State Department website on US Muslims criticized












Media Watch





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By Barbara Ferguson, Arab News Correspondent

WASHINGTON, 26 July — It seems as though it’s hard to say anything “nice” about Muslims these days. The US State Department has recently come under fire by some Christian and Jewish leaders who say a State Department website praises the “extraordinary range and richness” of the American Islamic Community.

The site, “Muslim Life in America” ( is the focus of the attack, and its antagonists insist that carrying the site on a State Department website violates the constitutional principle of the separation of religion and government.

David Harris, executive director of American Jewish Committee; Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, filed a letter of complaint last week to Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying they understood the website is an attempt to portray the positive side of Islam and Muslim contributions to the United States.

“It is important to emphasize that we are not at war with the Muslim world,” they said.

The group then said the site makes the State Department look as though it is favoring one religion over another.

“Insofar as we are aware, no similar website has been established by the department with respect to any other religious group,” they said.

The criticism didn’t stop there. The group also criticized the Muslim links listed on the website, because it “creates the impression that the US government is endorsing particular interpretations of Islam.” The State Department, they said, “places our government in the position of appearing to endorse a particular faith group as making uniquely noteworthy contributions to American life.”

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinions,” a State Department spokesman told Arab News. “It is a website for an international audience, and its pretty self explanatory.”

He said the criticism is not new: “People wrote letters about it months ago. If they only would step back and look at it, they would see that it is meant to highlight an aspect of the American life that is widely misunderstood.”

The site does appear to have the law on its side.

“They are not advocating any particular religion, and the constitutional provisions of ‘separation of church and state’ deals with avocation of a particular religion. It appears that this website is designed for informational purposes only by the State Department to inform the American public about a particular group or religion,” said Maher Hanania, attorney of law at Hanania and Nawash law offices, based in Washington, DC.

“If one looks at the recent statements that have come from the Supreme Court about Church and State, such as the national anthem — which says ‘one nation under God,’ that advocates a religion, but the State Department is simply trying to inform the American public that ‘there is a group of people living in our country who are of Muslim faith, and that this is what they are about.’

“They are trying to bring about a better understanding of these people, who have been poorly portrayed by the American media and the TV. So they have made the clear distinction between that and the constitution,” said Hanania.