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03/12: Islamophobia in American society

It just keeps getting more and more frustrating as well as pitiful.

While browsing Anandtech forums [where there is a lot of anti-Islam paranoia and propaganda at the hands of people from India, Israel and America itself] I found some things I was previously unaware of. People who might object to my judgement of these forums should rein in their objections since I have been a member there for around four years and have seen enough evidence to form my own opinion.

Various links led me to news stories on Yahoo! and MSNBC news sites, one of which I will comment upon.

The news story is 'In U.S., fear and distrust of Muslims runs deep' [backup]. The article tells about a radio host Jerry Klein [AM station 630 WMAL] who in his show/programme asked for Muslims to be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band. He got a huge response in favour of it from callers. Quoting Mr. Klein, "The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."

[Click here to listen to the show - MP3 file - 8.8MB]

Admittedly, there were some who condemned that idea but the majority who called were supportive of the idea. Some of the comments supportive of the proposal were:

"Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

"What good is identifying them? You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one hour show, Mr. Klein had a large assortment of such comments. Mr. Klein then revealed it all to be a spoof to get true sentiments regarding Muslims in the American public. Yahoo! news reports Mr. Klein as saying:

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting."

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."


Those in agreement are not a fringe minority: A Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification.

Roughly a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

I must say that this attitude is most disappointing and outlines the Islamophobia prevalent in the American media and in the thoughts of quite a few Americans. The ignorance and paranoia of those in favour of Mr. Klein's proposal is somewhat astonishing to an average person like me, outside of the US watching such stuff happening. It makes me think; are these particular Americans proud of their legacy of freedom and equal rights which has resulted in Islamophobia and such hysteria against all Muslims [in general], all because a small, numerically insignificant, group out of over 1.3 billion Muslims did something wrong? Is this what life is like in America? It is things like these which make me stay in Pakistan and not give much thought to education and employment opportunities in the US. Personally, I think I enjoy a lot more freedom here in the things that matter to me than I would in America. My sentiment is obviously mine and most probably varies from yours. However, things like this [backup] and this [backup - page 1 - page 2] make me maintain my sentiment. Certain steps have been taken in the positive direction for the cases of the linked articles [in the last sentence] like this [backup] which is a thing I appreciate.

Even though I don't like bringing in comparisons with Nazis and Hitler [since they have been used very frequently by Jewish people I have met on various forums to garner sympathy for their invalid arguments], there is a certain weight to Mr. Klein's comparison of this attitude with that of Hitler and his Nazi ilk. Every other day we get to hear about Muslims who face problems in the US while using airplanes for transportation. I know that even some non-Muslims have suffered from this [particularly the Sikhs since they wear a turban] in the name of security of the 'homeland' and I sympathize with them. The problems faced are not just limited to travel but also normal life. The emotions and the response to Mr. Klein's show/programme, I am sorry and disappointed to say, is not one that I would expect from any member of a civilized society.

The article itself points out the key problem as being ignorance. Mohamed Esa who teaches a course on Islam at McDaniel College in Maryland points out that:

"The level of knowledge is very, very low. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and some people think they are all terrorists."

The above is exactly what is wrong with the prevalent Islamophobia.

Hossam Ahmed, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel who occasionally leads prayer for the small Muslim congregation at the Pentagon, agreed. "Ignorance is the number one problem. Education is of the essence."

A few weeks back, a Pakistani was attacked by Jewish kids when he answered 'yes' to their question, "Are you a Muslim?", in New York as I highlighted in a comment in another article. Unsurprisingly, it did not make headlines in the media. The converse would have been true if a Jewish person was attacked by a group of Muslims. The Pakistani Muslim got 15 stitches after the attack. You can read the actual news story here.

The questions we must ask are how to resolve this and correct these wrong perceptions of Muslims? Certainly, Muslims have an identity of their own and need to display it just like Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. To fear Muslims for displaying their symbols and identities is not correct and only creates wrong perceptions of America in the eyes of Muslims. I feel there needs to be a new approach to counter extremism in any society. The effects of Islamophobia are not just limited to America but to the whole world. It is a big reason for the negative American image outside America.

During the Kashmir earthquake when Pakistanis suffered huge losses in the Kashmir and N.W.F.P area, the American aid improved the American standing with the Pakistani public tenfold. People saw positive work from Americans and deeply appreciated it. The expenditure of the aid incurred by America was much much less than the expenditure on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Which approach was more successful in improving the image of America, creating harmony and generally curtailing extremism? It's obvious and I will leave that to the readers sensible judgement.

There are obviously problems and issues I have not taken into account while writing this simply because I don't have knowledge of them. If there is such a point which you feel is missing, do comment on it so that others can get a more complete picture of the issues surrounding this debate. Having both sides of the argument in front of us is the best approach since the best decisions are well informed decisions, not one-sided decisions. Any other comments are welcome too.




Asad  Politics 
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Comments made

Your article, specifically the implied correlation of contemporary American culture with the Nazis, made me smile because some people in the US are busy trying to associate Muslims with the Nazis.

I don't know if you caught it, but FOXNews just aired a hour long special* on a provocative movie made by a jewish guy (surprise!) on how Islamo-fascists are trying to invade and conquer the west. They trotted out a number of turn coats, supposedly from the muslim fold, who warn americans to purge muslims from the west, lest they take over their churches and the Whitehouse.

Included in this hate-spiel were anecdotes of Turkey siding with the Nazis in WW-II, which proves(it's implied) that Muslims have common interests with evil entities and hold macabre designs for western democracies in the near future.

I see tough road ahead for Muslims living in the west. They will either forgo their faith and culture to assimilate and 'blend' into the landscape, or be ostracized by the majority into ghettos.

(*) http://www.obsessionthemovie.com/
04/12 02:26:34
@ Sheikh Chilli:

Interesting observations, some of which I overlooked myself. I didn't knew about this movie which from the looks of it is just another propaganda movie. Furthermore, considering that Fox News is airing 'specials' about it, one can get an accurate idea how close to truth the movie would be... *rolling eyes*

Indeed, the Muslims have a tough road ahead unless things change dramatically. Let's hope they have a wider choice of options by the time they might need to decide since neither of the options you have mentioned are very palatable right now.

Thanks for commenting!
04/12 02:57:09
Part of the problem is that the muslims themselves have lost their identity. It's the muslims that have lost their culture, it is them who are trying to adopt western values; values which force them to be distinguished. I pity the muslims who in their endaveour towards this westernization lose all traces of their culture and identity and cry foul when others wish for them to be identified.

Every misrepresentative of Islam, whether it be a terrorist or those who have no concern for the muslim way of life are a threat to the integrity of Islam.
04/12 07:16:54
This settles it , I for one am never going to the states . You got no respect in that country .
04/12 10:29:21
@ Anonymous:

That is true to some extent. Muslims today are far more influenced by their regional culture than the true values taught by Islam. However, the blame falls on Islam when they do something which is un-Islamic but a part of the culture. An example is the demand for dowry prevalent in South Asia which, in my opinion and interpretation of Islam, is un-Islamic.

Muslims have tried to merge their identities with western values which has made them be neither here nor there. However, that is not limited to Muslims only. People from all regions and religions of the world have tried to adopt western values. There is no problem with adopting western values so long as you maintain your individual identity and religious values. Praying five times a day, for one, does not clashes with western values in any way.

The blame does not solely lies with the identity crises that Muslims face. Ignorance and stereotypes regarding Islam in the western world [non-Muslims] is an ongoing thing which needs to be dealt with.
04/12 17:16:56
"Muslims have tried to merge their identities with western values which has made them be neither here nor there. However, that is not limited to Muslims only. People from all regions and religions of the world have tried to adopt western values. There is no problem with adopting western values so long as you maintain your individual identity and religious values. Praying five times a day, for one, does not clashes with western values in any way."

You are contradicting yourself. Western values and Islamic ones can not coexist.
05/12 18:29:45
@ Anonymous:

You are contradicting yourself. Western values and Islamic ones can not coexist.



Your assertion (or stereotype, as some may see it) that western values and Islamic values cannot co-exist is solely your own opinion and IMO far away from the facts. This statement also depends on what you see as western values. Each person has a different perception and appreciates different things in any entity.
05/12 20:58:55
They can and cannot . It also depends on the fact that if you are willing to make some slight adjustments to your religion. In orthodox Islam perhaps there is a problem with stretching the values but in contemporary Islam it is possible to seek reconciliation to some extent .After all the process of Ijtehad in Islam makes this option possible .
If one is just adamant about the fact that they totally agree with each other than this is not possible . If you say that they have nothing in common that would be also wrong . It is always a compromise and has been with all religions and cultures .
06/12 10:30:33
"Contemporary Islam" is just a deviation. The fact is that Western values challenge the core values present in Islam. Freedom was a rule of law before the advent of Islam, which is what American extremists are trying to push America towards. Islamic laws on the other hand are not for a limited period and can not be changed.

If Pakistan had indeed followed the principles of Islamic law, it would have become a prosperous, peace loving nation. But the mindset of some "enlightened souls" beleived that prosperity and progress could only be acheived by following western values. Values, which have no place in an Islamic society.
06/12 22:06:52
@Anonymous:

The fact is that Western values challenge the core values present in Islam.



Again, what particular values are you looking at?

Freedom was a rule of law before the advent of Islam, which is what American extremists are trying to push America towards.



Come again? Care to restructure the sentence to make it understandable?

But the mindset of some "enlightened souls" beleived that prosperity and progress could only be acheived by following western values. Values, which have no place in an Islamic society.



I contest the "only" part. You yourself state "mindset of some", which signifies a minority opinion which cannot be used to judge the majority.

Again, what are western values [or what were/are they perceived to be]? Justice? Freedom? Equality? Unity? Discipline? All are present in Islam. They are not even western values, per se. They were attributed to various other people over the history of mankind in different times and in different places. The common thing between the West today and those people from history is relative advancement in technology [depending on time] and/or education during their era.

The problem I see with a few of the above 'values' is that in western society, they are unbounded or if bounded, selectively bounded. In case of unbounded 'values', it is a danger to other people in the society where anyone can exploit said 'value'. In the selectively bounded case, regardless of intentionally or unintentionally, bias [or discrimination] creeps in. Bias is a part of human nature and it manifests itself in this case.

One key thing is that values, however good, if not actually put into practise are useless. This is an issue plaguing quite a few Muslims today where they are found somewhat wanting.
06/12 23:38:34
"Again, what particular values are you looking at?"

They are both different in their aims and objectives. Western values are based solely on worldly needs and wants. Islam's aim is more vast and encompasses both worlds and hence is more balanced. (eg. sex, treatment of elders etc)

"Freedom was a rule of law before the advent of Islam, which is what American extremists are trying to push America towards."

Arabian tribes were indeed free to do what they liked before the advent of Islam and hence became of them what became. Freedom according to the laid principles of Islam is what leads to real freedom. Moving away and doing things you should not be doing is extremism; from sex outside marraige to issues such as cloning.

"I contest the "only" part. You yourself state "mindset of some", which signifies a minority opinion which cannot be used to judge the majority."

Who ever said "The majority is always right" was an idiot.
07/12 17:31:40
@ Anonymous:

Considering that Arabs before Islam used to bury their daughters on birth due to shame, the freedom at that time wasn't really freedom at all. It was destructive in nature. Islam taught about the rights of women and gave them a status equivalent to men for the first time in Arab lands. Reading the last sermon of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), provides conclusive proof of this and outlines many things which I consider, should be the core 'values' of any civilized society.

Majority is not always right but it has the deciding power in most cases. However, that's not what I talked about in my previous reply. I said that the opinions of a minority cannot be used to judge another majority and vice versa.

Even in the article I have written, I do not judge all Americans as being Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory. I have clearly used the word 'particular' to signify that it is only a group of Americans who have such ignorant thoughts and feelings.
07/12 17:49:14
Click here to read about right-wing radio host Dennis Prager asking the first Muslim elected to the US congress to swear his oath using the Bible. Since when has the oath taking in the US been done using a religious text?

Surprisingly enough, he was appointed by President Bush to a five-year term on the taxpayer-funded United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The folks from CAIR have it right when they say:

No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had, and continues to have, on every society. As a presidential appointee, Pragerís continued presence on the council would send a negative message to Muslims worldwide about Americaís commitment to religious tolerance.

07/12 18:20:15
what do Muslims know of Christianity? When have they ever turned the other cheek?
19/12 00:06:26
@ JAG:

Muslims know much more about Christianity than their fellow Christians know about Islam as evidenced in the excerpt from an article below:

In general, Americans [Christians by majority] don't know much about Muslims, surveys show. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the share of those saying they knew "not very much" or "nothing at all" about Islam actually grew from 61 percent in 2001 to 66 percent in 2005. In another 2005 Pew finding, 62 percent failed to identify Allah and the Koran as the terms Muslims use for God and sacred scripture.

Certain key sectors of US society also display a dangerous ignorance, Muslim advocates say. Topping the list this month is Rep. Silvestre Reyes (news, bio, voting record) (D) of Texas, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. In an interview with Congressional Quarterly last week, he could identify the historic Sunni-Shiite split but didn't know that Al Qaeda is Sunni or that Hizbullah, which fought Israel this summer in Lebanon, is Shiite.


There is also another point to consider. Islam has mention of Christianity, Jesus (Issa) and Mary (Mariam) in the Holy Quran/Koran. Can the same be said about mention of Islam or its prophet Mohammad (PBUH), in the Holy Bible?
19/12 02:12:37
Hi Asad,

I know it's late to post to this topic, but thought you might like an opinion from a Texan point of view.

You wrote, "The article itself points out the key problem as being ignorance. Mohamed Esa who teaches a course on Islam at McDaniel College in Maryland points out that:

"The level of knowledge is very, very low. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and some people think they are all terrorists."
Let me say that I personally have no anti-Muslim prejudice. I, like most Texans, judge people on what they say and do rather than what group they belong to or where they come from.

Having said that, I can understand why so many here in American have a perception that all Muslims are terrorists at heart. It troubles us that the majority of the Muslim community here and around the world do not speak out against the atrocious and cowardlly actions of the terrorist minority.

After the 9/11 attacks, we in America were stunned by the silence from the Muslims and their community leaders here in our country. That silence led us to believe the Muslim community supported the actions of the terrorists.

The response of the Arab press was beyond belief, to me. The outright support and encouragement of further attacks against innocent civilians in that press appalled me. It belied the stream of quotes from apologists that the Muslim religion was one of peace.

Today, it seems that the Muslim terrorists are more interested in killing innocent Muslim men, women and children and there is still no real demonstration of outrage on the part of the faithful.

From talking with my Muslim friends here in San Antonio, I get the impression that they do not support terrorism but they are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation against them and their families from those who do. (And this, my friends, is why we preach religious freedom in our country. No religion should have the power to silence its members with the fear of being killed.)

I agree that education is the key to overcoming prejudice. But education without action will not work.
29/08 21:33:56
@ Dave:

Any opinion is welcome.

Every single person has prejudices, including me. However, these prejudices never stand up to common sense, and so common sense always prevails in the end. It's too bad that common sense is not common.

Generally, people in America have a tendency to be too absorbed in their own lives. These same people don't care about what is happening outside their country and what are the ramifications of foreign policy decisions that their elected government is making. [e.g. the US-India nuke deal, for one, but I do not want to digress]

About speaking against terrorists, Muslims do speak about it often enough when they are given the opportunity to do so. Even people in Iran protested against the actions of the Saudi Arabian individuals who blew up the WTC towers [if one discounts all the conspiracy theories]. The only problem is that most of Western media very rarely allows such views to air. They want to show what they know will be more acceptable to the preconceptions of their audience. Of course, they have their own agendas too which Mr. Murdoch conceded to, a couple weeks back. What this does is that it poisons the minds of the people who rely on the very same media to give them actual unbiased news, when in fact, most of today's news is merely an opinion piece led by various interest groups. An example could be that the only things mentioned about Pakistan on the international media are about President Musharraf, A. Q. Khan Network and Waziristan. Are these the only things for anyone to decide and form an opinion about a country of 160 million people?

I have seen many Americans read about condemnation of these terrorists [which I specifically pointed out myself on certain occasions] and after just a few minutes, they totally forget about it to again lament that Muslims don't protest against these terrorists. Does every single Muslims needs to justify and protest against these terrorists for the world to see and believe? I don't think it necessary or justified in any way. Who ever wants to believe negatively will keep doing so and will be blinded to any protest by any Muslims.

Another problem is that Muslims as a community were not politically well integrated into the American system. Obviously, this has changed a lot since 9/11 and there is still a long way to go but they can at least now voice their protests which itself was a big problem before and around 9/11.

A thing I would like to clarify here is that Arabs and Muslims are not one and the same. Don't think of them as being one and the same thing! Arabs are an ethnic group who have their own culture and values while Islam is a religion which dictates its own values and norms. Often enough, Islam is practised differently when we look at Arabs and other Muslims across the world.

Again, one believes what one wants to believe. You yourself state that the response to 9/11 in Arab press was appalling and belied the condolences from other Muslims whom you conveniently label as apologists, which is just one step short of outright calling someone a liar. Why is this belief of yours there, if not for ignoring those who condole with the American losses on 9/11 and taking this supportive reaction for granted?

You forget that Muslims have been a victim of terrorism long before 9/11 happened. It just wasn't painted all over the media back then. Does it make terrorism appealing in any way? Certainly not!

The increase in terrorism can directly be attributed to Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Being a neighbour of Afghanistan, Pakistan has itself lost more forces to these terrorists than the combined forces of the allied countries inside Afghanistan. Our men in the Army are not fodder and I certainly expect others to respect the fact that we have done the most and lost the most to counter terrorism in this region. The whole so-called Jihad movement [a word most often perceived quite wrongly] was seeded and nurtured by the CIA in the cold war era against USSR. As a result, in current times, Pakistan is facing extreme threats from suicide bombers which was never heard of in this region a couple years back. Do you honestly think that we Muslims would support any one who is out to kill us like these terrorists are? These terrorists have no religion; just an agenda of their own which they hide under the banner of Islam.

People fear for their lives and that of their families and this is an inevitable truth and a perfectly natural reaction. Despite that, people still come out and speak against these people which, I think, is a commendable thing to do.

Education is just one part of the equation. There should also be awareness and open mindedness to counter such things.

Thanks for commenting and adding your point of view, Dave. I appreciate it.
29/08 23:07:12

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