot of Americans will benefit from this knowledge was the attitude of the founding fathers to other religions. To the notion of religious pluralism which is what America’s all about this is what makes America, America this genuine sense of religious pluralism. We discovered for example that John Adams called the prophet of Islam one of the greatest truth seekers of history up there with Socrates and Confucius. That Benjamin Franklin called him a model of compassion, that Jefferson owned a copy of the Quran and we all know that famously now and hosted the first Iftar at the white house. That Washington reached out to Muslim specifically it mentioned the name Islam for immigrant communities that are welcomed in America. And Jefferson had this amazing statue outside the University of Virginia with an angel holding a tablet which says, Religious Freedom’ 1786 with the names of God for Christians, God Jehovah, Jewish God, Allah Muslim God, Muslims believe they are all the same. But just think of a situation when the late 18th century, you have this extra ordinary group of people visualizing a society that would welcome not only Jews and remember this basically a Christian society at that stage in time. But welcoming Jews but also Muslims and then even more out standing beyond that they had [IB] that is including Hinduism. I applaud that vision because we are talking about the 18th century and yet in the 21st century, those same Americans descended from these founding fathers with that same vision. That is the vision of America after all, that is what forms the declaration and the US constitution. They are talking about the same religion, Islam. Threatening to burn the same Quran that was owned by Jefferson. Demonizing the prophet of Islam as a terrorist, a pedophile and all kinds of vile and foul language. And I ask myself, ‘What has happened to America?’ I don’t ask Americans to love or respect or revere Islam. I ask them to respect religious pluralism which is what America, being American is all about. So it really about American identity, where America’s going with its own notion of self, and unless that is resolved we will have a problem with Muslims. Now the problem is that a lot of Muslims that we have found in the field were not conscious of Americans culture and history. So they were not aware that they were also being caught up in these great historical debates which America has every half a century or, a century, last, America this very intense debate with itself in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s around the civil rights movement. And then you saw that it was so intense, Presidents were shot and Martin Luther King junior lost his life and Malcolm X was assassinated and so on, it was all part of the debate. But what does it mean to be American?

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