Islamophobia Receding?

Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Clinton and, according to Michelle Bachmann and a few other extremists, a potential threat

If the charge had been made in early 2002 it may have gained traction.   Michelle Bachmann and others claimed that Huma Abedin should be investigated for possible links to Muslim Brotherhood.   The warning: perhaps she and other Muslim “extremists” have infiltrated the highest ranks of the State Department and US government, putting the country in danger.

Bachmann had no evidence, and ultimately only could point to the fact that back in Saudi Arabia her late father had connections with people who had connections with people who were in an organization with connections with the Muslim Brotherhood.   So clearly, she’s a threat.  She also probably knows Kevin Bacon.

But in the emotion-laden post-9-11 days, just the hint of the fact a Muslim was high up in the State Department and could potentially be linked to extremists would have had the country atwitter.    There probably would have been a series of calls for investigations and warnings of Muslim infiltration of the apparatus of the US government.   Unfortunately for Bachmann her call came ten years too late — it was like warning of Communists in the State Department in 1963.

Bachmann followed the game plan of former Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy – make wild claims backed by no evidence and hoping fear would take hold

Instead Republicans from John McCain to Jim Sensenbrenner called Bachmann out for her outlandish claim, defending Abedin and noting that it was un-American to make such accusations based solely on her religion or vague ties of acquaintances of her family decades in the past.   The Muslim Brotherhood itself professed puzzlement at the charge, noting that it’s having trouble infilitrating even the Egyptian government!

After mocking Bachmann’s flimsy evidence of Abedin’s “link” to the Muslim Brotherhood, Stewart shows how easily Bachmann could be similarly accused due to her campaign contributions from HSBC, which is accused of providing banking services for Islamic extremist groups including al qaeda. Ooops.

Hopefully this is a sign that the Islamophobia that seemed to grab the country in the 00’s has given way to recognition that Muslim Americans are not all would-be terrorists out to destroy the western way of life.   Indeed, the Arab spring has shown Americans that Muslims in the Mideast want freedom and democracy as well.

Still, the fear remains.   Behind Bachmann’s outrageous charge is a nefarious organization called the Center for Security Policy, headed by hard core neo-con Frank Gaffney, which has as its primary goal the promotion of a neo-conservative foreign policy.    Such a policy seeks to spread American ideals through force if necessary, and sees any indigenous Islamic movement in the Mideast as dangerous.    However, even Gaffney has to know that Abedin is no inside threat.   What really bothers him and those who still cling to the neo-con dream of an American dominated Mideast is the fact that the US increasingly recognizes that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups in general are not the enemy.   Indeed, they are important actors in moving the Islamic world towards modernism.   Gaffney and those of his ilk would prefer we see any Islamic organization not overtly embracing western values as a threat.

During the era of knee jerk Islamophobia after 9-11 it was assumed that political Islam was all a variant of Osama Bin Laden’s ideology and al qaeda.    Evidence for that claim could always be found using quotes of members of different organizations, even if the quotes were decades old and not aimed at the US.   This led to support for a US effort to dominate the region to both bring in an American style democracy and have friendly regimes in control of Persian Gulf oil.   That was considered the best way to undercut future terrorism.    The Iraq war has shown that such a strategy was folly – it didn’t work and was based on false premises.

As they strive for political acceptance and power, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood realize that a ‘war with the West’ and extremism are against their self-interest. There is no need for enmity with the West.

Now, however, a more nuanced view dominates.   Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have a wide range of views, and some quotes and ideas do sound radical.   That’s to be expected given the oppression and violence used against them by dictatorial regimes in the past.   But these organizations are evolving in a reality where politics is becoming more open.   They are no longer just a small group competing against powerful corrupt regimes, but have become a large organization needing public support to try to remake the politics of the region.

As such there is no reason to expect them to be hostile to the US and the West, so long as we are not hostile to them.  Indeed, it is in our interest to cultivate a solid relationship with such groups to help them make the transition from being on the outside fringe to governing.   This isn’t a new process either.   Ever since Robert Michel put forth his view on the “iron law of oligarchy” in 1911, it’s been well known that radical groups moderate when they become part of the system.   The Greens in Germany, for instance, went from being radical pacifists and anti-NATO/anti-growth to being part of a German government that fought in Kosovo and embraced pro-market policies to increase growth and competitiveness in Germany.

The neo-cons and other fear mongers will point to parties like the Nazis in Germany and say “see, they didn’t moderate.”   But there is no reason to expect the Muslim Brotherhood or other such organizations to behave that way – quite the opposite, in fact.

Which one is crazier?

Change in the Arab world will be gradual, a culture dominated by Ottoman style repression and dictatorship for 700 years doesn’t blossom into a stable functioning democracy overnight.   Some states like Saudi Arabia have yet to start the inevitable transition.   But with the almost universal rejection of the McCarthy like Islamophobic “warning” of Michelle Bachmann, there is cause to believe that the US can be a positive influence in assisting change, working with a variety of groups in the Mideast to develop a path to democracy rather than fearing our lack of control over the process.

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  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on July 24, 2012 - 14:04

    “So clearly, she’s a threat. She also probably knows Kevin Bacon.”

    An association with Kevin Bacon alone is grounds for being interrogated in some black site prison. 😉

  2. #2 by classicliberal2 on July 25, 2012 - 02:57

    Frank Gaffney is a grade-A fascist crackpot, a leading proponent of the myth, well-circulated in far-right circles, that the U.S. is moving toward the adoption of shariah law (his organization also published an entire book on the subject 2 years ago), a man who argues Saddam Hussein was behind both 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, a birther who suggests the Obama was born in Kenya, and insists he’s a secret Muslim. He’s even said CPAC and the American Conservative Union have been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Islamophobia receding? Not a chance, Scott. The move, by a handful of prominent Republicans, to smack down this latest bit of crackpotism is an anomaly. Look into what’s happening across the U.S. In my backyard alone, 7 county Republican parties have so far passed a teabagger resolution condemning Bill Haslam (the Republican governor) for hiring a Muslim woman. She stands condemned for being “an expert in Shariah Compliant Finance,which is one of the many ways Islamic terrorism is funded” (this is similar to what just happened in New Jersey, when Chris Christie was crucified by the far right for appointing a Muslim judge). The TN clowns are very anti-shariah, but show Michelle Bachmann’s understanding of it (or lack of self-awareness), as the same resolution also condemned the governor for failing to fire homosexuals and Democrats in state government. If you want to see a REALLY ugly spectacle, do a Google search for “Islamic Center of Murfreesboro”–that one’s been going on for a while, now. More broadly, something like 22 state legislatures have passed or considered anti-shariah measures–measures aimed at preventing the adoption of shariah law, as if there’s any chance of that anywhere in the U.S. (my own state of Georgia passed one, as well). Islamophobia is a live and well and worse than ever.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on July 25, 2012 - 03:09

      Yeah, Gaffney makes Bachmann look reasonable by comparison. I still think that mainstream America isn’t as taken in by the fear of Islam that they were in 2002. But I just read about how the tea party in Arizonia wants to recall McCain for his defense of Abedin, saying crackpot things about the nature of Islam. I taught a class about Islam and the West once, and we had a Pentecostal guest Minister come and say the same things. My students questioned him on his claims and you could tell he hadn’t gotten such knowledgable questions before, he was taken aback. He didn’t back down (and I was proud of the students for being respectful despite the fact they clearly realized he was ignorant about Islamic history and theology). So there are many people out there convinced Muslims by definition must destroy non-Muslims and can’t be loyal to the US.

      I guess I stick by my comparison between 1953 and 1963. Anti-Communist kooks were abundant in 1963, and helped lead to the Vietnam war, spying on MLK, etc. But as bad as it was in the 60s, it wasn’t as bad as during the McCarthy era! But perhaps that’s like saying that it’s gotten cooler in the Midwest when the temperature goes from 104 to 97. Yeah, an improvement, but still damn hot!

  3. #4 by Titfortat on July 26, 2012 - 13:28

    There are sections of Islam that are quite radical and cause for concern. This is true for other religions also but considering Islam is one of the faster growing ones out here, pointing out the obvious doesnt always make one an “Islamaphobe”. Though I will concur Bachmann and several others do fit that bill nicely. 😉

  4. #5 by plainlyspoken on July 29, 2012 - 01:11

    It is ridiculous in so many ways. Muslims are judged no different that Blacks were in America for oh so too many decades. These scaremongers need to recall that one should be judged (as Dr. King stated) “….by the content of their character.”

    Oh, wait…….Dr. King was considered a dangerous radical – oh how could I forget that? sarcasm intended

    It just makes the bile rise in my throat over such beliefs about someone just because they are a Muslim (or a Black, or a Jew, or a Christian even). I wonder who the next great American bogeymen will be?

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