Posts Tagged ‘ Islamophobia ’

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Michele Bachmann and Muslim Witch Hunts

By Haris Tarin for The CNN

It is difficult being an American Muslim engaged in civic activities, let alone working in government or politics. We Muslims must always second-guess what we say, guard against people questioning our loyalty and make sure that nobody thinks we are trying to infiltrate the government to sabotage it from within and hand it over to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Americans would dismiss these accusations, especially the last one, as outrageous conspiracy theories written by loonies on their blogs. Yet American Muslim public servants are facing these charges from sitting members of Congress. The sad reality is that it has been happening for a decade, and has been met with complete indifference from the media and the public.

Recently, Rep. Michele Bachmann, briefly the front-runner for GOP presidential candidate, sent letters to the State Department, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to investigate American Muslim organizations, individuals and government employees to determine if they are infiltrating the government and sabotaging it from within. This week, Newt Gringrich wrote an op-ed defending Bachmann’s request.

Bachmann and her friends — Republican representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia — pulled out all the stops. They not only hurled these outrageous claims at our organization, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and others like ours, but also accuse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief-of-staff of being part of the conspiracy.

Huma Abedin, married to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, has served Clinton since she was the first lady. The slurs against her are beyond malicious. They accuse Abedin’s late father and her family of being a part of an international conspiracy seeking to sabotage the United States.
This latest witch hunt comes as no surprise to those of us in public life. This is a natural next step for hate mongers. First, people who do not have mainstream political backing start the rumors. Next, if we take a page from Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s playbook, the rumors become accusations leveled by the most politically privileged. It’s simple — the more accusations thrown at American Muslims trying to serve their country, the harder it is for them to be hired and the more politicians shy away from engaging them.

For years, we have watched presidential candidates talking about their discomfort with appointing Muslims to senior positions in government. We have seen them sparring over our ethics and principles. Legislation against Sharia law has been introduced in 20 states, frightening residents into thinking Sharia is an imminent threat. President Obama still faces vicious and pointed accusations of being a Muslim, as though it were a slur.
These attacks are real and hurt people’s lives. Public servants have been forced out of jobs, with suspicion shadowing them. Very few public officials have had the courage to publicly condemn the escalating witch hunt. Will this latest absurdity finally force our politicians and policy-makers to not only defend someone like Huma Abedin, whose public service needs no defense, but also all American Muslims who serve this country every day?

A few Republicans have rallied to Abedin’s side. This week, Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s former campaign chief, denounced her in an op-ed on Fox News. Speaker of the House John Boehner defended Abedin’s character.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain felt compelled to stand on the floor of the Senate and denounce the accusations. “Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be,” he said.
The question is whether this incident will serve as a tipping point. Will our political and religious leaders and the media push back against Islamophobes whose clear agenda is to marginalize American Muslims? Will this wave of McCarthyism be exposed, condemned and made politically unacceptable? Will American Muslim public servants be able to serve their country without suspicion?
Every year, my organization brings 25 young American Muslim leaders to Washington to help them better understand policy making. The majority are inspired to develop careers in government and public service.

Yet every year I ask myself: Are these individuals better off in banking, medicine and less high-profile careers? Am I exposing them to a career that will be tarnished by the likes of Michele Bachmann? In the end, I still believe that the sacrifice to serve this nation and make America a better place is worth the headache, and heartache, of dealing with bigots — including those in Congress.

Haris Tarin is the director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

All American Muslims Better Get Ready for a New Reality

By Nida Khan for The Huffington Post

While many Muslims (and people outside the faith for that matter) were heavily embedded in a debate over the controversy surrounding hardware store Lowe’s and its recent decision to remove ads from TLC’s reality show All American Muslim, a more detrimental attack against their future was all but finalized. Reversing an earlier decision to veto provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, President Obama made the disturbing announcement that he would sign this legislation into law and thereby solidify the ability of the military and other factions to indefinitely detain anyone they deem an enemy of the state. And on New Year’s Eve, the President unfortunately made good on this promise with the stroke of his pen. At a time when the United States is grossly engaged in both active combat and covert drone campaigns in a multitude of Muslim nations, and when loosely defined terms like ‘terrorist’ can be arbitrarily thrown about, Muslims specifically — and all of society generally — shouldn’t take this disturbing development lightly.

In post-9/11 America, many have sadly grown accustomed and tolerant to routine practices of racial profiling, bias and even attacks against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. But in addition to blatant violence, workplace discrimination and subliminal acts of racism, Muslims have also become aware of another nuance that other Americans may not even realize exists — hesitation to give to charity. Because of fear that any charitable Muslim organization or mosque could suddenly be called out for links to a lone extremist faction (whether it’s justified or not), many pulled their money and cut back on donations to the extent that long-established charities found it virtually impossible to survive. Usually without any valid reason, many stopped supporting Muslim aide groups for the simple notion that anyone, anywhere could at any moment single out that organization and in turn put all those who gave money out of goodwill at risk for associating with them. The victims in all this? The impoverished and destitute in many “third world” countries.

At the same time, tragically, other active Muslims who were entrenched in the community or worked in an organizing capacity (much like our president once did for the disenfranchised), ceased their activities over trepidation as to how their efforts towards equality could one day be misconstrued for something nefarious. The climate of society forced many followers of the Islamic faith to alter their involvement on a plethora of levels. Even today, as forces like the NYPD keep Muslims under intrusive surveillance and continued cases of FBI entrapment emerge, many have stopped attending mosques or interacting too much within the community out of sheer apprehension over unwarranted government action. It is an unfortunate reflection of how marginalized groups often times suffer under the radar without a representative voice in government and in the mainstream.

Throughout modern history, we’ve had other instances of outrageous fear mongering, bias and injustice against those whose patriotism we questioned. Though it is rarely covered in classrooms, the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese and those of Japanese ancestry during WWII is a perfect example. Literally rounded up and “excluded” from living in the cities and towns they resided in, these “suspicious” individuals were interned in camps because their allegiance to the country “could not be determined.”

In 1950, at the height of the great red scare, Congress passed the Internal Security Act which required the American Communist Party, affiliated organizations and all ‘subversives’ to get fingerprinted and officially register with the Attorney General. This draconian law was so outrageous that then-President Harry Truman even vetoed it (though Congress overruled his veto in the end). The truly tragic and troubling thing about today’s NDAA is that President Obama isn’t even attempting to veto it anymore; he is instead giving it his stamp of approval. Even though the president stated that he has “serious reservations” regarding the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists, and even though he emphasizes that his administration will not indefinitely militarily detain American citizens without trial, what happens after he is no longer in office? Future leaders of the free world, after all, have absolutely no obligation to honor Obama’s signing statement, nor follow in his footsteps.

Yes, our first African American president has changed much of the vitriolic language used when covering the topic of terrorism, and yes he has taken great caution to ensure that Muslims and terror itself are not juxtaposed together. For that, he should be commended. But by finalizing the ability of any president to deem persons — including U.S. citizens (if they so interpret this bill) — an enemy that could then be indefinitely detained without charge or without trial, he sets into motion a frightening precedent. As a former constitutional law professor, President Obama should be inherently aware of the impending ramifications.

During the struggle for civil rights, many journalists, activists and those vocal citizens working alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other leaders suddenly found themselves targeted for their activities. Countless advocates became political prisoners and others saw their careers and lives ruined. Now at a time when we already have legislation like the Patriot Act renewed, and warrantless wiretapping is openly put into practice, this defense act not only indoctrinates AUMF (2001 Authorization for use of Military Force) and many activities that were previously in existence, but it also leaves open the possibility of silencing anyone on a level with which we never even imagined.

As American Muslims, we’re happy that some are starting to ease the negative imaging and stereotyping against us, and are instead open to learning more about what the Islamic faith truly stands for. As a routinely alienated group, we’re overly ecstatic when a program like All American Muslim actually portrays us in a light other than that of some extremist radical. But while we should embrace the boycott of Lowe’s for its open bigotry, and praise folks like Russell Simmons for stepping up to the plate to purchase ads for the program, we should put just as much focus into the potential of someone like a Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum taking over the White House and having full reign to detain whomever he pleases. Just remember the Bush-era verbiage of “you’re either with us or against us” and the atmosphere of intolerance that permeated under his presidency, and couple that with the ability of someone with his mentality being able to willfully determine any one of us a “traitor,” lock us up and throw away the key.

If Muslims scaled back their activities in the community and their charitable donations out of paranoia over the unrealistic possibility of being tied to something suspicious, just imagine the fear that will ensue if anyone can be instantly and militarily detained over accusations where the burden of proof won’t even be on the accuser. It is indeed an alarming scenario that can (and in all likelihood will) give new meaning to the term reality — no TV required.

Nida Khan is an independent journalist and producer working in print, radio and TV. As a news correspondent for WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM NY, she has covered everything from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to protests for the defense of Sean Bell.

America’s Dark Age of Islamophobia

By Tony Norman for Philly.com

Muslims really thought they were doing the world a favor by pulling Europe and its mostly illiterate Christians out of the Dark Ages. But just because they foisted algebra, trigonometry, optics, astronomical charts, the classics, Arabic numerals, advanced surgical techniques, perspective in art, the lute, and artichokes on the world – while the Christian kings of Europe were smothering free inquiry – we’re not about to give them any credit a thousand years later.

Particularly in America, we remain ignorant of Islamic contributions to Western life. We suffer from a profound cultural amnesia when it comes to remembering our millennia-long debt to our Muslim brethren. But as the song goes, what has Averroes done for us lately?

Americans are so used to thinking of Muslims as an exotic “other” that many fail to realize they’re an inextricable part of who we are and have been since the nation’s earliest days. Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims see them as Manchurian candidates crouching in the shadows with explosive vests, waiting for the signal to wage terror on America’s malls. If you ask the average American citizen about Islam’s role as an incubator of Western ideas, expect stares of incomprehension.

If this ignorance were restricted to the margins of society, it wouldn’t be half as embarrassing. But Islamophobia, like its twin brother, anti-Semitism, has a way of injecting itself into the cultural discourse. Contempt for Muslims remains an acceptable prejudice for millions who continue to equate the religion with terrorism.

Recently, TLC began running an innocuous reality show called All-American Muslim. It documents the lives of five Muslim families in a Detroit suburb that boasts the highest concentration of Arabs and Muslims in America. The 99 percent of Americans who don’t share their faith are invited to explore the possibility that these very misunderstood Americans don’t have horns or drink the blood of infant Christians and Jews.

It didn’t take long for a conservative group calling itself the Florida Family Association to complain that the TLC series is “propaganda that riskily [sic] hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

Of course, there’s nothing on the show to indicate a subversive religious agenda, other than its blatant attempt to portray Muslims as humans.

Lowe’s Home Improvement couldn’t be bothered with such nuances. It pulled its ads from the show and issued the wimpiest justification of corporate cowardice ever: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views.”

Ted Lieu, a state senator in California, called Lowe’s capitulation to intolerance “un-American” and is considering calling for a boycott of the retailer. Lowe’s isn’t worried about a boycott from America’s Muslims, who number fewer than two million, but a sympathy boycott by fair-minded Americans of all faiths and political persuasions would be a nightmare for the company.

Crawling out of this depressing sequel to the Dark Ages won’t be easy.

Lowe’s Errs in Muslim Ad Uproar

By Laura Berman for The Detroit News

Lowe’s used to be the home supply store for macho do-it-yourselfers who want to pick up a chain saw or a sledge hammer along with a box of garbage bags.

Now it’s steeping in a political mess, the result of acceding to the demands of a “pro-family” group — a warm-and-fuzzy sounding way to describe a group that specializes in email campaigns targeted against TV shows that treat minorities as human beings.

In this case, the target was “All-American Muslim,” The Learning Channel’s new reality show that depicts five Muslim families in Dearborn as they entertain, bicker, laugh and get married. The show’s premise — that Muslims are Americans, too — verges on the silly in its obviousness, or so most would think. But the Florida Family Association branded the show, which premiered a month ago, as “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

The group launched its email campaign in November, then triumphed when Lowe’s — among dozens of other sponsors — disappeared from the show in subsequent episodes.

Its big beef was the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on the show: Insufficient underwear bombers and radical clerics. The FFA wants ordinary, tooth-brushing, family-friendly Muslims “balanced” with scary, America-hating radical Muslims, apparently as a way to keep suspicion and prejudice alive.

This strikes me as un-Christian to the max. But Lowe’s bought in or, more likely, tried to gracefully bow out of the political arena by removing itself from the show’s list of sponsors.

Lowe’s next error: releasing paragraphs of corporate mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-apologies that fueled the growing uproar. Now there’s a festive holiday season cultural eruption centered on Dearborn. Dearborn’s Muslim community leaders are denouncing Lowe’s, while the Florida Family Association brags online about its successful campaign to eliminate advertisers for “All-American Muslim.”

In the FFA’s version of All-American, only “God fearing” Christians are real Americans, released from requirements to be portrayed, at least some of the time, as crucial components of the axis of evil.

This xenophobic, self-justifying bigotry is, in fact, just as American as our more widely copied ideas about equality for all and a universal right to pursue happiness. But it’s hard to believe what a persistent undercurrent conspiracy theories are in American culture.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter described 50 years ago what he called “the paranoid style” in American politics, giving as an example a 1964 campaign by the John Birch society to boycott Xerox for advertising on a television show about the United Nations.

Just as American Muslims are now subjected to bigotry and suspicion, Masons and Catholics were singled out by 19th century Americans bent on protecting their country through conspiracy theories, and Japanese Americans were forced into 20th century concentration camps.

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote, describing a state of mind that flourishes in America today.

The problem isn’t only anger but, also, how fear so easily drowns out even a chain-saw-wielding corporation’s All-American supply of courage.

Park 51 Photo Exhibit Features American Children From All Over The World

BY Jessica Jenkins for Groundswell

NYChildren, a new photo exhibit at the Park51 community center in downtown Manhattan highlights the diversity of American identity by featuring New York City children from all parts of the world. A slideshow in the New York Times highlights a dozen portraits from the NYChildren exhibit. The photographer, Danny Goldfield, says he was inspired by a 2004 encounter with the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was murdered at his Mesa, Arizona gas station on September 15, 2001. That encounter led Mr. Goldstein to think about what constitutes American identity, and his project to photograph a child from each country of the world. So far Mr. Goldstein has photographed children from 171 different countries, all living in New York City.

It’s been a year since the Park51 community center was besieged by Islamophobic attacks from across the nation for its proximity to Ground Zero. Park51 has since scaled back its plans to build a new community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan but nevertheless has continued to offer events and faith services to the local community in its existing building. On its website, Park51 says about the exhibition: “We live in a world with far too much fear and misunderstanding. This exhibition is about finding the courage to meet and get to know neighbors to build trust and friendship.” We can’t think of a better way to set a tone of resilience, tolerance and hope.

Terry Jones Jailed for Dearborn Mosque Protests

By Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben for Yahoo News

Terry Jones, outspoken pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and host of “Burn a Quran Day” was jailed in Detroit on Friday for protesting outside a Dearborn, Mich., mosque. Jones refused to pay his $1 peace bond.

Jones operates Dove World Outreach Center, a mission that proclaims to spread the word of God. Dove World Outreach was started by Don Northrup in 1986 as an apostolic, evangelical Christian ministry.

The DWOC history page reads like many fundamental protestant ministries. It talks about apostolic anointing, teaching and training missionaries to spread the gospel.

DWOC discusses a five-fold plan for bringing God’s Word into the world. It wasn’t outlined clearly, but the five prongs likely included mission work, Bible reading, prayer, teaching and preaching.

This five-fold ministry was the focus of DWOC. Since Jones has taken over, there is less talk about the five-fold plan. DWOC has morphed into one main mission: to take out Muslims and the Islamic faith. Instead of the gospel, DWOC preaches a straw man doctrine of fear. The site is funded by sales of Muslim-bashing paraphernalia in their store. T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs all sport one legend: “Islam is of the Devil.” The “bookstore” sells one book only, written by Jones, called “Islam is of the Devil.”

The website is coated with fear-mongering, anti-Muslim propaganda. Followers are exhorted to erect wooden yard signs reading “Islam is of the Devil.” There are scheduled protests at mosques, like Dearborn’s Islamic Institute of Knowledge and American Moslem Bekkha Center. Jones’ hosts his annual inflammatory (term used literally and figuratively) “Burn a Quran Day”.

I am opposed on many grounds to Jones and DWOC’s activities, not the least of which is constitutional. Jones has a right to protest, guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States. He does not have a right to slander or libel. Muslims have a right to worship as they chose, also guaranteed them by the Constitution.

I am a Catholic Christian. I do not see it as my Christian vocation to hate Muslims. Quite the opposite. It will likely be said, by activists like Jones, that I must not be a Christian if I defend Islam. My faith is based in love, not fear, however, and my God loves the whole world. I refuse to retaliate and say that Terry Jones can’t call himself a Christian and hate Muslims. I don’t believe it’s my place to judge whether a person has faith or not. However, I do question the tenets of said faith. Look at the name of Terry Jones’ ministry:

Dove: The dove is a Biblical symbol of peace, sacrifice and of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, believers of many nations where there and heard in their own tongue. The Holy Spirit ignited a fire, but it was a fire of love, not hate.

World: from the Latin, “mundi”; comprised of people of all race, creed, color, religion or lack thereof.

Outreach: If I reach out to hit and hurt someone, they will shy away. In order for an out-stretched hand to be accepted, it must come in love. True outreach (or mission work) is done in compassion, nurturing, ministerial and loving way. I exhort Terry Jones to check out St. Paul on the subject.

I don’t see how wearing a hat and tee-shirt saying “Islam is of the Devil”, is promoting peace or promulgating any doctrine but hate. I smell ignorance-based fear in Terry Jones and DWOC.

Jones is starting to show a lot of similarities to Westboro Baptist Church. These are the nice people who brought you “God Hates Jews”, “Priests Rape Boys”, God Hates Fags and Beast Obama.

Islamophobia and Radicalization

By James Zogby for Counter Punch

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States than Anwar Al-Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

On one level, Al-Awlaqi, from his cave hide out in Yemen, can only prey off alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self- assured and assertive — all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, Al-Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited: a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously and rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalisation.

I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to “migrants” — a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent living in her country — regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats, without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.

America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America”. Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed, the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.

Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history, they are learning their host’s history. In the US, from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” — that it includes all of us, and has included us all, from the beginning.

It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with world wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.

They lose, but they don’t always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry”, on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism”, “radicalisation” or “national security concerns”, despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews rallied against any and all Jewish organisations).

If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites, and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented decent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes, and produced fear in the Muslim community.

In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party, who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.

In the past, only obscure or outrageous members of congress (like North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11′s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the US.

The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Some 54 per cent of Democrats have a favourable attitude towards Muslims, while 34 per cent do not. Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12 per cent hold a favourable view of Muslims, with 85 per cent saying they have unfavourable views. Additionally, 74 per cent of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60 per cent believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.

The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan — and in some cases a proven vote getter — issue for the Republican Party, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them, and they will feel like aliens in their own country.

It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organisations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalisation of American Muslims later this week. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.

What they should also know is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way, and engaging in this most “un-American activity”, King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalisation. Al-Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

-Dr James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute and is a Roman Catholic of Lebanese descent and brother of prominent American political pollster and founder of Zogby Polls, John Zogby.

Religious Leaders Denounce Anti-Muslim ‘Bigotry’ in US

By Carla Babb for The Voice of America

As a pastor from a small church in the U.S. state of Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders stood side by side at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday to show their solidarity against anti-Muslim acts of discrimination in the U.S.

A group of religious leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths joined together with the Islamic Society of North America for an emergency meeting to discuss a recent increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and intolerance.

Baptist Pastor Gerald Durley spoke for the group. “As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community,” he said.

The group said people around the world have seen non-Muslim Americans show fear and contempt toward their Muslim neighbors–emotions that have generated from a national debate about a planned Islamic Center near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Catholic Cardinal Theadore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, said he wants the international community to understand that the U.S was built on the principle of valuing one another.

 “I have a great fear that the story of bigotry, the story of hatred, the story of animosity to others is going to be taken by some to be the story of the real America and it’s not. This is not our country and we have to make sure our country is known around the world as a place where liberty of religion, where respect for your neighbor, where love for your neighbor, where these things are the most prominent in our society,” he said.

A Christian pastor in Florida says his church will burn Korans on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. He says the act serves as a protest against violent Islamist extremists. The local government has denied the church a permit to conduct the public burning. But the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center has vowed to go ahead with his plan.

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer says the interfaith group strongly condemns the desecration of a sacred text. “We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans,” she said. Farhana Khera, president of the organization Muslim Advocates, was part of a separate group of religious leaders that met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department. She said Holder also condemned the plan. “To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville plans, burning of Korans, idiotic and dangerous,” Khera said.

The plan has sparked protests in Indonesia and Afghanistan. Demonstrators in the Afghan capital burned the American flag and shouted “Death to America.” Islamic Society of North America President Ingrid Mattson says American Muslims must show the world that the U.S. is a place where all religions can live together in peace. “American Muslims have a unique ability to be this bridge and to show the Muslims who do not live in this kind of freedom that an open, pluralistic atmosphere where there are diverse religions together can really be good for everyone,” she said.

Tensions have heightened in America as the anniversary of the attacks approaches. In 2001, Islamist extremists killed nearly 3,000 people by ramming passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

Cordova Christians Put Out Welcome Mat For New Mosque

By Lindsay Melvin for The Commercial Appeal-Memphis, TN

When pastor Steve Stone initially heard of the mosque and Islamic center being erected on the sprawling land adjacent his church, his stomach tightened. Then he raised a 6-foot sign reading, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” The issue for Stone and the 550-person Heartsong Church in Cordova, came down to one question: What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor,” Stone said.

The Memphis Islamic Center, a nonprofit organization formed three years ago, is two weeks from breaking ground on the first phase of a multimillion-dollar complex. While plans for Islamic centers across the country and just miles away have triggered vitriolic responses and divided communities, here in Memphis it’s been a peaceful process.

On a 31-acre stretch at Humphrey Road and Houston Levee, Memphis Islamic Center leaders plan to build a massive gathering place during the next several years. It will include a mosque, youth center, day care center, indoor gym, sports fields, medical clinic and retirement home.

While the 4,000-square-foot worship hall is being completed, Heartsong has opened its doors to its neighbors throughout the monthlong observance of Ramadan. Under a gigantic cross constructed of salvaged wood, nearly 200 area Muslims have been gathering each night to pray.

“I think it’s helped break down a lot of barriers in both congregations,” said Islamic center board member Danish Siddiqui. Yet, only a four-hour drive east of Memphis, Murfreesboro saw intense protests, with billboards going up to try to block plans for a similar Murfreesboro Islamic Center.

Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in against it.

Elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, plans for a Brentwood mosque were defeated in May after residents mounted a campaign raising suspicion over mosque leaders having ties to terrorism. The most publicized of the debates has been the furor over an Islamic center proposed near ground zero in New York. “I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” said Stone, referring to his and some of his congregants’ early apprehension toward the Memphis center.

But as members of the Christian congregation take the opportunity to sit in on Ramadan prayers and meet people at the nightly gatherings, much of that mystery and fear has dissipated.

“People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor. The peaceful tone in the Bluff City has been refreshing for Qadhi, 35, who recently moved to Memphis from Connecticut, where early this month his Bridgeport mosque was descended on by angry protestors yelling slurs at families as they arrived for evening prayer. “We’re living in a climate of Islamophobia,” he said.

The Memphis project hasn’t been entirely free of criticism. Bloggers and religious publications have speculated that the Memphis group is receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, which the local Islamic board says is completely false.

“If the community can’t put it together, it’s not worth it,” said Siddiqui, a Germantown resident. Other accusations have been lobbed at Shaykh Qadhi for anti-Semitic comments made a decade ago.

“I made a very major mistake,” said Qadhi, adding that he has spent years apologizing for the statements he made as a young student discounting the importance of the Holocaust.

The Islamic scholar’s track record since has been one of promoting peace. He recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he joined other Islamic and Jewish leaders to draw awareness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“I’ve learned one of my biggest lessons since that time. We have to separate our theology from politics,” he said. The overarching fear being voiced in protests going on across the country is that Islamic centers will become hubs for teaching extremism.

But Islamic center board members say it’s to the contrary. Islamic community centers help form solid Muslim-American identities and keep young kids and adults from feeling marginalized, they said.

Without a place to call home, young Muslims are more likely to seek more radical interpretation of the Quran online, says Arsalan Shirwany, a board member and father of three.

When it is finished, the new facility will be a center for the whole community, and a place for interfaith cooperation, Shirwany said. “This is what we need to fight extremism,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Pastor Stone and The Heartsong Church in Cordova  Christians deserve applause and praise for their very generous acts of kindness to their fellow God fearing American citizens. And this especially at a time when the country is experiencing clearly an uptick in Islamophobia and acts of both violence and hatred towards a whole group of people over the handful few. On this weekend where a “popular’” cable TV host held a march on Washington asking to Restore America, it is important to remember that Dr Martin Luther King Jr  stated that we should be “judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Judging the millions of patriotic, decent and hard working American Muslims by the content of their character rather than their religion or ethnicity is the true beauty of a wondrous place called America. This good neighborly act of kindness goes to show that despite all the hate and negative news one hears towards Muslim Americans recently, there are also acts of kindness and fellowship that illustrate the goodness in many every day Americans towards their fellow citizens of an alienated faith.

Ground Zero Mosque Controversy Helps Give Rise to Islamophobia Across the US

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A man was accused of attempted murder for his vicious knife attack on a Muslim New York City Cab driver Tuesday evening in what is being described as a hate crime by the authorities.

Michael Enright, a college student who also did some volunteer work in Afghanistan, was being held without bail on charges of assault and attempted murder as hate crimes.

In a criminal complaint filed by the New York Police Department, Michael Enright allegedly asked the driver if he was a Muslim. The cab driver, Ahmed H Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, replied that yes he was indeed a Muslim. At this point, Mr. Enright is alleged to have uttered the customary Arabic greeting of “Aslaam-a-laikum” (Peace be with you) and brutally attacked the cab driver with a knife, slashing him badly on the face, hands and neck. During the attack, Mr Enright also uttered “Consider this a checkpoint” to the cab driver, all the while brutally attacking him with his knife.

 Besides a serious neck wound, the cab driver, Mr Sharif, suffered cuts on his forearms, face, and hands while trying to defend himself from the attacker.

Inexplicably, Einright had volunteered with Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue between religions and an organization that has also supported the plans for the Islamic center and mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He had also recently returned from Afghanistan where he volunteered to be embedded with a combat battalion so that he could document their experiences as soldiers that Einright wanted to showcase in an upcoming documentary.

Police stated that Einright was drunk and intoxicated at the time of the attack on Mr Sharif and it is not clear what his motive was for perpetrating the violence on the cab driver. There is growing speculation however amongst members of the American Muslim community as well as several civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and CAIR that the attack is a result of the growing Islamophobia and fear amongst the American public as a direct result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy that has been brewing for weeks and has been front and center in the media and the American public for some time now.

The plan to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the 9/11 tragedy and the site of the World Trade Center towers became controversial as right wing groups seized on what they believed to be “an insensitive provocation towards the American public”. Muslim groups demanded their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and pointed to the New York City council vote allowing them the permit to build as reasons for what they are doing as legal and in fact an effort to build bridges between Islam and other faiths following the events of September 11. However, the issue became nationally prominent and controversial by then as fanned by right wing blogs and ad campaigns, the majority of the American public became against the building of the mosque, according to recent polls.

Thankfully, the voice of reason in this whole debate has been none other than the billionaire Jewish mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His stance and views in support of the mosque as a constitutionally protected right has been welcomed by Muslims as well as civil rights organizations and he should be commended for standing up for what is constitutionally the right thing to do. Briefly, President Obama also came out in support of the group’s right to build the mosque as being a constitutional right, before making statements the next day that “questioned the wisdom” of building it there.

Nonetheless, a link has been made by the right wing, no matter how unfairly, that Islam promotes terror and violence. This can be seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans now have a negative and unfavorable view of Muslims. For the country to be even having a debate whether a group of Americans can build a house of worship is a testament to how far things have regressed.

No one would ever have thought that a constitutionally protected right such as that of freedom of religion would ever seem controversial. Many have argued that only the area around Ground Zero is off limits to Muslims and they are free to build their mosques elsewhere. This does not appear to be the case as mosques thousands of miles away from Ground Zero in California, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere across the country have now come under heavy opposition by local zoning boards and people in those communities. The fear and hatred of Muslims is becoming a growing problem as the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has began to fuel acts of violence against Muslims as seen in the attack on the NYC cab driver. It is a message that is being sent to the American public that Muslims in the United States do not deserve the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all others. In fact, there is an attempt to link all mosques to terror somehow, which is very offensive to millions of peaceful Muslims who abhor violence and who live decent hard working lives in their communities.

At first I was not happy to learn that Muslims planned to build a mosque near Ground Zero as I knew that this would become controversial. But as the opposition to mosques has grown across the nation, and not just for building near Ground Zero, but hundreds and thousands of miles away, it has become clear that this anti-mosque movement is not just about that hallowed area near the World Trade Center site but is in fact becoming an opposition to the religion of Islam as a whole.

This idea by the opponents of the mosque and the right wingers that somehow it is perverted and insensitive to build a mosque several blocks from Ground Zero is in reality only true if we buy into the belief that Muslims and Islam brought down the towers and not a handful of radical extremists of the religion of Islam. If we believe that mainstream Islam itself was responsible for all those deaths on American soil and not Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, only then would building the mosque there be insensitive. But for us to somehow associate the whole religion of Islam of over 1.5 billion people by the actions of 19 terrorists is ridiculous.

It is my fear that attacks similar to the one a few days ago on the NYC cab driver will continue to grow as we allow an environment of hate to perpetuate and grow against a group of people. At the very least, this opposition to mosques across the country will certainly grow and continue to spread the notion that ALL Muslims are violent and terrorists. This is simply not true as the 5-7 million American Muslims and the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will attest.

We must remember that we have a war on terror and not a war on Islam. Far away from Ground Zero in cities across the US as more and more mosques come under opposition in their communities, we must hold steadfast to our ideals, principles and to the US Constitution. As the best nation in the world, we have to defend our ideal and the basis of what makes us the best and that is the US Constitution. Speaking as an American and not even as a Muslim, I know that if we stop defending it for fear of being distasteful, insensitive, or inconsiderate, then we lose what makes us who we are as the freest nation in the world and we must not ever let that happen!

-Manzer Munir, a peace activist, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for www.PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

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