Islamophobia is a curse that must be confronted

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Islamophobia is a curse that must be confronted

Aref Assaf, PhD

This op-ed is written in response and a follow-up to an excellent piece by Ahmed Soliman decrying the ever-present anti-Muslim sentiments and action in the United States Congress. See Soliman’s Islamophobia is alive and well in Congress. It is also a response to a careless letter by a Rabbi who almost accuses Soliman of being a supporter of terrorism.

While Islam-bashers in the U.S. Congress, media, academic and other circles are sometimes careful to claim that their hostility to Muslims or Arabs or Islam is limited to the “extremists,” the goal and the impact of these campaigns is, nonetheless, in fact, to demonize entire countries and communities. As Islamophobic views find increased acceptance in public discourse, there is also a rising danger of growing public acceptance of attacks –including legal discrimination, denial of rights, violent assaults, and more – on U.S. citizens and residents who happen to be Muslim, Arab, or Arab-American. Add to all this the potential for financial gains some of these pundits have reaped from publishing books that question the loyalty and doubts the patriotism of American Muslims.

The anti-muslim and anti-Arab sentiment is not limited to extremist, racist fringe forces; it is reflected in U.S. political, public, academic and media discourse at the highest levels, including former U.S. presidential candidates. Senator John McCain said that “since the U.S. was founded on Christian principles” he prefers a Christian president to a Muslim one. Congressman Peter King, says that “unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country” and that the Muslim community is “a real threat here in this country.” Most recently, we have the case of four Republican Congressmen calling for an investigation of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations for its purported ‘spies’ who are either working or interning on Capitol Hill. One of the congressmen, in fact, wrote the forward of a recent book warning of the forthcoming Muslim threat to America.

The very language of their objectives makes it abundantly clear that this is not primarily a racist assault on Muslims, Arabs, Arab-Americans, South Asians and anyone viewed as sympathetic towards those communities. Certainly, this Islamophobic crusade, led by the neo-conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center, with a growing list of ignorant politicians, does reflect a deeply rooted racist demonization of those targeted communities. But it inherently portends dangers even beyond the threat it poses to those communities and to the social fabric of this country from the consolidation of racist demagoguery as a “legitimate” part of public discourse.

There is an understandable impulse to just to look the other way at these ludicrous assertions and to dismiss the grandiose mobilization claims as just one more fringe right-wing nut job. But such a response, I would argue, would be a serious lapse in judgment. Not because the “claims” are anything other than preposterous, such as Muslim interns on Capitol Hill are spies, but rather because there is a far too much public belief in these preposterous assertions for anyone concerned with public education and mobilization to so carelessly write them off. And with the clear links between the Islamophobic and prejudicial treatment of certain American citizens, the implications cannot be easily dismissed.

Admittedly, we have honorable politicians who have steadfastly confronted the bias exhibited by their fellow members of Congress. Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) have been outspoken defenders of American Muslims. As reported in Soliman’s piece, Pascrell stated that: “I believe that these four congressmen are not in the mainstream of either party. The fact is that we want people from all persuasions and backgrounds to be part of this people’s government.” Here is what Conyers said about the “spies” charges levied against CAIR’s interns: “It shouldn’t need to be said in 2009, and after the historic election of our first African-American president, but let me remind all my colleagues that patriotic Americans of all races, religions, and beliefs have the right and the responsibility to participate in our political process, including by volunteering to work in Congressional offices.”

Assaf, Ph.D., President, American Arab Forum, a Paterson based think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim affairs.

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