03/12: Islamophobia in American society

It just keeps getting more and more frustrating as well as pitiful.

While browsing Anandtech forums [where there is a lot of anti-Islam paranoia and propaganda at the hands of people from India, Israel and America itself] I found some things I was previously unaware of. People who might object to my judgement of these forums should rein in their objections since I have been a member there for around four years and have seen enough evidence to form my own opinion.

Various links led me to news stories on Yahoo! and MSNBC news sites, one of which I will comment upon.

The news story is 'In U.S., fear and distrust of Muslims runs deep' [backup]. The article tells about a radio host Jerry Klein [AM station 630 WMAL] who in his show/programme asked for Muslims to be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band. He got a huge response in favour of it from callers. Quoting Mr. Klein, "The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."

[Click here to listen to the show - MP3 file - 8.8MB]

Admittedly, there were some who condemned that idea but the majority who called were supportive of the idea. Some of the comments supportive of the proposal were:

"Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

"What good is identifying them? You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one hour show, Mr. Klein had a large assortment of such comments. Mr. Klein then revealed it all to be a spoof to get true sentiments regarding Muslims in the American public. Yahoo! news reports Mr. Klein as saying:

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting."

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."

Those in agreement are not a fringe minority: A Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification.

Roughly a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

I must say that this attitude is most disappointing and outlines the Islamophobia prevalent in the American media and in the thoughts of quite a few Americans. The ignorance and paranoia of those in favour of Mr. Klein's proposal is somewhat astonishing to an average person like me, outside of the US watching such stuff happening. It makes me think; are these particular Americans proud of their legacy of freedom and equal rights which has resulted in Islamophobia and such hysteria against all Muslims [in general], all because a small, numerically insignificant, group out of over 1.3 billion Muslims did something wrong? Is this what life is like in America? It is things like these which make me stay in Pakistan and not give much thought to education and employment opportunities in the US. Personally, I think I enjoy a lot more freedom here in the things that matter to me than I would in America. My sentiment is obviously mine and most probably varies from yours. However, things like this [backup] and this [backup - page 1 - page 2] make me maintain my sentiment. Certain steps have been taken in the positive direction for the cases of the linked articles [in the last sentence] like this [backup] which is a thing I appreciate.

Even though I don't like bringing in comparisons with Nazis and Hitler [since they have been used very frequently by Jewish people I have met on various forums to garner sympathy for their invalid arguments], there is a certain weight to Mr. Klein's comparison of this attitude with that of Hitler and his Nazi ilk. Every other day we get to hear about Muslims who face problems in the US while using airplanes for transportation. I know that even some non-Muslims have suffered from this [particularly the Sikhs since they wear a turban] in the name of security of the 'homeland' and I sympathize with them. The problems faced are not just limited to travel but also normal life. The emotions and the response to Mr. Klein's show/programme, I am sorry and disappointed to say, is not one that I would expect from any member of a civilized society.

The article itself points out the key problem as being ignorance. Mohamed Esa who teaches a course on Islam at McDaniel College in Maryland points out that:

"The level of knowledge is very, very low. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and some people think they are all terrorists."

The above is exactly what is wrong with the prevalent Islamophobia.

Hossam Ahmed, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel who occasionally leads prayer for the small Muslim congregation at the Pentagon, agreed. "Ignorance is the number one problem. Education is of the essence."

A few weeks back, a Pakistani was attacked by Jewish kids when he answered 'yes' to their question, "Are you a Muslim?", in New York as I highlighted in a comment in another article. Unsurprisingly, it did not make headlines in the media. The converse would have been true if a Jewish person was attacked by a group of Muslims. The Pakistani Muslim got 15 stitches after the attack. You can read the actual news story here.

The questions we must ask are how to resolve this and correct these wrong perceptions of Muslims? Certainly, Muslims have an identity of their own and need to display it just like Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. To fear Muslims for displaying their symbols and identities is not correct and only creates wrong perceptions of America in the eyes of Muslims. I feel there needs to be a new approach to counter extremism in any society. The effects of Islamophobia are not just limited to America but to the whole world. It is a big reason for the negative American image outside America.

During the Kashmir earthquake when Pakistanis suffered huge losses in the Kashmir and N.W.F.P area, the American aid improved the American standing with the Pakistani public tenfold. People saw positive work from Americans and deeply appreciated it. The expenditure of the aid incurred by America was much much less than the expenditure on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Which approach was more successful in improving the image of America, creating harmony and generally curtailing extremism? It's obvious and I will leave that to the readers sensible judgement.

There are obviously problems and issues I have not taken into account while writing this simply because I don't have knowledge of them. If there is such a point which you feel is missing, do comment on it so that others can get a more complete picture of the issues surrounding this debate. Having both sides of the argument in front of us is the best approach since the best decisions are well informed decisions, not one-sided decisions. Any other comments are welcome too.