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Rob Asghar: America’s Summer Of Islamophobia

10 August 2010 Huffington Post No Comment Email This Post Email This Post

Consider the recent events of the Summer of Islamophobia:

  • The Anti-Defamation League casts its lot with forces opposing a relatively pluralistic Islamic center a few blocks from Ground Zero.
  • Bigots come out in opposition to mosques far removed from the symbolism of Ground Zero.
  • Newt Gingrich declares sharia to be “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States.” Right-wing pundit Andrew McCarthy breathlessly adds that Gingrich has framed coming elections as an American referendum on sharia.
  • TIME magazine displays on its August 9 cover the face of a girl disfigured by the Taliban, suggesting that an Afghanistan war that most Muslims dislike is the only way to keep our world safe.

Islam does have, and pose, major problems within our world today. But it’s important to remember that these problems are cultural and situational, not an inherent result of Islamic doctrine.

That’s why Bernard Lewis, the culturally and politically conservative historian of Islam, was intellectually honest enough to title one of his books What Went Wrong?, being intellectually honest enough to admit that much had gone right during a golden age in which he called Muslims more tolerant and progressive than any other civilization. Lewis added that the fact that Islam’s golden age came not long after its founding confirmed that Islamic belief isn’t inherently anti-progress or anti-pluralism.

Culture, not theology, is the major issue. Culture, within the Arab and South-Asian section of the Muslim world, is in desperate need of reform. The honor killings of the Taliban and the restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia are simple indigenous, nutty culture, which is why they’re not issues for the Muslim populations of Turkey or Indonesia — or Cincinnati, Ohio.

But cultural critique and resistance has to come from the inside. When the critique comes from the outside, via self-serving demagogues such as Gingrich and McCarthy, or the always-rabid Robert Spencer, the effect is only to polarize moderate Muslims right into the fundamentalist camp.

That actually plays right into the hands of Western and jihadist demagogues alike; they create a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict that places themselves as heroes who mock “appeasers” within their own society. No two groups gained more from 9/11 and the symbolism of Ground Zero than the hawks of jihad and the hawks of America.

American hawks may claim they’re critiquing Islam because the Muslims won’t. They’re wrong. Why else do you think nearly 6,000 innocent civilians have died as a result of resistance to jihadist forces in the past two years in Pakistan? Islamic historian Reza Aslan has noted that the war against terror has been mainly a war within Islam, fought by moderate Muslims against the extremists.

More can be done by the moderate Muslims, granted, and I’ll discuss that further in the near future.

But Americans will need to be careful not to play the sucker for the power plays of would-be presidents such as Gingrich, who pick racism and bigotry up from the dustbin and place it in a showy new outfit.

You can’t fault his choice of tactics. It beats having to defend his party’s fiscal record. And in George Orwell’s nightmare vision, the ruling party used daily Two-Minute Hate sessions and annual Hate Week festivals to grand effect. It works just as well in the real world: Americans marginalized Catholics a century ago as a threat to supplant the constitution with the Vatican. We marginalized Jews, rounded up Japanese-Americans, prevented interracial marriage and kept the Chinese at arm’s length. And when we did it to them, we never claimed to do so out of malice. We claimed we did it with justification, out of a need for caution, to protect our traditions, our values, our way of life. We especially did it during the stresses of war.

Gingrich will in time be reduced to the mean and cheap little corner of history that he has earned for himself, serving as yet another cautionary tale for wiser persons. But we can attempt to minimize the damage that persons such as he do in the meantime.

Perhaps we can distract him by asking for a serious plan to cut the deficit.

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