Slander and setbacks, the struggle continues

This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror of Friday, October 31, 2003

(This is the fifth part of the Daily Mirror series on ‘Islam in America’ by Ameen Izzadeen who spent nearly a month in the United States as a guest of the US State Department. The series is not only an overview of the state of the Muslims and Islam in America but also a critical look at the challenges Islam and Muslims face in America.)

The history of the United States has seen many a civil rights struggle. The first was by the people of European descent, who rose against British rule in the 18th century and then in the 20th century, Afro Americans began their civil rights campaign. The 21st century is to be remembered as the era of the civil rights campaign by the American Muslims who live between freedom and fear.

Does this mean that the United States is still politically a primitive state where a minority community has to fight for its rights? The answer could be both yes and no.

When I say yes, I mean that everything is not hunky-dory for Muslims in America as far as their civil liberties are concerned. A ‘no’ acknowledges the fact that in spite of problems, avenues are open for Muslims to fight their case. The US constitution, especially the  First Amendment which recognizes religious freedom while stressing  the separation of the Church and the State, the US judiciary and
various non-governmental organizations committed to safeguarding  civil liberties across the diverse racial and religious spectrum are  some of the tools the Muslims make use of to protect their rights.

Why Muslims? Because it is they who have been most seriously affected by the post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation such as the United States Patriot Act, which they say is discriminatory in nature. It is Muslims, who, in the aftermath of 9/11, are being targeted for racial profiling and hate crime. It is their religion that is being derided at not only by racists but also by men holding very high positions in the Bush administration and certain right wing evangelical leaders.

Though a large number of Christian clerics and prominent Jewish academics who are members of inter-faith dialogue groups have condemned the racially-venomous remarks and voiced concern over the erosion of civil liberties, a small but powerful minority continue to infuse anti-Muslim hate into US body politic.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights group, in its latest report had listed a number of high-profile cases where Islam and Muslims have been subjected to ridicule.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft, top evangelists Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart are some of the people who have, either through ignorance or prejudice, spoken ill of Muslims or their religion.

Mr. Ashcroft in an interview with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in a web interview said: “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.”

The CAIR report charged that despite several requests, Ashcroft did not respond publicly. “Eventually, under increasing public pressure, he said that the reported remarks ‘do not accurately reflect what I believe I said’,” the CAIR report said.

Here are some of the remarks made by other prominent people:

Franklin Graham who offered invocation during the inauguration of  President Bush and called Islam an evil religion told Fox News cable  network on Aug 5, 2002: “I think it’s {terrorism} more mainstream.  And it is not just a handful of extremists. If you buy the Quran, read it for yourself, and it’s in there. The violence it preaches is there.

Baptist Minister Jerry Falwell, during an interview on CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ on October 6, 2002 said he thought Prophet Muhammad was a terrorist.

Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart in a November 10, 2002 interview with the Toronto-based station CFMT referred to Prophet Muhammad as a “sex deviant” and “pervert”.

Speaking of the American Muslims, Rev. Swaggart said: “We ought to tell every other Moslem (sic) living in this nation that if you say one word, you are gone.”

Another high profile case that is making headlines these days in the  United States and which will definitely find a place in the CAIR’s  report next year is one that involves US Deputy Defense Secretary Lt.  Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin.

The top Pentagon official assigned the task of capturing Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is reported to have said that he was in “the Army of God” and claimed that Muslims worshipped an “idol”.

Lt. Gen. Boykin, who gave a religious twist to the war on terrorism, described it as a war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Satan.

Muslim calls for his removal fell on deaf ears with President Bush going only as far as to say that Lt. Gen Boykin’s views did not reflect his or his administration’s opinion. But Muslims in the United States point out that the President was prompt in condemning as anti-Semitic Malaysian statesman Mahathir Mohammad’s relatively innocuous observation that the Jews control the world by proxy.

This was not the first time the Muslims failed to influence President Bush, whom they more or less unanimously supported at the 2000 presidential election. Earlier this year, the Muslims cried, shouted and screamed against the appointment of avowed anti-Muslim scholar Daniel Pipe as a board member of the government-sponsored US Institute of Peace, but their protests fell by the wayside with the Bush administration going ahead with the nomination and Congress approving it.

Despite their failure to influence the administration and their disagreement with President Bush’s foreign policy, a number of Muslim leaders attended a White House Iftar dinner this week amidst a debate within the community on whether to attend or not to attend. At this dinner, President Bush, as usual, sang hosannas for US Muslims and their religion and struck a distinction between terrorism and the peaceful preaching of Islam.

Though crestfallen, the Muslims in America feel they are winning their battle. Victory is coming in the form of a Muslim reawakening in America. According to the results of a CAIR poll, roughly half of American Muslims surveyed say they have increased their social, political and interfaith activity since 9/11.

The Muslim community which for the past several decades had been living with an immigrant mentality is waking up to stake their claim in the political sphere. It appears that the more they are derided, the greater their resilience is.

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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