Arizona Daily Wildcat

Posted by Arizona Daily Wildcat on September 22, 2014 in News Clips

On 9/11 on the UA Mall, I encountered one of the ugliest displays of “Islamophobia” I’ve ever seen. Brother Dean, campus’ resident sensationalist, was wearing a fake beard and a shirt with “ISIS” written on it while he held a sign equating Islam with hate and terrorism. He was loudly shouting offensive slogans and confronting a woman in a headscarf, whom I overheard say she felt unsafe, when I first saw him. Her concern was not helped by the fact that the other side of his sign said, “You deserve to be gang-raped.”

But what’s even uglier than this individual display are the numbers proving how ingrained these ideas are. Recent polls by the Arab American Institute say that only 27 percent of Americans have a positive view of Muslims, and that 42 percent of Americans support racial profiling used against Muslims, as lamented about on The Daily Beast by Dean Obeidallah.

Assistant professor Maha Nassar from the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies believes that it was the unfamiliarity with Islam prior to 9/11 and fear that caused such sentiments. She added, “There is also a concerted effort to stoke these fears and create more Islamophobic feelings among Americans.”

Nassar cited a publication called “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” by the Center for American Progress, which talked about a group of seven huge right-wing think tanks that actively send millions of dollars to anti-Islam groups. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s all real, and it’s an attempt by a few very rich people to make electoral hay off our fears.

This isn’t restricted to the American right, but can also be found in the “new” atheism. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and others have been quick to paint Islam as a whole with the brush of barbarism, despite being more charitable to religions associated with Europeans and whiteness, like Christianity or Judaism.

Harry Cheadle of Vice Magazine suggests it could be that New Atheists project Islam as the worst-case scenario of all the religions they crusade against. Nassar said, “I don’t presume to understand their logic.”

But if we’re going to ask “why do they hate us,” and then presume that the answer lies in their religion, perhaps we should consider the larger picture: the U.S.’s consistent meddling in middle-eastern affairs from the 1953 Iranian coup to the swath of permanent military bases it holds in the Middle East. And that’s not even getting into U.S. policy on drone warfare, which can cause intense civilian casualty rates that are written off in Washington as “acceptable losses.” We kill their children and then assume it’s the Quran that tells them to take up arms against us.

The point of this is that we need to do some soul searching as a country. It’s not enough to just stop vilifying non-extremist Islam or to reconsider our conception of Islam as some great existential threat to the U.S. Americans need to consider their role as a giant foreign policy bully who tries to fight “terror,” but makes things worse with its imperialist tampering. We need to remember not just 9/11, but the Afghani Mujahadeen we supported in the 1980s that morphed into the Taliban; we should think not just about Iranian attempts to secure nuclear power but the coup in Iran that led to the current Iranian theocracy. And we should consider that even now we have flying killbots in Yemen and Pakistan indiscriminately taking down terrorists and innocents alike.

We need to reach a common understanding — not just of Islam and its history beyond the recent extremism of a few people — but also of the pressure America causes and the role we play in keeping these extremists relevant.

I doubt Brother Dean would listen to such nuances. But the rest of us should keep them in mind before we associate Imams with terrorists, or hijabs with the subjugation of women or the Quran with violence.

In many cases, they’re more scared of us than we are of them. And looking at the Middle East right now, it’s not hard to understand why.

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