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2008: Another Difficult Year for American Muslims

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Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali
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- New Jersey Press Association President calls Islam ‘internal’ threat to U.S.

- Rightist columnist Cal Thomas urges ban on building new mosques in America.

- A Muslim woman in Georgia sent to jail for not removing head scarf (hijab).

These episodes of bigotry, Islamophobia and discrimination of the month of December symbolize the dilemma of American Muslims in 2008 like the previous years since 9/11. Bigotry and Islamophobia reached its climax during the 2008 presidential election campaign when the Republican Party resorted to fear-mongering to prop up Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. Fear mongering has been the hall mark of the Bush domestic and international policies in the name of “war on terror.” With little to fall on nearly eight years of President Bush’s misrule that landed the nation in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the desperate Republican Party ratcheted up its campaign with half-truths and fear mongering to frighten the masses with imaginary and bloated threats.

Particularly, in the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election campaign, the Republican Party - in a replay of the 2004 and 2006 elections - played its typical tactic, Scare America. The most blatant use of fear mongering came on the final day of the Republican National Convention when John McCain delivered his GOP nomination acceptance speech and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hyped the threat of the so-called “Islamic terrorism.”

"For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the words 'Islamic terrorism,'" Guiliani said. "I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe it will insult someone. Please, tell me, who are they insulting, if they say 'Islamic terrorism?' They are insulting terrorists." "Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitution rights?" Romney argued. Romney believes that John McCain hit the nail on the head when he said that “radical violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it!”

The Republican Party leaders’ Islamophobic remarks were not surprising since Senator McCain and his supporters have in the past used rhetoric that only served to marginalize Muslims. In his speeches, McCain often referred to “radical Islam,” “Islamic terrorism" or “Islamic extremism," rhetoric that has been questioned by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security. However, he declined to stop using the adjective "Islamic" to describe terrorists and extremist enemies of the United States.

The rhetoric against Islam and Muslims clearly seeks to alienate and disenfranchised the seven-million strong Muslim American community and feeds into the dangerous climate of Islamophobia. Alarmingly, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim feelings were fueled by such government programs as a mock attack on a fake mosque in Illinois. In May last, over 120 officials from almost 30 government agencies participated in the drill in Irving, Illinois, targeting a community facility that had been re-named the "Irving Mosque" for the purposes of the exercise. In the exercise, officers from the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) stormed the "mosque" using an armored car. One "hostage" was hooked up to an explosive device and the "suspects" in the "mosque" released nerve gas.

At the same time, in a pathetic attempt to scare people into voting for John McCain, 28 million copies of a right-wing, terror propaganda DVD produced in Israel - "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" - were mailed and bundled in newspaper deliveries to voters in swing states. A shadowy, the Clarion Fund, founded by Israeli-Canadian Rabbi Raphael Shore, paid millions of dollars to get the DVD out. The noxious propaganda movie was also distributed at the Democratic and Republican parties nomination conventions by Watch Obsession Organization.

Scaring the scareable before an election! The distribution of the movie, less than two months before Election Day, was a ploy to assist GOP presidential candidate John McCain. It surely incited more hate and bigotry against the Muslim community. Tellingly, when smear techniques are used against any other religious or minority group, it is recognized as bigotry but when it's aimed at Islam or Muslims it is not.

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson’s article titled “Holding Muslims at Arm’s Length” best reflected how fear mongering and Islamophobia was being used in the 2008 presidential election. He noted that in his year-and-a-half-long run for president, Barak Obama has visited churches and synagogues, but no mosque. Jackson answers to Obama’s meaningful reluctance to visit a mosque when he quotes a Newsweek poll of May which concludes that only 58 percent of Americans think Obama is a Christian.

Tellingly, in July, The New Yorker magazine published a cover cartoon depicting Barak Obama, wearing traditional Muslim dress, while his wife, Michelle, was dressed in combat trousers and carrying a machine-gun. This cover obviously legitimizes the rumors regarding Obama. It was surely not a satire but promoted fear, stereotypes and racism.  

Muslims felt slighted from Obama campaign when two Muslim women at his rally in Detroit in June were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate. However, Obama was quick to control the damage. He personally called Shimaa Abdelfadeel and Hebba Aref to apologize for the incident. Many Muslim political and civic leaders said they understood that their support for Mr. Obama could be a problem for him at a time when some Americans are deeply suspicious of Muslims, nonetheless they expressed disappointment and even anger at the distance that Mr. Obama has kept from them.

In short, the seven million-strong American Muslim community had a rough time during the 2008 election campaign with smear against Islam, bigotry and stereotyping. Tellingly, despite the messages of inclusiveness and tolerance from both major parties, neither campaign has been overly anxious to court the Muslim vote. To their disappointment, neither presidential candidate has visited a mosque, yet both have made multiple visits to churches and synagogues.

This was the reason that no major American Muslim organization - such as AMT, CAIR and MPAC - had formally endorsed Obama although they remained heavily tilted towards him because of their grievances against the Bush’s anti-Muslim policies. The Muslim organizations launched extensive campaigns to motivate the Muslim voters to go out and vote. Not surprisingly, almost 90 percent of American Muslim voters picked Barack Obama in Nov 4 election according to the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT).

Muslims are virtually facing a new FBI counter intelligence program similar to the COINTELPRO operation against the African Americans during the 1960s. Harassment through the legal system was one of the methods employed by the FBI at the height of the COINTELPRO operation and the same method is being employed now with high profile trials of Muslim leaders.

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Abdus Sattar Ghazali Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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