by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1437)
Attacks on Muslims and their institutions have risen alarmingly worldwide, especially in the US. Leading politicians and the media are front and centre of this vicious campaign.
Anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry have gone mainstream. The US, which prides itself on being the land of the free, has become the land of the freaks. Leading politicians vie with one another on who can utter the most outrageous anti-Muslim diatribes. Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential contender is also the leading Islamophobe. His anti-Muslim venom has added to his popularity reflecting a dangerous trend in America.
Trump’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the notorious group of white hooded men that lynched blacks and torched their churches, often with worshippers inside them. Trump may not officially be a member of the KKK but his conduct in turning on the Muslims is no different. Not surprisingly, so many masjids in America have been vandalized, defaced, or firebombed since the November 13 Paris attacks.
There have been 63 anti-Muslim attacks between November 13 and December 8, 2015 according to the group, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). The actual number is definitely much higher since many Muslims, especially women in hijab, have probably not reported hate incidents for fear of drawing attention.
These attacks transcend all state boundaries. They have occurred in New York as well as Washington, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They have occurred in Florida as well as Texas; and North Dakota, Arizona, and California have all been taken in its sweep. Muslims live in absolute fear as gun-toting brutes hurl abuse at Muslims outside masjids. Women in hijab are stalked in shopping malls as well as outside masjids. And what do the authorities do?
The police, infested with racists and bigots, often turn a blind eye. Muslims are forced to hire private security guards to protect their masjids. Free enterprise and capitalism have received a boost. What about the media whose job it is to ferret out the truth? Led by the likes of Fox News and CNN, Islamophobia has become fashionable. The Muslims are up to no good; they do not belong in America, the media pundits thunder.
The December 2 San Bernardino shooting — blamed on a Muslim couple about which the FBI investigation has raised doubts — was immediately beamed by FOX News as a “terrorist attack” even though eyewitnesses at the scene said they saw three well-built white males carry out the attack. The family’s lawyer, David Chesley, pointed out that the couple was handcuffed and shot dead outside their vehicle. How did that happen? Were they handcuffed and then shot dead or were they killed and then handcuffed? No answers have been provided.
In the anti-Muslim environment deliberately created in America, such answers are largely academic as is the question whether Trump is a fascist or a rank opportunist. What he has done and continues to do is to play on people’s jingoism and xenophobia. In the process, far right groups have flocked to his rallies with calls that they support him. If Muslims are killed, their masjids vandalized and children terrorized, well so be it.
Muslims are an oppressed minority in the US. They are hard working, law abiding citizens and cannot be blamed for the crimes of others whether in distant lands or inside the United States. What law holds an entire group responsible for the crimes of their supposed co-religionists (because it has not been established that Muslims are committing these crimes) in far off places? Besides, Muslims are of diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds; how can they all be put in the same basket?
Such questions, however, are deemed irrelevant because the US establishment needs an identifiable enemy to rile up the people. The primary motive is to wage endless war globally because war is a profitable business. Since most US wars are waged against Muslim countries, Muslims as a people have to be demonized. If Americans were to see their Muslim neighbors as decent, law-abiding, non-violent citizens, they would be less inclined to accept the official propaganda that paints them as raging extremists. It is quite revealing that while more than 70% of Americans believe the Qur’an advocates violence, they have never read it themselves!
It would be hard to imagine any other faith or ethnic group being targeted in the same manner as Muslims without arousing strong official and public reaction. In the case of Muslims, the issue is simply shrugged off as a matter of First Amendment right: people have the right to say what they want because the American Constitution guarantees it. Unfortunately, the US has a long history of mistreating people. It started with the massacre of First Nations people, followed by the African American brought on slave ships. Then it was the turn of people of Chinese, Japanese, German and Italian origins. In the 1960s, African Americans were again brutalized for no other crime than asking for equal rights. Today, it is the Muslims.
How long must this demonization of the “other” continue? Is it moral or virtuous to always target the most vulnerable; what kind of values are these?
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought