By Victor Ghalib Begg
America prides itself on freedom, equal rights, and equal opportunity. Anti-Semitism and racism, especially against African Americans, quickly stirs disgust amongst most Americans–clearly both are unacceptable expressions of hatred.
Now, a new pattern of hate has crept up and taken our country by storm, but few Americans recognize this highly prevalent bigotry today – Islamophobia.
A bitter fruit from the same tree that produces other kinds of venom – Islamophobia is a controversial but increasingly fashionable malice against Islam or Muslims.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, at a 2004 conference on Islamophobia in New York, spoke out against this rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiments, â€˜When the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry — that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamophobia.â€™
Islamophobes are similar to anti-Semites and racists – their resentment is deliberate, designed to create fear, capitalizing on â€˜ignorance of the otherâ€™. Some TV networks and a few of our newspaper editorials engage in it regularly without impunity.
In the mid-1930s, a bigoted radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, spewed hatred against Jews across the national radio waves from Royal Oak, Michigan. Similarly today, the nationally syndicated â€œMichael Savage Show,â€ (heard locally on WDTK-AM, 1400), openly calls for forced conversion of Muslims to Christianity and the deportation of Muslims, and recommends that construction of mosques be made illegal in America. This is the sound of professional bigots wanting to demonize Muslim-Americans, portraying them as a fifth column, disloyal, violent and anti-American.
During a CNN Headline News program, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress was asked â€˜Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.â€™ Adding, â€˜I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.â€™
The alarming fact is — even our elected officials are indulging in this sort of maligning. Members of the US Congress like Rep. King, Republican of Long Island, N.Y., gets away with stealth hostility against Muslims and their religious institutions. King recently complained, during a TV interview, of too many mosques in America.
Member of the Michigan Congressional delegation, Rep. Hoekstra, exhibiting irrational suspicion, recently called for boycott of mainstream Islamic organizations like the Islamic Society of North America, although the US Administration seeks cooperation of such organizations for Homeland Security.
Why should non-Muslim Americans care? For one, any form of racism, bigotry or hate towards any American minority threatens the very fabric of what this country stands for.
It is Americaâ€™s minorities, its diversity and the coming together of many ideas and talents, which have enabled our nation to flourish throughout our history.
Where would America be without our Catholics, our Jews, our Italians, our Poles, our Hispanics and our African Americans? Each of these minorities, among others, demonized and stereotyped at one time – some still continue to be.
Just think about it – how would we react if an elected official calls for reduction of Jews and Synagogues in our country? Would we tolerate such anti-Semitism? What would be our responsibility if an elected official says the same about the Catholic institutions or Black churches? It is the responsibly of all Americans to speak up, not leaving the affected minorities to defend themselves alone. Islamophobia is a n evil that requires collective response – Muslims cannot and must not fight this battle alone.
Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny or any other forms of intolerance know no religious, racial or national boundaries.
It has the implications to harm not only the Muslims but also America. Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are interlinked – The more Americans engage in Islamophobia, the more anti-Americanism it creates abroad – possibly radicalizing some young Muslims within our borders like in Europe today. Europeans have taken the steps to deal with Islamophobic menace, recognizing its mischief, but it has not been addressed in America so far.
Some argue that Muslims often misuse the term â€˜Islamophobiaâ€™ to undermine legitimate criticism of Islam. The same critics totally forget extremists exist in all faiths – they condemn Islam entirely and its history as violent, denying the existence of a moderate and patriotic overwhelming Muslim majority, calling for reformation of Islam.
Racism against blacks was institutionalized, unchecked, sometimes resulted in violent outbursts like those of 1967 in Detroit. These institutions were so pervasive that our black populations are marginalized to this date, in spite of serious attempts to make amends.
Islamophobia too will be institutionalized in America, if not understood and confronted. The potential of such mindless bigotry has implications for our national interests and the world peace.
Ghalib Begg, Chair, CIOM