America’s Muslim Obsession
By Taj Hashmi
29 September, 2015
Recently, yet another Arab Muslim faced racial and religious discrimination in America. After being tipped off by a school teacher, the police arrested Ahmed Mohamed – a 14-year old school student at Irving, Texas – for bringing a device to school, which he claimed was a clock he made to impress his science teacher. Although the device did not look like a bomb, the police arrested and detained the boy for several hours on charges of bringing a hoax-bomb to school.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Mohamed has become a celebrity. Millions of Americans condemned the way his teachers and police treated him. President Obama formally invited him to the White House, which was an exceptional gesture of goodwill towards Muslims, and a unique way of saying “sorry” to someone unnecessarily traumatized and humiliated. Several American celebrities also congratulated Ahmed, and invited him to meet them personally.
Americans in general are nice and civil, generous and hospitable; but simultaneously, they could be very conceited, rude, hyperbolic, and hypocritical. For some strange reasons, Americans could be very prejudicial to ideologies, people and culture different from theirs. On the one hand, they are obsessed with freedom, human rights, and equal opportunity; on the other, they are insensitive to violating others’ freedom, human rights and equal opportunities, albeit in the name of freedom, democracy and justice. America is a land of obsessions. And Americans in general are programmed to believe in whatever their government, leaders and media want them to believe.
America’s Muslim obsession is a post-Cold War phenomenon, further accentuated after 9/11. As sections of Americans are obsessed with Islam and Muslims, “Muslim” seems to be the new “Black” in the American psyche. “Muslim” is also the new “Red”, the equivalent of a “Communist infiltrator” during the Cold War. Since Muslims and terrorists are almost synonymous in the US, some American employers – including universities – have unofficially restricted hiring Muslim candidates since 9/11.
“Muslim” has become such a dirty word in the US that even politicians and educated people do not shy away from calling Obama a “Muslim” alien. No wonder, two recent polls reveal 29 per cent of Americans, and 43 to 54 per cent of Republican voters (66 per cent of Trump supporters) believe Obama is a Muslim.
Most American politicians, intellectuals, analysts and policymakers are divided between the ultra-right conservative and rightist moderate categories. Unlike Canada, Western Europe or Australia, socialists and social democrats are almost nonexistent in America; people like Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul are simply “unelectable”. Only religious and social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and affordable healthcare for every American draw the line between conservatives and “radicals” in this country. Invading Muslim-majority countries on phony issues; wasting billions of dollars on such invasions; and killing millions of innocent civilians in the process are virtually non-issues for Americans.
The US has been the most disruptive force in the Muslim World since the end of World War II – it toppled five regimes in Syria alone, between 1949 and 1955. During the last 70 years, America toppled regimes in Iran (1953), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) and many more elsewhere in the world. It has been instrumental in creating Islamist militant/terrorist groups, directly or indirectly. Ever since 9/11, Muslims have been at the receiving end of American prejudice and hate crime. Many Americans are programmed to believe Muslim terrorists, and distant and militarily insignificant Iran are potential security threats to their country. The average Americans’ Muslim and Iranophobia today may be likened to their apprehensions about the “evil designs” of tiny Cuba, during the Cold War.
At a recent town hall meeting, a man wearing a Trump T-shirt asked Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump as to how he would address the “Muslim Problem” in America. Muslims were killing Americans, the man alleged. Instead of rebuffing the man, Trump told him: “You know, … a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening.” “It wasn't people from Sweden that blew up the World Trade Center”, Trump quipped in defence of his equivocal answer to the man. He said in a speech: “If you’re from Syria and you’re a Christian, you cannot come into this country”. Yet another Republican Presidential candidate, Ben Carson publicly stated: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation”. “Islam is inconsistent with America’s values and principles”, he emphasized.
However, on the flip side of this hatemongering, not only liberal Americans and media, but some Republican politicians also strongly disagreed with Trump and Carson. Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican Presidential candidate, defended American Muslims as loyal citizens. Muslim soldiers had been to Iraq and Afghanistan – “fighting our freedom, risking their lives” – he pointed out. He also asked Carson to apologize to the Muslims. Speaking on the Senate floor, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid slammed Carson for his “disgusting remarks” against Muslims. “Shame on Dr. Carson. Shame on any person who spews such hateful rhetoric,” he stressed.
Prominent Americans, Chomsky, Carter, General (ret) Wesley Clarke and Paul Craig Roberts among others regularly lambast Washington for unnecessary wars, and killing of innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, Pakistanis and others. While Carter believes America is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy, Paul Craig Roberts (Assistant Secretary of Treasury during the Reagan administration) writes: “Washington is a black hole into which all sanity is sucked out of government deliberations”.
So far so good! Nevertheless, neither Trump nor Carson lost support among conservative Americans. Rather, as Carson asserted, within 24 hours of saying that he would not support a Muslim in the White House, he raised a million dollars. “The money has been coming so fast, it’s hard to even keep up with it”, he told the media. Thanks to the successful demonization of Islam and Muslims in America, some people are still suspicious of anything Islamic or Muslim. In 2006, Six Muslim imams were removed from a domestic flight in Minneapolis, and detained for several hours after some passengers and crewmembers complained of “suspicious behaviour”, including prayers in Arabic at the gate.
Interestingly, non-Muslim extremists killed nearly twice as many people than by Muslim extremists in the recent past; 19 terrorist attacks by non-Muslims, and seven by Islamist militants, took place in America since 9/11. “With non-Muslims, the media bends over backward to identify some psychological traits that may have pushed them over the edge,” said Abdul Cader Asmal, a retired physician and a spokesman for Muslims in Boston. “Whereas if it’s a Muslim, the assumption is that they must have done it because of their religion”, he observes. We know analysts and media assumed Muslim militants (not a White extremist) had carried out the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, in 1995.
Although Islamist terrorists in the last 14 years (since 9/11) have killed 77 people, and around 14,000 people die annually in homicide attacks, yet in view of the hyped up counterterrorism (CT) activities and the preparation for the “Global War on Terror” in America, Washington’s sense of priority (or its absence) is simply dumbfounding, bizarre and unbelievable.
However, one cannot be that naive to give American policymakers, military-industrial complex, media and analysts the benefit of the doubt that their extremely costly and counterproductive CT efforts, the endless “War on Terror”, and Islamophobia are not by design but by default. They know it well invading one country after another, and playing the Islamist Terror card have so far paid rich dividends. However, Washington cannot make peace with Muslims within and Muslims abroad by simply denouncing Islamophobia.
Last but not least, inviting Ahmed Mohamed to the White House will not permanently appease Muslims anywhere. It is high time America stops supporting autocrats and human rights violators like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Sheikhdoms, Egypt, Israel, and anti-Assad forces in Syria. It must stop demonizing Iran too. Washington must realize – sooner the better – not only Muslims but also others have started believing in the conspiracy theories about 9/11, and the enigmatic rise of the so-called Islamic State. As Muslims in America deserve dignity and equal opportunities, so do Muslims abroad.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.
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