Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Islamophobia Does Not Matter

Most Muslim Americans would tell you that there has been a rise in Islamophobia, which is the irrational fear or hatred of Islam. There have been numerous recent events that illustrate this trend, such as the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, Qur’an burning, and the bombing of a Jacksonville Mosque. These events and other have come to collectively illustrate that there are people and groups in America that would like nothing more than to denigrate Islam and ostracize Muslims. This growth in Islamophobia has led some Muslims to feel alienated from mainstream society as a nascent awareness of their “otherness” has begun to take root. However, before Muslims begin to accept an inferior status in society, it is important to put Islam in America in context. I believe that by looking at Islam in America, one can see that Islamophobia does not really matter and is only a temporary setback for Muslims in America.

Islam in America is being practiced in a wide variety of ways by the estimated seven to ten million Muslim Americans. This group is comprised of both an indigenous and immigrant communities. The indigenous Muslim community is primarily composed of African-American converts who were first introduced to Islam through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam in 1950s and 60s. That community eventually divided into two segments—one that continued to follow the Nation of Islam and another that moved towards mainstream Sunni Islam. In addition to the indigenous Muslim community, a large group of immigrant Muslims came to America after the passage of 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. This immigrant Muslim community was largely composed of well-educated professionals who were able to stake out their claims on the American Dream. Currently, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and the community as a whole is a motley crew of first, second, and third generation immigrants and indigenous Muslims.

With the diversity of Islam in America, it is difficult to gauge the full spectrum of beliefs of the community. However, the most comprehensive research to date of Muslims in America was done in 2007 by the Pew Research Center. The key findings of that report was that Muslim Americans were largely middle-class, assimilated, and hold mainstream political opinions. In addition, nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. Overall what this research proved was that Muslim Americans did not have a problem reconciling their faith with their country and that Muslims are very much a part of the mainstream fabric of American society.

So if Muslims are mainstream members of our society, why has there been such a rise in hate-crimes and anti-Islamic rhetoric on the airwaves? Many people have addressed this issue and the general consensus is that Muslims are being targeted because it is politically convenient to demonize Islam and conflate it with terrorism because of the 9/11 attacks. However, Muslims in America are going through a hazing process that many other religious groups in America—ranging from the Catholics to the Jews—have already gone through only to emerge as stronger community because of it. I believe that this too will happen for Muslims in America.

The future for Muslims in America is bright. The bigots will not prevail and this recent spate of Islamophobia has provided room for a much-needed dialogue in our country. With an expanded dialogue, Americans will be exposed to what Islam in America is really all about. The sensationalist hatemongers will inevitably fall out of favor and Muslims will one-day find their place at the American table.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

War is Peace

I, like everyone else in the world, was shocked when I heard that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. After I realized that he had, in fact, been given the award and that this wasn’t just some elaborate faux news stunt, I tried to figure out what the Swedish Nobel committee could have possibly been thinking when they decided to give him the prize. So while they said they awarded him the prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” I understood the prize to be given to him for basically not being George W. Bush. Believing that Obama deserves the peace prize is utterly ludicrous; I mean Obama himself was shocked to get the award. But to actually give him the prize is, frankly, truly Orwellian. International politics have become so poisoned that perpetual war has become peace and rhetoric is more prized than reality. Obama’s peace prize just illustrates the substantial disconnect between image and reality that has become the norm in international relations.

In Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech, he laid out the circumstances in which war is justified—in self-defense, to come to the aid of an invaded nation, or on humanitarian grounds. A reasonably persuasive case can be made to justify war in each of these circumstances; however, given how Obama justified these premises and the realities that exist in the world, war based on any of three of these premises is unjustifiable. To prove this point, let’s consider the places that Obama is waging war in and whether or not these fit into his theory of a just war.

The two primary areas where the United States is currently waging war are in Afghanistan and Iraq. In terms of Afghanistan, the US invaded shortly after the September 11th attacks, purportedly to attack Al Qaeda. The justification for this invasion came when President George W. Bush declared that he would attack and destroy “terrorists” anywhere in the world and make no distinction between those terrorists and the regimes that harbored them. This Bush Doctrine of preventive war has since been used to justify American attacks in countries across the world in our Global War of Terror, with recent attacks being carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. So if rooting out terrorism was our goal in Afghanistan, and there are less than 100 Al Qaeda members still there, how can the continued occupation of Afghanistan be justified? Theoretically, one could argue that the continued occupation is being done for humanitarian reasons to protect the Afghan people (though this, of course, is an extremely dubious claim since America keeps killing hundreds of civilians in air strikes), but this is not what Obama has been arguing. Instead, he has explicitly stated in his Afghan surge speech that, “Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” So basically we are staying in Afghanistan on the belief that less than 100 Al Qaeda members can somehow threaten America and our allies. This belief is as preposterous as Obama winning the peace prize and a glaring example of the innate contradiction in his just war theory.

As for Iraq, everyone already knows that the reasons the US went to war in Iraq—because of weapons of mass destruction, a threat from Saddam Hussein, and supposedly a link between Iraq and 9-11—are utterly false and discredited, so why do we continue to occupy that country? Again, according to Obama, our goal is to ensure that “Iraq…is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.” America continues to occupy Iraq in order to achieve these goals; however, as laudable as these goals may be, they contradict his just-war theory and have more to do with nation building than continued military operations. There is a clear disconnect in his actions. For Iraqis, giving Obama the peace prize while America continues to occupy their country is just adding insult to injury.

Obama has also taken over the Global War of Terror from President Bush and has been proactively expanding this war into Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. In using the Bush Doctrine to justify attacking these countries, he has further eroded the line between preemption and self-defense. Using this logic, a million alleged threats could (and have) been invented to wage war and this is the very logic that expansionist military regimes have always used to justify their wars of aggression. For Obama to enthusiastically embrace this position puts him line with the great war criminals of the world, not the great peacemakers.

War is not peace. Regardless of Obama’s slick intellectual arguments, his actions belie his rhetoric. With President Bush, one could clearly see his bellicose actions and intent. However, with President Obama, one could be hoodwinked by his considerable rhetorical finesse to believe that he is a man of peace. The reality is that Obama is even more aggressive than President Bush and to give him The Nobel Peace Prize demeans the very notion of peace and is truly the audacity of hubris.