Over a month ago, I was driving down Ford Road to meet up with a group of friends for a Sunday brunch in Garden City. As I was making my way through Westland, an ice cream stand had a sign that read, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a soldier.”
I’m not sure how long it was up, but it was certainly up for over a month, until I stopped going to Garden City. Not only was the sign explicitly advocating violence – the soldier part obviously referred to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – the real scandal in my mind was how much a part of the landscape it was.
It was business as usual, with customers lining up for their ice cream, no word in the media or any obvious outcry that could be discerned from the surrounding community. And then there was one of my friends I met up with, who couldn’t understand for the life of him why I was upset.
This sums up the American Muslim experience — widespread prejudice and widespread indifference. And it isn’t limited to ice cream stands, either. Islamophobia is an institutionalized phenomenon that exists to varying degrees across the political spectrum, but mainly as fuel for the political right wing.
A few examples:
1. Right wing columnist Cal Thomas broadcasted in 2002 what former Attorney General John Ashcroft told him, that, “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.”
2. Fellow fundamentalist Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin spoke at numerous churches around the same time, saying things, like “we’re a Christian nation … and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” He got some attention when he quoted a Somali warlord’s taunt in 1993 that Allah was going to protect him.
“Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” he said.
3. Dept. of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff’s suggested closing a “visa loophole” this year allowing Britons to come to the United States without having to obtain a visa, because of the number of terror plots.
“In recent months, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, has opened talks with the government here on how to curb the access of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States,” according to the “New York Times.”
4. Warren, Michigan Mayor Mark Steenbergh stirred panic at the thought of Iraqi refugees settling in Macomb County, citing the pressure on city social services and the high unemployment rate.
Even though many of them are Chaldeans, Steenbergh didn’t bring it up for the reasons he mentioned, but because of the fact that they’re from the Middle East, heightening fears of terrorism and a non-white invasion.
These are but a few examples. A more complete list would fill up volumes.
In our popular culture, Islamophobia is rampant and blatant, mainly because the taboos associated with other races (with the exception of the Asian-American community) don’t exist when it comes to Muslims. The reason is simple: no one fears punishment or ostracism. Groups like CAIR and the ADC lack the power that groups like the ADL and NAACP have.
A case in point is the Don Imus “nappy headed ho’s” episode. African Americans have long been the target of institutionalized racism as well as the political right wing, and despite gains in areas like civil rights, they have continued to be attacked, especially as political prey in the talk radio circuit.
That changed when long time shock jock Don Imus made his now infamous remarks and a change has occurred, where I believe blacks are less of an easy target than they used to be. Even though this doesn’t change that fact that racism against blacks still exists, it’s a small, albeit a very important, victory against racism.
However, it’s equally important to note that blatant anti-Muslim slander goes unopposed on the airwaves, and the same Media Matters group that got the ball rolling against Imus has also documented some of this abuse.
“It might be good start with somebody who’s willing to take three big ones [nuclear weapons – author] and drop one on Mecca, one on Jeddah, and one on Riyadh,” said Imus two months before his nappy-headed-ho remark.
It gets worse.
On July 19, 2006, Neil Boortz called Islam a “violent, violent religion,” and said “[T]his Muhammad guy is just a phony rag-picker.” “[I]t is perfectly legitimate, perhaps even praiseworthy, to recognize Islam as a religion of vicious, violent, bloodthirsty cretins,” he said.
This paled compared to Michael Savage, who called Arabs “non-humans” and said they “need to be forcibly converted to Christianity” in order to “turn them into human beings,” on his May 11th and 12th, 2004 shows. Savage echoed Ann Coulter’s call in the “National Review” to “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity,” right after 9/11.
Bill O’Reilly, of the O’Reilly Factor, called Iraqis “savages” on his January 24th segment of his radio show, leaving out the culpability of the U.S. occupation, or the savagery of the invasion detailed by the “Lancet” and Johns Hopkins studies. “I want—let them kill each other,” he said on the April 2nd edition of the O’Reilly Factor, commenting on the sectarian civil war. He also wanted to see all Muslim males between the ages of 16 to 45 detained for questioning on his August 16 TV edition, because it “isn’t racial profiling,” but “criminal profiling.”
Can you imagine what would happen if O’Reilly called all Jewish males to be detained and questioned for the 1985 murder of the regional director of the ADC, Alex Odeh, or for the Israeli espionage of Jonathan Pollard? His show would be shutdown, apologies would be made, and he would be disgraced so fast, that his head would spin like a dradle, and that’s real.
O’Reilly knows that, as do others like him, and that’s why he picks on Muslims. We’re an easy target. If these people were around before World War II, they would have attacked Jews instead. They also would’ve attacked African Americans, and they have — with impunity — all the way up to the day Imus was fired.
When the media do try to do some good, they often fall short on dealing with this prejudice in a thorough manner. Take “Newsweek’s” special issue, “Islam in America,” which tried to deal with the American Muslim experience.
Nowhere in the issue was the word “Islamophobia” used at all. Not one. How can you sum up the whole of the modern Muslim experience in America without even bothering to mention the existence of this systemic prejudice? Even Lorraine Ali’s web exclusive piece on “Newsweek’s” website failed to answer the question her article set out to answer.
“A Pew poll on Muslims in America painted a positive picture. So why was the coverage so negative?” she wrote. What do you think, Lorraine?
But that’s the reality of the situation, a double standard that will persist with us for many generations to come, and we haven’t even seen the worst of it. And I barely scratched the surface – Hollywood, anyone?
We know what the problem is. The real question is, what are we going to do about it?