Archive for January 7th, 2011

Islamophobia becoming a caricature

The irrationality of Islamophobia is easy to demonstrate.   There are very, very few Muslim terrorists, and those who are reflect a political problem in Mideast countries under corrupt governments where the youth lack hope, or in rare cases a backlash against western culture.   The adherents of Bin Laden are the exception rather than the rule, and they do not adhere to true Muslim doctrine in the eyes of over 99% of the Islamic world.  And from the perspective of Muslims, the real mass killing has been done in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza, with Muslims the victims of state terror.   The idea that Muslims are more violent or dangerous is simply wrong.

Yet some people find it easy to make collective broadsides against over a billion innocents.    Anger over a Muslim day at an amusement park after Ramadan, opposition to a community Center in New York City and weird claims that Arabs are crossing the border disguised as Mexicans to have babies that will become terrorists in 18 years were typical.  Calls for ‘internment camps’ and threats to bomb Mecca have faded, however, as most Americans realize that the over the top rhetoric was both irrational and un-American.

Yet there are a few are still at it.   The especially kooky Frank Gaffney seems to think if you have anything to do with a Muslim, you’re infected.  He claims that conservative groups that work with Muslims are trying to spread shariah law and indoctrinate American conservatives  into supporting Islam.    Chief among these alleged insidious traitors are Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, and former Bush staffer Suhail Khan.   I’m kidding, right?  Read it here. He claims that the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), associated with the American Conservative Union (ACU) has the goal of indoctrinating conservatives into giving support to Islam and Sharia law.

Gaffney appears to have a Joseph Goebbels approach to propaganda — tell big and outrageous lies with a sense of urgent certainty, and people will believe  (he’s done this before, as the article cited above notes, and almost always with Muslims as the villains).   But the idea that American conservatives can somehow be duped into promoting Islam and Shariah law is too far fetched to even be taken seriously.    I also am personally upset with Gaffney for threatening the prestige of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies where I got my MA.  He has a Ph.D. from that school!

But Gaffney’s not the only one.   Conservative bloggers are incensed at DC Comics for having Batman choose a French Muslim to head his Paris office.  (Batman runs branch offices?)  Why could he not have a “real” Frenchman?   A good Catholic, or even an atheist?   First, French law makes clear that French identity is related to culture, not genetics.  And the French have a lot of Muslims whose families have been French for generations; they are “true” Frenchmen and women.  These bloggers must be the same people who were miffed that Mecca didn’t get destroyed in the movie 2012!

What kind of bile runs through the veins of a person to make them so hateful towards Islam that they get up in arms over a comic book having a Muslim hero?   Muslims fight and serve in the US armed forces, many have died to save their comrades.  Are they not heroes?   Of course, rationality is not a strong suit with this crowd.   Recently an easily recognizable hoax led to massive effort by opponents of the New York City community center to boycott Justin Bieber. First, boycotting an artist (OK, you can quibble with that description of Bieber) over his or her political views is a bit silly — it’s a sign you’re taking this too seriously.   But not to take the time to really be sure of it before launching a major boycott drive?   Bizarre.

The danger, apparently, is that if we portray Muslims in a kind (I would say, in an accurate) manner, then we’re allowing others to see them as human.  If Muslims are seen as human, then suddenly it’s not fair to single them out and vilify 1.5 billion people because of the acts of a few dozen.    Like Gaffney, who apparently can’t stand that President Bush praised Islam as a religion of peace and had Muslim aids, Islamophobes are to the West what Bin Laden is to Islam: an irrational extreme which wants a ‘clash of civilization’ so the “evil” side can be defeated by the “good” side.

I say put the Islamic extremists and the Islamophobes in a room together and let them fight it out.   The rest of us can work on things like restructuring the economy and advancing human rights.

Still, there is something both frightening and heartening in all this.  It’s frightening that people can let their rationality slip away, and allow fear of the other to take over.   And it is fear — hate, prejudice, bigotry and anger all have fear as their root cause.  It’s heartening, however, to see that most Americans are rejecting that kind of approach, and that increasingly it’s just the over the top bizarre ones that make the news.   Since the misplaced opposition to the Community Center in New York city burst forth, the media has gotten better on explaining the reality of Islam, and countering those wild claims that Muslims wanted to “kill all Christians” and things like that (sort of like how the Nazis said Jews wanted to eat Christian babies).

As it became clear that the man who wanted to build what the Islamophobes originally claimed was a “mosque on the site of Ground zero” to “honor Osama Bin Laden and claim victory” was really a moderate Sufi who has been constantly working for dialogue and cooperation between Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, people started to see the hatemongers for what they really are.   There is already a mosque at the site of that community center, which is a few blocks from ground zero, not on it.    The public started to shrug at that debate, and move away from a fear that somehow Muslims were a danger.

And with caricatures like Gaffney warning that Muslims are trying to take over the conservative movement, and with bloggers waxing indignant about DC Comics daring to have a French Muslim hero, it’ll continue to become obvious that only the crazies see Islam and Muslims writ large as a threat.   There are dangerous extremist groups, and Islam is going through a difficult process of defining itself in the modern context thanks to globalization.   There are real problems.   One can also criticize the militarism and failures of American foreign policy.   There is a lot to fix and deal with on all sides.  But maybe the craziness is subsiding.

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