Paul Findley has been a household name for American Muslims and Arab Americans since the mid-1980s, when he wrote They Dare to Speak Out, a landmark text about the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States. The former congressman’s status as a hero to these communities is likely to be magnified as a result of his latest book, Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Image of Islam (Amana Publications, 2001).
In Silent No More, Findley begins by tracing his own evolution to understanding Islam, after many years of self-admitted ignorance that emanated from early childhood teachings and deeply rooted stereotypes. In the introductory chapters, titled "An Unexpected Journey" and "Hidden Kinship," Findley describes the events that launched him down the path of understanding Islam and Muslims. These included a 1974 rescue mission to Yemen—undertaken as a Republican congressman from Illinois to win the release of a constituent accused of espionage—as well as numerous other travels in the Muslim world. He also describes many encounters with Muslims in America—encounters that helped shape his evolving impressions about Muslims and Islam and sparked his interest in defending the image of Islam and Muslims in America. His anecdotal style allows for both an easy read as well as the quick development of a sense of familiarity that allows the reader to relate comfortably to the author.
In subsequent chapters, Findley addresses such topics as the similarities between the Christian and Muslim faiths; the demographics of the American Muslim community; stereotypes and defamation of Muslims; the Taliban in Afghanistan; women in Islam; the role of Muslim student activism, American Muslims and the U.S. political process; and the Muslim bloc vote in the 2000 presidential election.
In a chapter entitled "Strangers in our midst," Findley traces the roots of the Muslim presence in America to the early African slaves forcibly transplanted into this country, followed by later (voluntary) immigrants from Spain and North Africa. In this chapter, Findley also summarizes currently available demographic data on the American Muslim community. Utilizing a variety of sources (including research data from Zogby International, the American Muslim Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations), Findley paints a vivid portrait of a rapidly growing community that is diverse, educated, economically successful, and distributed throughout predominantly large cities in industrialized states. He notes that should steady immigration and a 3.5 percent birthrate (more than twice the national average) continue, the American Muslim population will double by 2027.
The demographic section of this book is excellently researched and well-summarized, providing statistics that provide a wealth of information useful to both non-Muslim and Muslim readers. Findley’s description of prominent Muslims in America, including USA Today’s "Athlete of the Century" Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Nobel laureate Dr. Ahmed Zewail, will not only be inspirational to young Muslims seeking Muslim role models, but it will also aid in dispelling the unfair stereotype of Muslims as backward, uneducated people.
Findley also does a good job of describing some Muslim traditions and customs, employing folksy anecdotes that illustrate the typical hospitality of Muslims in the U.S. and abroad, as well as emphasizing the importance of the "extended family" and care for the elderly in the Muslim tradition.
In a chapter entitled "Terrorism and Defamation," Findley summarizes key incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment, and violence in the United States. These include the struggles of the Muslim community in Palos Heights, Illinois, to convert a purchased church building into a mosque and Islamic school, as well as acts of vandalism against the Islamic Center of Southern California in the wake of the onset of the Al-Aqsa intifada last fall. Findley’s description of the Islamophobic hysteria and media rush to judgment surrounding the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing serves as an excellent summary of this dark chapter in the history of our nation as a whole and the American Muslim community in particular. In addition, Findley elaborately delineates the role of notorious Islamophobe Stephen Emerson and his now infamous "Jihad in America" PBS documentary in contributing significantly to the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment in America.
Perhaps the heart of Silent No More is the section dealing with American Muslim involvement in the political process of our country. In this portion of the text, Findley reveals his undying passion for citizen involvement in democracy via direct participation in the political process. As he is a former congressman, this comes as no surprise. His ardent encouragement to Muslims to participate in the political process emerges as one of the most powerful messages of this book. Utilizing examples of politically active American Muslims as well as their fledgling accomplishments, Findley makes a strong argument that participation in the political process at every level in our country is the only path by which American Muslims can seek to abolish negative stereotypes, advance their social, moral, domestic and political agenda, and ultimately gain empowerment of their rapidly growing community.
Findley also introduces the reader to the major American Muslim advocacy and civil rights organizations serving the community today. He provides a glimpse at the history, missions and personalities of such groups as the American Muslim Council, American Muslim Alliance, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Council on American-Islamic Relations
In a chapter devoted to the American Muslim bloc vote in the 2000 presidential election, Findley provides a comprehensive description of the remarkable series of events that culminated in the historic bloc vote. Like a proud mentor, Findley describes his own involvement in encouraging the bloc vote, as well as the role of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs executive editor Richard H. Curtiss. Indeed, the Muslim bloc vote represented the political "coming of age" of the American-Muslim community. Findley’s pride in his role in this historic event is well earned.
In addition to serving as a landmark publication for and about the American Muslim community, Silent No More is a veritable "Who’s Who" of American Muslim leaders and activists. What is impressive is not simply the sheer number of individuals whom Findley has interviewed, but rather the fact that he seems to have developed genuine friendships with many of them. This is evident in the honest, revealing, and very personal accounts included in the book. Through his anecdotes and interviews—and in his descriptions of personal experiences and insights—Findley reveals a rare depth of understanding about and commitment to the American-Muslim community that will doubtlessly grant Silent No More a cherished stature among early books on the history of Muslims in America. It is a truly exceptional book that should be present in the library of every American-Muslim home, mosque, and school, as well as the office of every congressperson and media executive. Every American, in fact, who cares about this country and wants to learn about all its citizens could do no better than to start with Paul Findley’s latest book.
Dr. Riad Abdelkarim is communications director for the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, CA.