Racism Toward Muslims

Electronic IntifadaAli Abunima at The Electronic Intifada has written an article that I wish all Americans would read (even though I fear their reaction would be no better than it was to Marc Ambinder’s article), Obama’s Rush to Judgment: Was the Boston Bombing Really a “Terrorist” Act? The basis of his argument is that our definition of “terrorism” requires that the perpetrator being politically motivated. At this point, we don’t have any information indicating that this is the case so we should back off on the talk of terrorism.

There are two comparisons that I think are important. The first is that this could well be just another Columbine. As we now know, that crime was committed by one “clinically sadistic sociopath” who manipulated another who suffered from depression. When all the information comes out about the Tsarnaev brothers, I think we will at least see that dynamic going on. I will be surprised if the older brother didn’t have some “reason” for the attack, but I have a hard time believing it was really about it. Regardless, if it turns out they did the attack for al Qaida or Chechnya of the lack of Russian representation in USA Boxing, then it will be a terrorist attack. Until then, it isn’t.

Abunima as notes that the attack last August on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin is almost never referred to as a terrorist attack. But of course it was. I would go further: a lot of people still bristle at calling the Oklahoma City bombing a terrorist attack. What’s more, no one on the right wants to call abortion clinic bombings and assassinations terrorist attacks. That’s because in America, a “terrorist” is only a Muslim. This is, admittedly, strange. We have long known about terrorist acts in Northern Ireland and Spain. And Timothy McVeigh was executed before 9/11.

I think what is really going on is that Americans see people from the Middle East writ large (so large that India is included) as the enemy. And these people are all assumed to be Muslims (even though most of them aren’t). On Wonk Blog this morning, John Sides wrote about some of his research, Americans Who Distrust Muslims Are Likelier to Back the War on Terror. He started the article by displaying the following tweet from game show host Chuck Woolery who is saying what most Americans think:

Sides went on to present data that shows that Americans find Muslims far more violent and untrustworthy than any other group, including blacks and Latinos (even though the rated them high in these regards too). It is extremely sad to see.

But in this way, I think I might disagree with Abunima’s concern about the tendency of Americans to call anything that Muslims do terrorist. I think the problem is that Americans hate Muslims and are eager to find anything to blame them for. Even still, I’m kind of hopeful. Over time, I think it will be like the LGBT community: as more and more people get to know Muslims, it will be harder to hate them. And it will be the same dynamic: the young and liberal will embrace them first and the old and conservative will be the hold outs.

None of this means we shouldn’t fight back against these unfair stereotypes. And I hate to think about the small scale terrorist attacks that are being perpetrated on American-Muslims right now. Remember, the Sikh Temple was attacked because the white supremacist thought the worshipers were Muslim. And that does make plain the fact that hatred of Muslims is racism pure and simple—unless they also hate all Basques and Northern Irish. That may provide a way forward.

Abunima is right, though: we need to push back on fools like Chuck Woolery who think Muslims are violent. Adam Lanza was a white guy who killed 27; I don’t think it is right to lay that on me just because I’m also white.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Racism Toward Muslims

  1. Back in September of 2001, I went to one of two tobacco stores. They were across the street from each another. They’d have competing sales, which is pretty standard for tobacco stores (one has a sale on Camels this week, the other Marlboros.)

    After the crazies bombed New York, one of the stores put up a big flag banner reading "American Owned." Both were American-owned. But one of them was owned by Americans of Palestinian descent.

    I’m happy to say the "American Owned" store lost most of its customers and went out of business before the end of the year.

    The kids who ran the Palestinian-American-owned store spoke three languages fluently; Arabic, English, and teenager ("yo, bro, hook me up" etc.) They were as American as apple pie or robber barons. They’re just like us (for good or ill.) I realize it’s a tradition here for older immigrant groups to hate newer ones (during WWI, when anti-German sentiment ran high, sauerkraut was re-named "liberty cabbage") but it’s a fucking stupid and boring tradition.

    I recently read Stephen Kinzer’s "Reset" about Iran and Turkey. (Kinzer wrote "All The Shah’s Men" and "Bitter Fruit" about the CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala in ’53/’54.) In it, Kinzer tells the story of a Nebraskan who died fighting for Iranian independence 100 years ago — the man’s name is all over parks and street signs there.

    Muslims are NOT the enemy. Given the amount of shit we’ve dropped on them, on Central/South Americans, on Laotians/Cambodians/Vietnamese, it’s rather amazing we don’t have enemies. For whatever reason, they’ve all forgiven us and want to make friends (probably because they admire/aspire to the middle class we used to have.)

    This is so inane and ridiculous it’s hard to find words to type about it. Visit a goddamn mosque, you morons. The Muslims will be happy to see you there, won’t try to convert you, and will give you free food. They’re far, far friendlier than creepy Christian communities in the rural hinterlands. (Where, if you have a flat tire, you just keep driving, because you don’t want by any stretch of the imagination to be stuck there with a "cityfolk" address on your ID.)

    I’ll end the rant . . . but I could go on a lot longer. Every time I think I’m accustomed to the barbarism of American culture, it finds new ways to surprise me.

  2. @JMF – Yeah. That has to be the worst aspect of Christianity: the fact that "witnessing" is built right into the Bible. Robert Price argues that the Bible generally speaking is not meant for the average church goer. Think about the church in the early years: few people had access to the texts and most of them were illiterate anyway. So he says it was never intended that every Christian should be out trying to convert the heathens.

    We’ve previously discussed talking to Christians. And this is the biggest part of the problem: they can’t just talk to you about it; they have to [i]witness[/i]. This, I should note, is not so much a problem with Catholics because the church actively discourages reading the Bible yourself. And rightly so! It is a difficult book to figure out. It’s best left to the professionals (or better: just left).

    This doesn’t seem to be a problem with Muslims. I’ve known a few Muslims and I have one friend who is a Muslim. And they don’t seem to care at all that I’m not a believer. This reminds me of a problem I had when I was younger: it sucks being around Christians who you know are thinking, "Frank’s a nice guy; too bad he’s going to burn in hell."

    To my mind, religious radicalism comes from the political environment. Muslims living in Canada aren’t terrorists. But if I lived in the hills of Pakistan and I saw my friends and neighbors being bombed, I might turn to violence. In my experience, if left alone, people just want to get on with their very boring lives.

    I think the best thing is to make friends with the fundamentalist Muslims. The more we do that, the less fundamentalist they will become. Fundamentalism is a very bad thing–for the fundamentalist themselves in addition to everything else. This is one reason why I talk to Christians, although I don’t think I am a good ambassador for the secular world.

  3. I’ve actually been told by a Muslim, "if God wants you to believe what we do, he’ll let you know." Makes sense. It is an omnipotent being, after all. The one Jehovah’s Witness I met in Denmark had the same attitude, and was more interested in sharing top-quality German beer and Irish whiskey than preaching. I told him the old atheist joke: "what’s so sad about our funerals? All dressed up with nowhere to go." He howled and asked if he could share that one with his congregation. I said, "sure."

    The Bible IS impenetrable; that’s because it was written over thousands of years by thousands of different people. Which is true of all holy texts this side of Joseph Smith, or possibly the Koran. My understanding is most repressive teachings associated with Islam — particularly the sexism fundamentalists enforce — aren’t from the Koran proper, but from the sayings/teachings attributed to Mohammed after his death by people who claim to have heard him say such-and-such. These second/thirdhand sayings are given near-sacred regard by many. It’s similar to Christianity, in that respect. The biblical Jesus doesn’t demean women and never mentions gays. St. Paul, of course, is no fan of either, and his writings carry as much weight with fundamentalists as the Gospels. (Many biblical scholars think the worst of Paul was probably written by someone else, muddling the mess up further.)

    No doubt politics affect how crazy religion becomes. If we hadn’t stopped Iran from having a basically secular democracy in 1953, and hadn’t propped up the planet’s scummiest royalty (two redundant words?) in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim world today might be very different. (Not to mention Sukarno/Suharto in Indonesia, Nasser/Mubarak in Egypt, the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, etc, etc.)

    American Christianity, I think, has had two strands to it from the beginning. There’s the "religion is a good thing for good people," ethical, faith-motivated movement, which gave us anti-war Quakers and anti-slavery Unitarians. And then there’s the apologists for killing natives and enslaving Africans, corrupted by money side. The ethical side has never been big on converting others; the corrupted side has done so, always. Interestingly, Prohibition came from the ethical side — Christian women sick of the domestic abuse alcoholism can cause. When it was apparent Prohibition was making alcoholism worse, those same Christians were a force in ending it.

    I’ve written here that the loss of that ethical, somewhat principled, moderate Christianity (documented by Putnam and others) is a huge detriment to our society. If we’d simply grown more secular, that would be fine. We haven’t. The moderates have become non-churchgoers and the radicals have become totalitarians. Where are the Christians calling for the end to our failed drug war, which has accomplished exactly the same things Prohibition did (increasing crime and addiction both)? Not to be found. As William Buckley put it, "the drug war is a holy war, and holy wars do not have to be won to be successful." Enter the War On Terror — exit the Cold War, pimped by the Buckleys for all the same reasons.

    Oofta (as we say up here in the land of six inches’ snow mid-friggin’-April.) The real "Divine Comedy" isn’t Dante’s, but some sneakily malicious God’s, sitting back and laughing cruelly at all the shit we do to one another in It’s name.

    To veer back from rant 128.0 to the original subject, it does need to be said, and said often, that your typical American Muslim is about as terrifying as dryer lint. And that the ease with which Americans are blindly led to hate whomever powerful assholes want them to hate (instead of the powerful assholes themselves) makes the phrase "A Nation Of Sheep" insulting to sheep. If we could talk to the animals, Dr. Doolittle-style, I’d suspect that lemmings castigating one another for mindless groupthink would use the pejorative, "you’re such an American."

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