Ten years ago a bunch of terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and triggered a process that continues to extract a heavy toll in the form of blood and treasure. On that fateful day, thousands of innocent people, including a few hundred Muslims, died. As the dust settled, American Muslims found themselves besieged, vulnerable, and unwanted in this country even though they had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11 atrocities.
As American citizens, we Muslims are increasingly subjected to unprecedented scrutiny when we travel by air, our bank accounts can be probed at will, and our conversations are recorded and our telephones are tapped for the flimsiest of reasons. A Muslim name, a foreign accent, or a native dress rings alarm bells in the minds of our fellow citizens.
A wave of Islamophobia is sweeping our country that demonizes all Muslims. We are portrayed as unpatriotic, potential terrorists, and fifth columnists.
In the past 10 years things have changed for the worst. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, two-thirds of American people had a good impression of Islam. Over the years, however, those numbers have been eroding.
Last year, at the height of the Park51 (the proposed Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero) controversy, the unfavorable rating rose to 55 percent, according to a poll by the Economist magazine. Another poll, released by Time magazine in August, 2010, showed that 43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims and 25 percent think U.S. Muslims are not patriotic.
The inevitable question is: Why?
The reasons are many. The most important and foremost is the inflammatory and incendiary rhetoric emanating from some Protestant pulpits, political demagogues, and right-wing conservative organizations and media. They work in concert to malign and tar not only the terrorists but also everyone who is a Muslim.
Clothed in patriotic tones and armed with out-of-context passages from the Qur'an and selected history, these purveyors of hate demonize the entire edifice of religion and more than 1 billion Muslims.
Given the psychological vulnerability of most Americans in the post-9/11 world, this paranoid narrative becomes convincing. Take for example a DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West that was widely distributed free of charge a few years ago.
Prior to the 2008 presidential elections, Clarion Fund, an obscure tax-exempt organization registered in New York, distributed the inflammatory video by mass mailing and as newspaper advertisement supplements. It takes selected clips of anti-West diatribe by some Arab speakers and scenes of violence from Arab media and intersperses them with footage from the Nazi era. The inference is clear.
And then there was the controversy about building an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero.
Not many people realized that a functioning Islamic Cultural Center is on the site already. Given the sensitivity of people about Ground Zero, one could understand the opposition.
But putting up a fierce fight to stop a mosque construction in rural Tennessee?
Last year in Murfreesboro, Tenn., the local Muslim community purchased 15 acres to build an Islamic center. Local people filed a lawsuit to stop the construction. The bogey of sharia law was brought up and it was claimed that Islam is not a religion and thus does not have constitutional protection.
It was apparent that most of the people who had brought the lawsuit had no contact with local Muslims. In the sordid court spectacle, one could hear the echoes of the Jim Crow era. Eventually the court dismissed the case and allowed the construction to proceed. The victory, however, was hollow because no construction company has been willing to take on the project.
The hatred against Islam and Muslims spewed by some of the American clergy, politicians, and bloggers has had effect not only here in the United States but also beyond our borders.
The massacre of 77 people, mostly children and young adult, at the hands of a cold-blooded zealot in Norway a few months ago is one such example. According to the lengthy manifesto posted on the Internet by the alleged killer, Anders Behring Breivik, he was influenced by the incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from Web sites such as jihadwatch.com and the political and religious right wing in this country.
American history is replete with periods when religious and ethnic minorities suffered at the hands of a self-righteous majority. In the 19th century, Protestant preachers led mobs to attack Catholics.
At one time or another, Jews, Italians, Irish, Polish, and Japanese had to endure such bigotry. Even today, Catholic bashing is rather common on the Internet.
Michele Bachmann, a contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, attends a church that openly says the Pope is the anti-christ.
As an aside, while more than half of U.S. population has a negative view of Muslims, individually as religious groups they have no love lost among them. According to the Time magazine poll I quoted above, 29 percent of Americans hold negative views of Mormons, 17 percent of Catholics, 13 percent of Jews, and 13 percent of Protestants.
I have no doubt sanity will prevail in the end. The latter-day Know-Nothing Nativist Party and its torch bearers, the William Boykins, Sean Hannitys, Glenn Becks, Pat Robertsons, and the like, are but a transient phenomenon, just as the firebrand preachers of yore who led mobs to attack Catholics and other minorities were. History will remember them not for spreading Christian love but for poisoning the well.
Muslims are here to stay, just as others before them. They have added something special and precious to the mosaic of this great country. To forcefully tear that piece off, as some people would like to do, does nothing but deface the entire tapestry we call America the beautiful.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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