Thoughts on Islamophobia

America, You Got Your Mama’s Style, But You’re Yesterday’s Child To Me

By Helen Lee, Staff Writer

The best thing about America’s 200 year history of rabid nativism is that when I hear about instances of xenophobic sadism, I’m usually not particularly shocked, which is good for my sometimes difficult to manage stress levels. The latest development in a tried and true pattern of hatred of outsiders is an overwhelming animosity towards Muslims, marked most noticeably over the past several months by controversy surrounding the construction of Park 51, an Islamic cultural center being built two blocks north of Ground Zero.

According to a TIME Magazine survey, 61 percent of those polled oppose the construction of such a cultural center. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that they have been told that it is actually a mosque being built at Ground Zero. Shout out to Glenn Beck! However, according to the same survey, one third of respondents believe that Muslims should be barred from running for president, and that statistic is harder to talk away.

In response to this outrageous violation of hallowed ground (made so by the deaths of the non-Muslim victims of 9/11), Florida pastor Terry Jones decided to take matters into his own hands and burn numerous Qur’ans with the help of his overly eager congregation. General David Petraeus, Commander of the American forces in Afghanistan, came out and made a statement urging Jones to rethink his plans, as they would undoubtedly put American soldiers in the Middle East at risk. Upon hearing this, Jones consulted with the voices in his head, all of which urged him to continue. At the last minute, he decided not follow through with his plan, in spite of his first amendment protected right to do so. The voices were probably angry with him.

Islamophobia isn’t exactly a new sentiment. The ever-present tension in the Middle East combined with a steadfast American loyalty to Israel has made Muslims the subject of much scrutiny, fear, and alienation in America. Though not acceptable, this sentiment is not exactly difficult to understand. Islamic culture is distinct from western, and, more specifically, American culture, and America has been historically unreceptive to cultures distinct from its own. Though many cultures have augmented American culture, the dominant model of American culture has always been one that is white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Cultures that differ, like Irish or Italian Catholic culture, Jewish culture, and Hispanic culture, are only allowed to exist here after persevering through a grueling hazing period, after which they are “tolerated.”

Like many other instances of nativism throughout America’s history, this one is characterized by something that looks a lot more like hatred than fear. These Islamophobes don’t fear Islam; they hate it. They don’t merely want to be protected from what they perceive as a threat, and they don’t merely want to preserve the integrity of the hallowed ground at Ground Zero; they want to keep Muslims from worshipping as they please, and they want to cause Muslims pain and sorrow by demonizing them and desecrating their holy book.

Throughout history, demonization and alienation of certain distinct groups has always been gradual and has always begun with a snapshot of the group that makes it easy to hate. The American nativists have succeeded in painting a picture of Muslims as miserable, exclusive, prone to terrorism, and unwilling to integrate with American culture. For the nativists, the memory of 9/11 constantly justifies this anti-Muslim sentiment. Such demonization and alienation has also always been associated with periods of insecurity on the part of the dominant group. America is in the midst of a persisting economic collapse and a number of damaging and fruitless military excursions. It should be no surprise that Americans are grasping at a revered notion of patriotism (nationalism) and are lashing out at all things “un-American.”

It’s not just Muslims that the nativists hate, though this hatred is certainly a passionate one, but anyone who is not white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant (one must be all three to be truly American). We are seeing the same sentiment being directed towards Latino immigrants, especially in Arizona. In the early 19th century, the influx of Irish immigrants was met with fanatical bigotry and even violence. The Italians were received similarly. If given a long enough leash and enough time, these nativists would most likely extend their hatred to others, using their demonization of Muslims to recall and rekindle their past demonization of other distinctive groups.

Terry Jones’s Qur’an burning threat received national attention, and more than half of Americans oppose plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, but the effects of Islamophobia, and, more importantly, hatred of Islam, will be felt by Muslims on a more individual level. Muslims will be excluded, will be wary to share their religious persuasion with others, will be harassed and will be boycotted. In other words, Muslims will be stripped of dignity. The Muslim community as a whole is already being treated as subhuman. History has shown us that it is alarmingly easy to convince the masses that a particular group is less than human. History has also shown us that, at the end of the day, very few are immune.

You can stand by and watch since it doesn’t seem to effect you, but chances are you aren’t immune to this kind of systematic dehumanization. If you aren’t, speak up, because they’re coming for you next.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor, responsible for igniting the debate. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Even Terry Jones Should be Allowed to burn Qurans, Since I’m Allowed to Burn the American Flag

By Fatima Shabbir, Staff Writer

I’m sure everyone has heard about the infamous Pastor Terry Jones who wanted to turn Sept. 11 – a day that is supposed to be remembered in prayer and camaraderie, into “International Burn a Quran day.” Not only did he get nonstop media coverage to publicize this unprecedented event, he managed to entice a vast number of citizens to follow him and his congregation in carrying out this attack. Many Muslims and non-Muslims were outraged nationally and internationally at his audacity and courage to publically commit such a heinous act against a group of people based on their religious orientation.

I was infuriated at this pastor, who is of an occupation that is supposed to preach tolerance, peace and acceptance of all people. However, I learned to respect his opinion, as I should with any other citizen of the world. He, like many other people that we may disagree with, are entitled to their opinion as human beings, and are entitled to free speech according to the First Amendment of the Constitution as American citizens. If he believes in the reasons he states, he should have the liberty to express them how he wants, as long as he or his actions do not directly harm anyone else.

According to Supreme Court rulings of the 20th century, our right to free speech also extends to protect symbolic expression. According to law.jrank.org, an online law library, “the term symbolic speech applies to a wide range of nonverbal communication. Many political activities, including marching, wearing armbands, and displaying or mutilating the U.S. flag, are considered forms of symbolic expression,” and so is Quran burning when used in the right context. Just like I would want a conservative army veteran to respect my right to burn the American flag out of protest, even if they would be upset, I have to respect Pastor Terry Jones’ right to burn a Quran for the reasons he stated above.

Some, including the military and US government had the fear of Jones’ actions sparking international rivalries between America and other Muslim countries in the Middle East, and in turn, creating unnecessary tensions and increasing attacks on American troops overseas. Although these are valid points, I believe that the indirect causes listed here are not enough to suppress even one citizen’s voice. Not because the government body thinks or fears trouble, it doesn’t mean that they should take precautions to censor an act, especially if the act and the consequences are so distantly related. It is the same way that someone cannot be arrested for going to commit a crime, or because it was thought that they were going to commit a crime.

These things happened and are happening in dictatorial, tyrannical, monarchical and authoritarian countries. It isn’t supposed to happen so blatantly in a democratic country founded on inalienable Freedoms. We are not in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries when the Gutenberg Press began spreading the ideas of the common man and threatening the church, state and overall established order—where the church began censoring and banning books, imprisoning and even killing those that spoke out against them.

Free speech and expression are two of our natural and inalienable rights. If we want people to listen to our voice and respect our opinions in public discourse, we must do it for them. One of the hardest parts of living in a “democracy” is learning to live together, with people who are different, who have different customs, traditions, opinions, views and biases. We would not be appreciating the full value of the Constitution if we only wanted our voices heard and not the others, no matter if they are hateful and oppressive or go against every moral standard we know. Even the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis have a voice to be heard. Suppressing one group because they might “offend” another doesn’t create a democratic and knowledgeable public sphere, instead it creates a public sphere that is surrounded by censorship, much like authoritarian governments that we have so come to despise in the 21st century.

One way to combat opinions that we do not believe in and to stop such heinous acts from being committed is to use the same freedoms we grant to those that preach hate, against them. That is exactly what happened with the Pastor; the same First amendment that granted him the right to burn the Quran, is the same amendment that suppressed the act from happening. The public’s outrage, continuous protest, motivational and pro-peace speeches and public opinion discouraged him from carrying out his attacks. This is how we should treat situations like these, whether it is with Terry Jones, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis or any other group that teaches hate and bias. Even though I believe America and it’s government has serious flaws, this phenomenon is what sets it apart from other nations and makes it a place for everyone to better themselves.