The challenges facing the Muslim community in the US.
These are not unique to Muslims but are representative of similar problems that confronted almost all previous nascent immigrant communities – these include a sense of suspicion, distrust, and fear that then lead to marginalization of and bigotry against them. Muslims are no exceptions to the ‘rites of passage’ that notably included the Irish, the Catholics, Jews, Latinos, and has never been far from the side-lined African American community, and the totally ignored Native Americans. So any fear or resentment that Muslims feel needs to be tempered by these realizations.
Nonetheless whereas the hostility shown to many of the other groups in this day and age has been muted or indirect, that displayed against Muslims has been direct, unashamed, relentless and from multiple sources. It is as though Islam-bashing is a completely innocuous exercise in which not only recognized bigots can engage but anyone who needs to pick on a minority group as a scapegoat for the problems of this country or the world at large can without any risk do so against Muslims. Thus the range of persons with anti-Muslim sentiments have included government officials of all stripes, politicians, presidential wanna-bees, religious leaders such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Huckabee, Parsley and others. Clearly when the President of this country makes the deliberately unambiguous claim that ‘I think Islam hates us’ and he has many on his cabinet and entourage who share his prejudicial views, it makes the fear of Islam, as opposed to the fear of a small fraction of mindless extremists, a ‘legitimate’ concern to justify the acts of bigotry by the misinformed majority.
But before we adorn ourselves with the garment of victim-hood, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether there is any basis for our current state. We find three underlying causes for the demonization of Muslims:
Acts of mindless terrorism conducted in the name of Islam coupled with the so-called global war on terror, raising the question ” Why Do So Many Americans Fear Muslims (1)
The well-funded ‘Islamophobia Industry’ CAIR Report (2)
How Corporate Media Paved the Way for Trump’s Muslim Ban (3 )
Clearly any attempt to reverse the trend against anti-Islamism must address these issues employing as many strategies as are at the disposal of Muslims.
Strategies to overcome the chorus of Muslim hate:
1. Eradicating Extremism
Clearly Muslims must continue to not only condemn acts of terrorism conducted in the name of Islam, but must also do everything within their power to eradicate the wicked ideology that has allowed the rogue groups to recruit people. These actions raise a couple of key issues. Why do all Muslims have to continue to denounce the acts of a handful of heretics when no other religious group is expected to do so for its wayward adherents? For example the Orthodox Church is not expected to apologize for the actions of Serbs against Bosnians, nor are Jewish people on the whole expected to apologize for the acts of Jewish settlers against innocent Palestinians, nor the Buddhists for their extermination of Rohingya Muslims (not to mention Christianity as a whole for the Jewish Holocaust). If Muslims had at the outset of these acts of terrorism, objected to this carte-blanche guilt by association they might not have found themselves in a position in which they constantly have to seemingly ‘defend’ actions that contravene their very basic Islamic teachings. The second problem is the self-identification as ‘Muslim Americans or American Muslims’. No other religious group identifies itself so strongly by its religion. By doing so Muslims set themselves up for the hostility and derision they now face.
Eradication of the deviant ideology of the extremists is a more difficult proposition, but in the interest of reclaiming their religion, it is an imperative for all Muslims to do so. This has to be done by intensive educational programs that ensure that religious texts are not taken out of context to promote the deviant version of Islam that the heretics would like to propagate. Such a project can only be undertaken by Muslims themselves. Efforts by non-Muslims to do so would be perceived as religion building and would be rejected by all Muslims and exploited by the extremists.
Not only must Muslims be serious in eradicating the scourge of terrorism from its link with their religion but they must be observed doing so. And this can be accomplished by writing about their efforts in newspaper columns, opinion pieces and letters to the editor, by interviews on radio and television, and through presentations made by trained speakers at civic forums and in churches synagogues, mosques as well as non-faith based establishments. The vast majority of the American population are not Islamophobic, but have been so confused by the relentless messages of hate broadcast by the Islamophobes that they are truly unsure as to what Islam stands for. Only strong-willed measures from our side will help to reassure them. Muslims must be seen to be reinforcing the correct educational principles to its community. The Trump regime, has unfortunately, sought to portray only Muslims (and even Islam itself) as the source of all terrorist acts. The recent revision of the Obama Administration’s program of Countering Violent Extremism that has been modified by the Trump regime to target the Muslim community exclusively, has been rejected by almost all Muslim organizations as totally unacceptable.
2. Combating Islamophobia
As long as there are ‘terrorists’ out there doing their unmentionable work, Islamophobes will continue to thrive. Even if ‘terrorism’ were to stop tomorrow the fear that the Islamophobes have instilled in the minds of Americans would not immediately end. American Muslims face an uphill struggle to win back the hearts and minds of many fellow Americans so brainwashed by the Islamophobes. Again, we have to note that while a majority of Americans may have some concerns about Islam they are not truly Islamophobic and just need a reassurance about what Islam stands for, as noted in the previous section. The measures described above are equally suited to the combating of Islamophobia.
3. Coalition Building
At no time frame in the history of the US have so many minority groups been subjected to such toxic rhetoric and hateful actions at the same time.
a)The Native American people are a nonentity in a country to which they did not immigrate or seek refuge in. They are outside the fringe of society and their presence only recognized when they muster enough resolve to stand up for their fundamental beliefs. Thus when they took a stand against the construction of an oil pipeline through what they considered was sacred land according to their religious beliefs, their pleas for a review of the project were ignored and their presence was brutally treated by law enforcement while the government agencies were complicit by their silence.
It behooves the Muslim community to reach out in solidarity with such oppressed people and speak truth to power. While a coalition with Native Americans may not do much for Muslims, it is the only right thing to do and therefore Muslims have no options.
b) The African Americans. Despite the bruising civil rights struggle 50 years ago, the plight of the African Americans has not significantly improved. If anything the election of the first African American President, after inducing an initial sense of euphoria, has been followed by a backlash of increased racism. Though manifest most vividly by acts of police brutality against unarmed Black men, it is reflected in a systemic institutionalized racism with inadequate housing, run down neighborhoods, substandard education and health care, reduced employment opportunities, and excessive incarceration. If Muslims feel unwelcome, they need a reality check with the feelings of African Americans who are outcasts in the country they have called home for 3 centuries. Muslims can find enough common ground to join forces with them to confront the problems all minorities together face. The experience of the African American community through the civil rights struggle will be a tremendous asset to the neophyte Muslim community.
c). The Hispanic community. Though illegal aliens from Mexico have been characterized as ‘bad hombres’ who include rapists, drug dealers and criminals, by inference the Hispanic community as a whole has been denigrated with this broad brush. For a people who work hard and contribute to the American economy, to be viewed with such contempt is un-befitting what this great country stands for. Muslims should form coalitions with the Hispanic community to ensure that both communities are treated with the respect they deserve.
d). The Jewish community. While the Jewish community was able to celebrate its singular achievements in American society a few years back (Vanity Fair 4), into the short sojourn of the Trump era, it seems to be suffering a reversal of fortune especially at the hands of the Trump empowered supremacists. Acts of anti-Semitism manifest by scurrilous bomb threats at Jewish community centers to actual desecration of cemeteries have become frightening events for the Jewish community. Muslims and Jews share a rich legacy of over one millennium. It is time to recapture the moment as both communities struggle against the same source of their victimization.
e). The South Asian community. Often confused for Muslims many South Asians including the Sikhs have been subjected to death threats and hate crimes. It is in the interest of both the Muslim and South Asian communities to support each other against bigotry and hate (5).
f). The Arab( non-Muslim) community. The arguments advanced above apply equally to building coalitions with non Muslims of Arab origins.
g) The Japanese American community. This community having been subjected to unconstitutional internment during World War II, is a vocal supporter of Muslims especially when threatened with a ‘Muslim Registry’. It would be very much in the interest of Muslims to reach out to the Japanese for their ongoing support.
h).Other marginalized communities: the LGBTQ community and women in general have been affected by the new agenda. While women have still to achieve the status of equal pay for equal work they find that some of the basic health care choices they previously enjoyed are being rescinded. The LGBTQ community faces an uncertain future. It is essential to stand up for the rights of all those experiencing injustice.
4. Engagement in Issues of Common Concern (The Common Good).
As long as Muslims remain preoccupied with their own specific or parochial concerns they will be viewed as ‘aliens’ in the nation to which they lay claim. To identify with the common concerns that ordinary Americans wrestle with in their everyday lives is the surest way to gain meaningful respect and recognition. Beyond identifying with these concerns Muslims need to translate these into action at all levels of society whether by serving on school boards, as town officials, as state or federal government officials, in law enforcement etc.
The key issues include:
In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for some 30 years. Income disparities have become so pronounced that America’s top 10 percent now average nearly nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent. The nation’s top 0.1 percent gross over 184 times the income of the bottom 90 percent. (6)
There must be a demand for an economy that supports all Americans, not just the wealthy few; a more synchronous wealth distribution;
There must be a creation of good paying jobs
There must be a raising of the minimum wage;
There must be reduction in the trade deficit;
There must be a more equitable tax structure ensuring that corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share;
There must be investments in education, healthcare and social security and infrastructure;
There must be electoral reform with a constitutional amendment to repeal ‘Citizens United’;
There must be a more responsible environmental strategy to reduce global warming with laws to ensure clean air and water. Muslims have a special responsibility to protect God’s environment
There must be a comprehensive immigration reform ,
There must be a more circumspect foreign policy with less demands on the military;
There must be a confrontation of institutionalized racism as a cancer within the lifeblood of America.
Muslims have an obligation to care about the welfare of the poor, needy, the homeless, the sick, the lonely , whether on drugs or subject to domestic violence or other forms of abuse whether Muslim or not. Thus Muslims should find no difficulty in making these societal issues their own.
Unless Muslim citizens of this country align themselves with the needs of all Americans and stop bemoaning their own ‘victimization,’ their expectations will remain in the fringe of society
5. Public Relations Consultation
The need for the Muslim community to invest in Public Relations Consultation was articulated earlier but published in 2005 and 2015 (7) and it is gratifying that at the recent Sound Vision retreat this has become a realistic proposition. Such an investment will go a long way toward helping the Muslim community to determine which of its measures are most effective in turning the tide of anti-Muslim sentiments against it.
6. Muslim Think-Tanks
The need for Muslims to invite the brightest and the best from within their ranks to serve as the visionaries who can ‘Shape the Future’ of Muslim destiny in this country is the greatest hope for the future growth of Islam and the betterment of America. It was a need articulated by Dr. Robert Crane, himself a one person ‘think-tank, in his book ‘Shaping the Future’ (8). It is a seminal point in the history of Muslims in the US, a point that cannot come soon enough.
7. Adjunct measures
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of strategies. There are many that have been proven to be effective and they have not been listed but include work done by many organizations. CAIR does an outstanding job in monitoring and responding to Islamophobia through all available media. Sound Vision produces high quality educational programs, maintains a regular radio station, and sends out timely community action alerts. It has taken the unprecedented step in investing in Public Relations Consultation and creating a consolidated communications strategy. Clearly the work of these two institutions would be augmented if Muslims had a central communications infrastructure.
While curricular reform is essential to promote the correct teachings of Islam, no other spectacular investments need to be made in education vis-a-vis. part-time, and full-time Islamic schools, colleges (both Islamic and secular), hospitals, banking systems etc. One area that does need to be institutionalized is a program of Intra-Muslim Dialogues. This would help dissipate the fragmented understanding of Islam by diverse groups as well as promote the fractured relationships between Sunni and Shia Islam. Unity for Muslims has become an increasingly elusive entity especially as it remains in the best interest of ex-colonial powers to pursue their goal of ‘divide and rule’ so as to exploit the resources of Muslim countries with maximum ease.
These are some salient features we thought required urgent consideration during these turbulent times for Muslims. They are by no means comprehensive nor do they claim to be the only potentially successful strategies. Rather they have been compiled to advance further discussion as to what measures might best serve the interests of Muslims and with that of all our fellow citizens of this great country.
Abdul Cader Asmal
1- WHY DO SO MANY AMERICANS FEAR MUSLIMS?: THE INTERCEPT JON SCHWARTZ 2/18/17
2- Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States: CAIR report 2016
3- How Corporate Media Paved the Way for Trump’s Muslim Ban
6- South Indian group calls for coalition with other minorities;India Civil Watch on March 3rd, 2017 firstname.lastname@example.org
7- An Agenda of Priorities 2016 : www.islamiccouncilne.org
8- Shaping the Future Robert Crane 1997
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Editorial Committee Ms Fatma Antar, Abdul Cader Asmal, Zahir Adil