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Muslims and Islamophobia ( 31 March 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Overcoming Islamophobia in the United States

A Report, The Jakarta Post

The US Congress’s so-called “King hearings” began last week, hearings about the widespread radicalization of Muslim Americans. Those hearings are based on three assumptions.

First, Islam is an evil religion. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and other American mega-church leaders have loudly repeated this in public.  As a politician, it would be enough for Peter King to shy away from this claim by saying that it is not for him to judge other faiths.

Second, Muslim Americans, individually and collectively, are responsible for terrorism committed by some Muslims on American soil.  That is why King strongly believes that Muslim Americans are not cooperating with law enforcement even though studies and testimony from interfaith leaders and law enforcement officers (including the only one invited to the hearing) said the opposite.

Third, both Islam and Muslims are incompatible with the West therefore it’s OK to single out Muslims as “an enemy living amongst us” who need to be scrutinized at all times. The King hearings cannot be separated from the anti-Muslim sentiments that emerged in 2010 in relation to the building of the “Ground Zero Mosque”: a Koran Burning Day; a Stop the Islamization of America campaign; the stabbing of a Muslim taxi driver in New York City; the arson and vandalism of mosques in California, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Connecticut; Newt Gingrich’s claim about Muslims wanting to take over the US; and rumors about the implementation of sharia in Texas.  Earlier this week, a Muslim American woman was removed from a flight for wearing a headscarf in San Diego.

Surely, threats by radical Muslims are real. Everybody, including Muslim Americans, should make every effort to prevent terrorist attacks from happening.  And yes, some Muslim Americans retain exclusivist perceptions about “the other”. But, are most American Muslims radicals? If you believe America is the land of liberty and most Muslim Americans are radicals, what does that really mean?

Is there such a thing as a moderate Muslim? If not, then are Muslims the enemy? Isn’t this exactly the same reasoning used by al-Qaeda from the opposite direction?As shown by public reaction to the hearings, most Americans are sympathetic to Islam, but some groups are still pushing Islamophobia into the mainstream. Remember, as institutionalized hatred, Islamophobia has become a cultural product that is transferable across time, space and even generations.

When people let bigots lead ignorant masses in times of crisis, as repeatedly shown in history, institutionalized hatred can be an especially deadly weapon for a powerful tyrant to push powerless others to the brink of extinction. Remember the Christian Inquisition, the Holocaust and other genocides?

As a mental attitude, Islamophobia targets Muslims. Eventually, however, it can easily be spun to create and demonize whoever is considered “the other”. Islamophobia is an aggressive discrimination against the very principle of justice; it is against our humanity. Just like overcoming anti-Semitism or racism, all people of conscience should stand up and work together.

Support from outspoken senior faith leaders as organized by the ISNA in Washington, DC last week was incredibly important, but wider public support is desperately needed as well. Islamic radicalism is a serious problem for all. Majority Muslims have been equally suffering from what radicals have done.

Painting all Muslims with the same brush only makes matters worse, both within Muslim communities and between Muslims and the West.Only when prejudice and ignorance rule can people claim that Islam, practiced for 15 centuries and now followed all over the world by 1.5 billion people (that is 5 times the US population), is teaching or promoting violence. From time to time even in the name of democracy there are people around the globe who commit violence and kill others.

When we see the world through the narrow lens of bias all we can see is darkness and fear. When you only select the bad parts of another religion, culture or society to confirm your own prejudices, all “others” become the enemy. Everybody knows what the consequences are.

Bad things may turn good in the hands of good people. Let’s use the rise of Islamophobia as an opportunity to work together through interfaith dialogue and cooperation to create a free society without any discrimination. Let others, including the Muslim world; share this lesson and its wisdom.

Source: The Jakarta Post