From the Editors
Peter King and the Homeland Security Committee’s hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims are upon us. Mainstream op-ed pieces have increasingly suggested the "divisiveness" of this New McCarthyism, especially after the Southern Poverty Law Center listed Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller’s Stop Islamification of America as a hate group and after the Nuremburg-like Tea Bagging of a Yorba Linda Mosque.
Muslim-baiting is not new nor is the strategy to divide and quarantine immigrant communities. Daniel Pipes has long portrayed the Muslim and Arab American communities as a seditious “Danger Within.” Tea-Baggers, pro-Israel supporters and neocons vocally assert that the portrayal of Muslims as peaceful is a veneer that conceals the true ambitions of the religion and its adherents.
A few Democrats, namely Rep. Michael Honda (CA, D) and Keith Ellison (MN, DFM), however, have protested the hearings’ loaded and prosecutorial tenor. Additionally, Rep. King’s accusation that Muslim Americans do not cooperate with the FBI and that Muslims are not integrated into mainstream America are countered by the Pew Research Center and Gallup Polls that evince an integrated, well-educated and relatively affluent Muslim American community that voluntarily works with local and federal law enforcement to detect credible “terror” threats.
Islamophobia is a Tenet of American Culture
To approach the current hearings on “radicalization” of American Muslims along partisan boundaries is to deflect from the depths to which Islamophobia is engrained within American political culture. That Geller had to “beg” to be included in the CPAC convention and attack paleo-conservatives such as Grover Norquist suggest that the Republican Party realizes the liability of the visibility of Tea Bag xenophobia.
Blaming opportunistic and predatory Islamophobes is a convenient means to distance the American mainstream from their own Islamophobia. King’s hearings are dangerous not for their demonizing of Muslims but because they further mainstream these predators and offer them a prominent political platform and the credibility that comes with it.
However, the difference between good ole’ fashioned Muslim and Arab hating and Islamphobia as a mass cultural phenomenon is that the latter is a fully fledged ideological component of American culture that has flowered since the end of the Cold War to accommodate US power in a unipolar world. Consequently, Islamophobia permeates all spectra of American culture. Juan Williams’ honesty that Muslims make him nervous, Howard Dean accusing Islam of being “stuck in the 12th century,” and Obama’s clear distaste for the “wisdom” of Park 51mosque show how Democrats share their counterparts’ suspicion of Muslims.
In the media, discussion of Muslims and Islam is, at best, infused with the Good Muslim-Bad Muslim dichotomy that poses patriotic loyalty against religious identity. While highlighting the psychological instability of white terrorists and ignoring the white supremacy beliefs of anti-government militias, cable news obsesses over “home grown terrorism,” perpetuating the stereotype of the “Muslim threat” and, therefore, legitimizing it as a valid analytical topic.
Islamophobia is not only a set of misrepresentations, misunderstandings and intolerance by overt racists and the religiously bigoted. It is a culture formation that has been activated for ideological reasons. As such, the shared Islamophobia of both parties translates into very real effects for Muslims. For example, municipal police hire Islamophobe charlatans to train them to identify home grown threats using outlandishly racist anti-Muslim literature. As a consquence, not only to police profile and target anyone who might look like their version of a Muslim but they under report hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans.
The White House has reassured the Muslim American community that it does not see Muslim Americans as a “collective threat.” Since Obama’s famous, if not patronizing, speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Department of Justice is “committed to using criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans.”
Yet, Holder too fuels the culture of fear that feeds on Islamophobia. As if to prove his patriotism, the Attorney General confesses that “home grown terrorism” keeps him up at night. Therefore, to snuff out the extremist menace, he endorses unconstitutional policies such as extrajudicial assassinations, particularly of Muslim Americans. Likewise, when Congress passed the Defence Authorization Bill preventing Gitmo detainees from being transferred to the United States, Obama and Holder objected because Congress encroached on the Justice Department’s jurisdiction not because it perpetuated a regime of civil rights violations.
Recently, Obama’s Executive Order codify these violations by legalizing Military Tribunals and the open-ended detention of detainees who cannot be charged with a crime but are nonetheless deemed “too dangerous” to release.
The President’s Executive Order is one more brick in an edifice that establishes a state of fear and control started by George W. Bush. However, Obama’s contribution to the Islamophobic policies and politics instigated by his predecessor has been to institutionalize them within a credible legal framework as public policy. Obama continues the Vulcan policies of illegal wire tapping. No-fly lists and “Terror Surveillance lists” are still secret. Bagram Airbase acts as his Defense Department’s black site. The Justice Department casually prosecutes defendants under specious and broad “providing material support” charges. Simultaneously, the President has issued new standards that institutionalize Special Administration Measures (SAMs) for these “terror suspects,” which limit, before and after trial, the defendants'interaction with friends, family, other inmates, and access to information.
While Obama ended the use of the phrase “war on terror,” he replaced it with, in the words of Glen Greenwald, a “war on privacy,” that seeks to expand federal powers to spy through the introduction of legislation requiring compliance of internet services to insure internet wire tapping would be possible. This war is carried out in the name of homeland security, whose very existence is predicated on a series of putative Islamophobic tropes.
COINTELPRO Gone Legit
Unlike the preceding administration’s COINTERLPRO-War on Terror policies, Obama has legalized the violations of civil liberties particularly of Muslims and Muslim Americans by legislating wire tapping, illegal detentions, use of military tribunals, abuse of the “material support” provision, and SAMs and making the FBI’s “operation guidelines” elastic enough to stretch around Muslim Americans’ civil liberties.
While commending Muslim Americans for their cooperation, the FBI under Obama runs rough shot over Muslim American’s civil liberties. The FBI exercises a concerted program of entrapment that has encouraged young and disenfranchised Muslims to commit terror crimes. The most recent example may be Portland’s alleged Christmas Tree bomber and one of the most egregious examples being the cultivation and entrapment of Newburg Four and Fort Dix Five. Recently, Muslims are suing the Bureau for its use of agent provocateurs and surveillance of citizens who refuse to collaborate with them or spy on their fellow Muslims.
The King hearings do not put new pressures on Muslim Americans. Rather, the “witch-hunt” highlights larger policies that are directed at them. One need not reference the spate of mosque attacks over the past several years to call attention to this environment of hostility. For all its talk of community outreach, the Obama administration perpetuates this environment. His FBI regularly harasses young Muslim men. His Homeland Security profiles Muslims at airports as a matter of practice. His DOJ prosecutes Muslims for philanthropy and uses “material support” charges for common criminal behavior.
Enacting a State of Fear
The title of the hearings, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” discloses the unapologetic presumption that “radicalization” has already penetrated the “Muslim Community.” The committee does not even identify the community as the “Muslim American Community.” This language reflects that Islamophobia is engrained within US political language itself.
The King hearings are a slight of hand that misdirects our attention from the fact that Islamophobia is an ideological mechanism inherent to American political culture and redirects it to controversial political opportunists, whose racism is easily disowned by the mainstream.
Islamophobia is far more diffuse. It safeguards that Muslim Americans remain “self-policing” and that they keep their patriotism, loyalty and American-ness fully visible so as to assuage white America’s fear of them.
The legislation on Sharia in states like Tennessee does not target Islam. It targets Muslims, criminalizing basic faith acts. This legislation, the King hearings and the Obama administration together institutionalize a state of fear in the United States.
The actions of the Executive, the Congress and state legislators do not aim to integrate Muslim Americans into mainstream white society or ensure their cooperation with law enforcement.
The aim of the House’s Homeland Security Committee is congruent with an overall shared governmental ethos: to isolate what is otherwise an assimilated and rather passive non-White ethnic and religious group. In creating a state of fear, the American mainstream and their leaders establish an atmosphere where Muslim Americans must constantly exhibit their loyalty by fully collaborating with the United States government that prosecutes wars in the Muslim world.
That said, the governmental policy of isolation and its concomitant collective social coercion are not about Islam. Islamophobia falls within the ignoble American tradition of governmental suppression of dissent. Like other forms of pernicious racism, Islamophobia is activated to maintain a status quo at a time when American Empire is in decline, and at a time when Arabs and Muslims are tearing down standard Islamophobic tropes in the process of tearing down US backed regimes. Therefore, we should not blame the Kings who regurgitate the Islamophobic planks provided by predatory hate-mongers in order to further their political ambition. Rather, we should look to the quarters in the kingdom that demands its citizens exchange their hijab for a flag and wilfully surrender their civil liberties in order to prove their patriotism.
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