Ahmed Billoo is the product of an upper-middle-class Alhambra home. He grew up going to the local mosque on Fridays and holidays, playing sports with friends and enjoying the blessings of a comfortable American childhood. Twelve months from completing a business degree at Cal State Long Beach, Billoo, 22, is fully Muslim and American, the two locked hand in hand.
And yet he believes the righteousness of suicide bombers needs to be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis.”
“Muslim or not Muslim, we all fear death. Blowing yourself up is not something everyone can do or something that everyone has the courage to do,” said Billoo, the outgoing president of Long Beach’s Muslim Student Association. “But don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we should all go around America doing that; Palestine is a different situation. There is a huge difference between saying we should do it and saying I’m going to be a suicide bomber. I just think it is something that Islam justifies.”
Far from alone, according to a report last week by the Pew Research Center, its first nationwide survey of Muslim Americans, about 26 percent of American Muslims ages 18 to 29 share Billoo’s sentiment to varying degrees. “I would have to say it’s actually like 60 or 65 percent of the youth,” Billoo added. “It’s very rare that I meet someone who says suicide bombings in Palestine are not justified.”
The focus of the Pew findings were positive: most U.S. Muslims are “mainstream and middle-class.” But responses to a question about whether suicide bombings against civilians are ever justified in defending Islam has sounded some alarms, adding to the Muslim American PR problem. Fears of Islamophobia are higher now than in the months after 9/11, and in predominantly Muslim countries, the “war on terror” is perceived as a “war on Islam.”