Islamophobia — closing the circle

At a time when the United States is mired in two wars in locations where the majority of the people practice Islam, President Barack Obama recently visited Indonesia, the largest Muslim country.On his visit he again alluded to the need for outreach to Muslims; he had done this in his Cairo speech on assuming office.Despite his calling Muslims in this country and those living in the West feel that they are under siege now. And conversely it appears that hatred of America in the Muslim countries has been rising exponentially. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks and the continued US support for Israel instead of apportioning to it the right amount of blame for the lack of progress in the Middle East Peace process are significant factors contributing to the increasing hatred of America.Meanwhile, every day there are new examples of how the average American who hardly knows about Islam is being mobilized by diverse groups from the fundamentalist Christians, the media, and the politicians to spread fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims.

Oklahoma, a state from where not a single constituency voted for Obama and where hardly any Muslims live has passed a law to ban Shariah. From the outcry this year over a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City, to legal challenges to construction of mosques in many places across the country even attacks on mosques and people with Middle-Eastern appearance or dress, the firing of Juan Williams, NPR commentator, the examples are too numerous. And the end is not in sight…As the new Congress convenes Republican Congressman King from New York will head the House committee that oversees domestic security in the coming year. He is planning to open a congressional inquiry into what he calls “the radicalization” of the Muslim community. His proposal comes amid signs that deep anxieties about Muslims persist in the United States nine years after the 9/11 terror attacks. He believes that despite frequent concerns raised by law-enforcement officials regarding Muslims and terrorism, the Muslim leaders remain unconcerned about the extent of the problem of terrorism in their community and uncooperative in terror investigations. All of this despite evidence to the contrary.

It is a pitiful sign of the times we live in that people are so easily swayed by fear and hatred to do unthinkable things. The Islamophobe is increasingly unfettered in his portrayal of Islam as alien and other. And hatred of America or Americophobia in Muslim countries has become the main argument for exploitation of the uninformed masses by the terrorists and religious zealots. The Muslim masses in general are poorly informed about America and the Western style democracy; their impressions are formed mainly through religious binary prism which leaves them open to exploitation by religious zealots.The emergence of Islamophobia in Western countries is both striking and disconcerting. How, after 50 years of the institutionalized nurture of human rights and anti-racism could an ideology of vicious discrimination gain such ground?Beside the historical legacy of conflicts between Islam and Christianity, Islamophobia, as popular movement now in the West, seemingly also has links with the economic downturn and the “war on terrorism.” The key concepts Islamophobes deploy come largely from those working within the framework of America’s post-Cold War ambitions to dominate the Middle East; seemingly this is less racist but more “official” and politically correct. The argument that Islamic terrorism forms the pre-eminent threat to Western democracy, that there is a need for a Cold War against Islam, and that Islamists are totalitarians and fascists was interestingly made by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu not too long ago..

To emphasize that a major part of all of this feeling against Islam is a media construction is not far from truth. The powerful American media are using fear and running hot on an anti-Muslim agenda to create hatred of Islam and Muslims. In the post-Sept. 11 era, “Islam” owes more to tabloid headlines than to responsible coverage, reporting and research by the media.Because Islam is still a minority religion in America and has had little positive public exposure, Americans have built up a strong distrust of it. It is hardly a surprise that the image of American Muslims is in serious disrepair.A January 2010 Gallup poll found that almost half of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam. About the same number of Americans harbor personal prejudice toward Muslims, according to the poll. These numbers become especially troubling when we consider that two-thirds of the Americans polled admit to knowing little to nothing about Islam.An insidiously divisive discourse promoting the idea that “Muslimness” is equivalent to terrorism and violence is being fostered by the media and some politicians for their own benefits. The term “Islam” – just like the terms “Christianity” or “Christian-Jewish” – is currently being used primarily as a political battle cry.

The Christian churches have generally come out very strongly against it, but the politicians look at it just as a utility for the election – Republicans, especially the Tea Party types, were using it shamelessly – the Palins, the Gingriches, the Paladinos, the Rick Lazios, especially in East Coast elections, where people link into the frenzy over the “Ground Zero Mosque.”To talk of “Muslims” and “Islam” as if they are integrated entities is self-defeating. It must be recognized that Islam like all other faiths must be understood in its two dimensions: Qur’anic and historical. Qur’anic Islam is the one that represents a total Islamic worldview based on the genuine and authentic interpretation of the Al-Qur’an. The historical Islam is the one resulting largely from its wrestling and interaction with the blood and flesh of history, which is not always necessarily compatible with the Prophet’s true mission as “a grace toward all mankind.”There should be no doubt that Islam has become a convenient scapegoat. Yet as it with all “scapegoats,” a major share of the responsibility for all of this must be assigned to the Muslims themselves.

The Muslims remain confused and disoriented. Lacking in confidence they remain vulnerable and reactive. A twofold reason for all of this is their own inability to seek a deeper understanding of Islam as a social contract reforming and uplifting their societies and not merely a set of rituals; the other reason is their lack of understanding of the world around them.The global Muslim population remains conveniently divided against itself in many cases -this with a little bit of external assistance also. They thus remain unable to forge a strategy. It is obvious that the only ones who can change this are Muslims; of this they need to be persuaded and convinced. Unless this happens there will be little inclination or chance that most people in the world will want to “understand” them simply because so much of what is being claimed in the name of Islam in many parts of the Muslim world is anathema to any civilized, democratic and enlightened world – Arabnews