By Barbara Ferguson, Arab News
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
The site, “Muslim Life in America” (www.usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/muslimlife)
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
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
“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
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
“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.