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A 'good' American citizen: Citizenship vs. civil liberties

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They neither understand the value of the citizenship they so brazenly exploit, nor represent the growing but still silent majority of American-born and -educated Arabs and Muslims who are busy getting college degrees, decent jobs, and that first home. But not having the cash, or the time, to play Washington's power politics is no excuse for the next generation to forgo learning the central tenets of model citizenship that sometimes require personal sacrifice.

Shortly after Sept. 11, I voluntarily left a flight I was booked on because some of the passengers were nervous about traveling with a "Middle East looking person." It was as much my fault they felt the way they did as it was about me being the target of traditional cultural prejudices that have confronted other minority communities throughout American history.

Muslim Americans need to define a common blueprint, not just for the larger issues facing our communities, but for the immediate problems that concern our collective welfare against a threat we understand far better than our fellow citizens. We need to become the key resource for our government to develop strategies that combat terrorism at home and convey the power of democracy and capitalism abroad. Here are the steps we must take:

• Forbid the use of mosques and other religious institutions to discharge bigotry and hatred. Too many imams seem beholden to the agendas of the foreign, often radical, donors who support them. Each imam should have to pass minimum competency exams about their knowledge - beyond words - of how the Koran relates to daily American life. Congregation members should be the adjudicators of these tests - democracy at its best. Congregations might evaluate whether US citizenship, or at least permanent residency, should be qualifications for imams leading them. This might insure an imam understands that preaching in the context of national identity and responsibility is as high a calling as belonging to the global Ummah.

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