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Against Paris attacks, one Muslim’s American way

Nadeem Mazen in Cambridge.john blanding/globe staff

Of course Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen deplores what happened in Paris.

But Mazen — the only Muslim to hold elected office in Massachusetts — doesn’t think he or his fellow Muslim-Americans should have to answer for the murderous actions of terrorists. As he puts it, “We’re against hate and violence. We’re for the American way. But we’re not going to apologize for things we didn’t do.”

The carnage in Paris was carried out by extremists connected to the Islamic State, authorities say. The automatic response, said Mazen, is to link their heinous acts wrongly to all practitioners of the Muslim faith in a way that doesn’t happen with other religions.

“There’s always a feeling we have to be responding from an apologist perspective. It never happens when a right-winger commits faith inspired violence,” said Mazen. “There are no calls to say, ‘We condemn this on behalf of Christianity.’ ’’


Provocative words, as the dead and wounded are tallied in Paris and the world again confronts reality of life in the 21st century: When it comes to terrorism, there is no safe haven.

From Mazen’s perspective, however, security has been snatched away by terrorists who hijacked a religion to advance their own ideology. Much of the terrorism around the world, he said, is “Muslim-on-Muslim violence.” And, he said, it didn’t happen in a political vacuum. Foreign involvement, including US involvement in Iran and Afghanistan, is a factor.

“Both our government and our press is focused on sensationalizing the Muslim lens through which this violence can be seen, instead of looking at American’s history of geopolitical entanglement,” he said.

More provocative words from a man who is best known for his tech savvy and whirlwind political success. Mazen grew up in Andover and attended Phillips Andover, where he was a classmate of Dan Koh, chief of staff to Mayor Marty Walsh. From there, Mazen went to MIT, where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduation, he founded two businesses in Central Square: Danger!Awesome, a makerspace he owns and operates, and Nimblebot, an online design firm, for which his official title is “chief rocket pilot.”


Mazen, 32, was elected to the Cambridge City Council in 2013, and won reelection earlier this month by topping the ticket. His passions include expanding educational opportunities for disadvantaged young people and creating a master plan for Cambridge.

Describing his agenda, he said, “This stuff is not Muslim stuff. . . . It’s American stuff.”

He’s also involved in “Muslim stuff,” an effort that a recent breitbart.com article described as “Hamas on the Charles.”

Mazen is the founder of MassMuslims, a group he started to teach community organizing and political campaign skills to young activists. Mazen estimates there are 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims living in Cambridge, out of some 50,000 to 70,000 Muslims in Greater Boston.

The day before the Paris attacks, a group of imams, students, and activists gathered at the State House for the Bay State’s first “Muslim Day on the Hill.” The hope is to raise greater understanding about the Muslim community, and it’s needed. Boston, after all, was ground zero for an infamous terrorist attack committed by two brothers who were raised in the Muslim faith and became radicalized.

Mazen said Muslims need to take organizing “to the next level,” and by that he means participating in politics and government and focusing on universal needs, such as affordable housing and reducing mass incarceration for nonviolent offenders.


As he would say, that is not “Muslim stuff.” That is “American stuff.”

It’s the common ground that should bind us, as terrorists work to divide.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.