Relentless attack on Muslims

Posted on Mon, Mar. 27, 2006

Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the
United States.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46
percent of Americans hold negative perceptions of
Islam, 7 percentage points higher than after the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The poll also
discovered that a third of the respondents have
recently heard prejudiced comments against Muslims.
Even more depressing is that one in four openly
acknowledges harboring prejudice toward Muslims.

Is this surprising? Unfortunately, it's not. The
vilification of Islam and Muslims has been relentless
among segments of the media and political classes for
the last five years.

The dangerously popular right-wing columnist Ann
Coulter, for example, routinely drums up racist
diatribes against Muslims. She questioned the
"personal hygiene and grooming" of Muslims in a recent
column. What other group can be so openly and
maliciously maligned in American mainstream discourse

During the whole Dubai ports deal debacle, even
Democratic leaders engaged in unfounded scare
mongering to score political points.

And it continues. Colorado Rep. Jim Welker, a
Republican, was recently discovered to have sent an
e-mail to his constituents titled: ''Beware of Islam
in America." The text of his e-mail read, in part,
"Can a devout Muslim be an American patriot and loyal
citizen? Politically, no. Because he must submit to
the mullah, who teaches annihilation of Israel and
destruction of America, the great Satan."

This is rubbish, of course, but such bigoted ideas
continue to thrive, leaving many American Muslims
politically fatigued.

"In the aftermath of 9/11, Arab and Muslim Americans
have been compelled, time and again, to apologize for
acts they did not commit, to condemn acts they never
condoned and to openly profess loyalties that, for
most U.S. citizens, is merely assumed." That is the
conclusion of Sally Howell and Andrew Shyrock, two
professors from the University of Michigan who have
studied the Arab and Muslim communities of Detroit.

We need to tap into American traditions of tolerance
to help us differentiate between a religion and its
extremists. We can engage the philosophical school of
American pragmatism to dismiss bigotry and opt for
real analysis.

But in times of political turmoil, Americans have
historically turned inward. Borders close, populism
rises and demagoguery takes off.

"The goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you
like it or not, is world domination," said
televangelist Pat Robertson recently.

This is not just wrong. It's dangerous. And this kind
of demagoguery must be resisted before it gains even
more traction. Otherwise, the noble American tradition
of tolerance will be the next casualty in the war on

Moustafa Bayoumi is a professor in the English
Department at Brooklyn College, City University of New
York, and co-editor of "The Edward Said Reader."


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