(CNN) President Donald Trump’s speech Sunday will likely be met with skepticism and frustration in the Muslim world, according to experts in the Middle East who said his sudden shift in tone on Islam was unconvincing.
By targeting Islam and Muslims in the name of terrorism, we indeed provide the terrorists what they want – religious legitimacy.
Two months after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) renamed itself as ‘Islamic State’ and declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph in June 2014, the terror outfit carried out a chain of gruesome murders with the beheading of US journalist James Foley. Later, American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff and English aid worker David Haines too were beheaded in similar fashion. These acts of modern-day savagery stunned the world. In the past two years, ISIS has killed over 1,200 people outside Iraq and Syria.
A series of heinous acts by the ISIS in the name of Islam has put the world’s second largest and fastest-growing religion under global spotlight. Despite the fact that most of Muslims dislike and detest the ideology of the terror outfit according to a study by Pew Research Center conducted in 2015, the negative perception of Islam has touched an alarming level in the post-9/11 world. Every terror attack by the ISIS further fuels the existing trend of Islamophobia
If Islam were a skin color, there would be a sliding scale along which you could determine just how Muslim you are. On the extremely Muslim end, there would be classic identifiers — hijab or niqab for women, a beard and skullcap for men. On the light Muslim end, there would be those whose identity can only be determined because of a name or provenance, those who usually “pass” in public and are not immediately identifiable. Let’s call this the Identity Matrix.
In order to predict how likely it is that a Muslim will be discriminated against, another measurement needs to be overlaid over visibility — The Privilege Scale. Jobs, wealth, education and other markers of status interplay with the degree of perceived Muslimness that can confer or deny immunity. This is pretty much how identifiers are leavened with social status (or lack thereof) across minority groups in most parts of the world.
Certain attributes and accoutrements offer some Muslims a “pass.” Sara Yasin, a Palestinian American journalist, remarked on how comparatively easy her passage through life in the United States is due to her pale skin, hazel eyes and neutral first name. A pass almost always depends on the ease with which an individual can blend into the affluent dominant culture. It sounds dramatic, and it is.
The ways Muslims have been fingered, pathologized and persecuted mean that the Muslim identity is being calibrated and re-calibrated in order to settle upon one dominant narrative. During the presidential election, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims,” immediately casting suspicion upon any Muslim as a potential threat. He also suggested that Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parent who appeared alongside her husband to support Hillary Clinton, was “not allowed to speak,” because she was Muslim.
These broad strokes are not only the preserve of the political right. Liberals such as Bill Maher have been at it for years. On terrorism, Maher suggested that, “if Muslim men could get laid more, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
This drive to otherize and dehumanize Muslims is grotesque, and the speed and uncoordinated efficiency of it seems almost like a natural phenomenon. But it isn’t. It’s a confluence of unnatural, dynamic and calculated narrow interests that dictate who gets to be “mainstream.”
A self-proclaimed “angry brown man” rants about Islam.
Islam is whatever a practicing Muslim says it is for them. Period.
If you are a religious layman and your journalism diet consists of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, then your only interaction with Muslims is when an anchor is narrating coverage of a terrorist attack in Paris or London. Panic, brown bodies and explosions are the only thoughts a majority of Americans associate with Islam. As far as they are concerned, there is no difference between a “radical moose-lamb” terrorist and any other Muslim. Islam is Islam; Christianity is Christianity. Done deal. No-go zones in British cities and the oppression of women! “They” are incompatible with “us.” “They” hate democracy and are jealous of how wealthy and powerful “we” are. And that is that.
Unfortunately, this is not a fringe belief. Powerful people in Western governments hold these views. The religious and cultural illiteracy around the world and especially in halls of power is shocking. Politicians like Rep. Steve King, R-IA, President Donald Trump and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon view the world in black and white. Good and evil. Christianity and Islam.
Religions are first and foremost social and cultural phenomena. They are not top-down monolithic entities but are inseparable from class, race and gender. In Muslim majority countries, socioeconomic status and the urban-rural divide are far more predictive of social and cultural views than simply “being” a Muslim. Indeed, there exists no singular form of Islam, just as there exists no singular form of Christianity. The issue of the veil? Cosmopolitan or upper-middle class female Muslims often do not wear a hijab, and if they do, many choose to do so under their own volition.
Three people were killed in California in yet another mass shooting. The culprit? A man who had a history of violence and was known for yelling out religious slogans. Shortly before the slayings, he publicly praised his god and guns on Facebook.
The shooter was Cedric Anderson; he was 53 and a former Christian pastor. On April 10 in San Bernardino, Calif., he killed his estranged wife, an 8-year-old child and then himself. He also injured another child.
Anderson had a history of violence against women: As recently as 2013 he was arrested for assault and a weapons offense. Days before the shooting, he posted on Facebook complaining that people “are not free in Christ,” and concluded, “I just pray for the[m] and keep my guns close!”
Despite his history of violence and religious fanaticism, you probably didn’t know Anderson was a Christian or a criminal. In fact, you might have thought I was speaking of Kori Ali Muhammad (whose previous namewas Cory Taylor) who has been accused of killing three people in California; this time in Fresno.
But police say that when Muhammad was arrested, he yelled “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
Unlike Anderson, who reportedly was deeply religious, Muhammad reportedly did not attend any mosque, and none of the Fresno Islamic centers had heard of him. Also unlike Anderson, Muhammad was homeless (the connection between poverty and violence is well documented). But, like Anderson, Muhammad had a history of criminal violence. In fact, he was already wanted for a previous slaying.
A new book argues that conversations about Muslims in America and Europe are about more than rights and freedoms.
Controversies over Islam take somewhat different shapes in Europe and the United States. While France attempts to ban burkinis, or full-body bathing suits worn by some Muslim women, U.S. state legislatures attempt to ban the use of sharia law in American courts.
And yet, argues Nadia Marzouki in her new book, Islam: An American Religion, anti-Islam arguments in the West have become “surprisingly standardized.” It’s “no longer possible to discuss Islam’s place in Western societies without systematically invoking a series of normative oppositions: good/bad, moderate/radical, faith/law, West/Muslim, modernity/tradition, and so on,” she writes. “For a majority of Americans and Europeans, Islam remains an opaque object that one is unable to think of in any way other than as a problem, threat, or retrograde legal code.”
It’s not enough to understand this simply as Islamophobia, argues Marzouki, who is a research fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. She believes Islam has become a cipher in Western societies for the tough questions of secular, liberal democracies: how much to champion liberty over equality, for example, and whether legal rights should entitle Muslims to fully express their faith in public. As much as Europe and the U.S. have different histories and legal traditions, she claims, anti-Muslim groups in both places share their discomfort with these challenges.
I have been in America for the last 37 years.
Initially when people learned I’m Muslim it would trigger curiosity about Islam and eastern cultures. Sometimes I would encounter misinformation in the mainstream media, but mostly Muslims in America were under the radar.
Since 9/11, I’ve found more interest in learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding. I’d like to tackle a few of those here:
Myth: Muslims are relatively newcomers in America. • Historians trace first Muslims in America towards the end of 15th century. African-American Muslims, who have been here for centuries, make about quarter of the total U.S. Muslim population. A recent estimate in 2016 placed the nation’s Muslim population at over 3.3 million.
Most of the American Muslims who immigrated in last century probably came from
South Asia, Middle East, and Africa in 1960s, when The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was enacted. This law changed the immigration policies from being nation-based formula to one that lifted restrictions against immigrants from Asia and Africa. It gave priority for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
It also gave preference to professionals and other skilled workers. Most of Muslims came here for the same reason that brought the majority of non-Muslim Americans: opportunity.