September 11 is as close to a holy day as the United States has — the day that America was attacked on its own soil for the first time since Pearl Harbor. A day on which nearly 3000 people lost their lives in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Penn. A day on which the course of American history changed, whether for good or bad. It should come as no surprise then that a proposal by a Muslim group to have a “Million Muslim March” on Washington on the 12th anniversary of the attacks has touched off a firestorm of controversy in the media.
The American Muslim Political Action Committee (AMPAC) announced in January plans to have a Million Muslim March Against Fear on Sept. 11 to raise awareness of discrimination and hate against Muslim Americans since that fateful day. Make no mistake, this is a serious problem. From the harshly worded, but mostly benign, opposition to the Park51 Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, to the egregious and unacceptable burning of mosques in Toledo, Ohio; along with Joplin, Mo., and numerous other locales across the country.
That being said, the march that AMPAC seeks could do more harm than good for the Muslim community in America. Many Americans regrettably still associate the 9/11 attacks as an assault by Muslims against the freedoms of the United States. Al-Qaida no more represents the average Muslim than the Schutzstaffel represented the average German. Regardless of the validity of their beliefs, some Americans will view the proposed march as exceptionally insensitive to the memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks.
The reality of the situation is that AMPAC does not seem to be a credible organization, a fact which the media should realize easily. While the following are hardly scientific measurements, one can make some assumptions based on AMPAC’s web presence. First, AMPAC’s website (http://ampacus.webs.com/). This in itself is telling. The site is hosted by Webs, an Internet hosting site on which individuals or groups can create a website. While creating a site, Webs offers the user two options: Pay $19.95 a year for a complete URL or pay nothing and get a url along the lines of http://loyolaphoenix.webs.com, which takes less than five minutes to create. AMPAC clearly chose the free option. The comparison between AMPAC’s website and the site for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim American advocacy group, is startling. CAIR’s site looks far more professional than AMPAC’s. See for yourself at http://www.cair.com/.
Second, AMPAC’s presence on social media. Social media — particularly Facebook and Twitter — is a key indicator of the support that groups and people can gain. AMPAC’s Facebook page has 140 “likes” while CAIR’s has more than 28,000. CAIR has numerous Twitter accounts: a national account and accounts for different cities and states, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Oklahoma, New York state, Florida, Washington state, Michigan, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay area. The total number of Twitter followers CAIR boasts is over 17,500. AMPAC does not have a Twitter page.
Third, Google search results. The American Muslim Political Action Committee is the fifth result of an “AMPAC” Google search, behind two links to a packaging manufacturer, the political action committee for the American Medical Association, and a different packaging manufacturer. Meanwhile, sites related to the Council on American-Islamic Relations are the top seven results of a “CAIR” Google search (one of which is an anti-CAIR site). Similar results are obtained while using Yahoo! and Bing.
Finally, Wikipedia pages and traffic. CAIR’s Wikipedia entry has been viewed over 12,000 times since the beginning of 2013, is listed in seven categories, features 119 references, has 10 tabs and is nearly 4,500 words long. AMPAC occurs on only two Wikipedia pages but does not have one of its own. The first is the entry for Islam in America, where it is listed as a political organization. The second is for Kevin Burnett, one of the founders of AMPAC and, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the leading proponents of anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Discrimination based on anything is horrible; nobody argues against that fact. The blanket assumption that Muslims are evil due to the actions of a handful of deranged individuals is shameful and contrary to the lofty standards to which America holds itself. The organization’s march and the media coverage around it has only served to fuel the ignorant belief that Muslims hate the United States, as exhibited by conservative filmmaker Pat Dollard’s belief that AMPAC is launching a “victory march.” AMPAC is a tiny, fledgling organization with a noble goal; one which, unfortunately, is being twisted by the media, which could determine the less-than-credible nature of the organization in minutes, to propagate ignorant opinions about Muslims.
Dominic Ciolli is the Discourse editor. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org