Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Blog

These days it’s not unusual to open the morning paper and read stories about scorching heat waves, fire storms and hurricane devastation. Nonetheless, this morning I was particularly disturbed by an article in The New York Times entitled ‘Haboobs’ Stir Critics in Arizona. Long used in the Middle East, the term “haboob” describes a particular type of sand or dust storm that can cause extreme if not life-threatening wreckage to a particular area.  As noted in the article, “haboob” has been commonly used by meteorologists and weather services in the Southwest for nearly a decade. The article highlighted the criticism of some Arizonians, such as resident Dan Yonts, who find offense with the Middle Eastern roots of the term and do not believe it has a place in American dialogue.

“How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?” asked Yonts, a reaction that demonstrates the expanding pervasiveness of Islamophobia in today’s media, politicssociety and educational systems. Mr. Yonts’s comment represents a growing belief that in today’s world if a person or word can be associated with the Middle East then they must be anti-American. Take for example the political fervor regarding “Sharia Law” as an ostensible threat to America’s judicial system. Despite the fact that it would be impossible for Sharia, or any other religious law for that matter, to usurp the U.S. Constitution, the concept of a religious takeover of the U.S. has become a highly successful talking-point for political officials vying for votes amongst the religious and conservative right.

America is no stranger to the systematic marginalization of a particular social group, especially during times of hardship. Though by no means synonymous to earlier struggles, the hardships faced by today’s Muslim or Arab stems from the same bigotry that was once leveled at African Americans, Japanese, Irish, and purported “Communist sympathizers.” Each of these groups has been the subject of social and political fear-mongering, and today any association with Islam or the Middle East in general has become grounds for attack by Islamophobic zealots. 

The current trend is particularly dangerous because any association with anything remotely Muslim or Muslim-influenced often produces a backlash of public, media, and legal actions that effectively serve to marginalize and criminalize the entire religion. If Mr. Yonts wishes to maintain his pure Americanism and completely eschew the purportedly dangerous and offensive influences of the Middle East, he may want to stop himself from taking a generous helping of hummus at next Sunday’s barbecue or that morning cup of coffee on his way to work. And next time he wishes to turn on his air conditioner as a reprieve to this summer’s heat waves, he may want to remember that cooling towers and wind systems are Arab contributions as well.

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