Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, September 2015
American Muslims 14 years after 9/11
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 14, 2015
- Three American-Muslim students - Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19 - were shot to death by Craig Stephen Hicks, an atheist and a gun enthusiast, near the University of North Carolina.
- Glendon Scott Crawford, a mechanic at General Electric, is convicted for constructing a “death X-ray machine” to kill Muslims in New York community near Saratoga Springs because he viewed them as the “enemies of Israel.”
- Robert R. Doggart, an ordained minister in the Christian National Church and a former congressional candidate from Tennessee, planned a violent attack on Islamberg, a Muslim area in the state of New York and destroy a mosque.
- Michael Sibley, a Georgia man, plants a bomb in Roswell Park and leaves a bag with a Quran with the hope of convincing people that a Muslim had carried out the plot.
- The FBI warns that the so-called “militia extremists” are likely to begin targeting Muslim institutions, including mosques and other religious facilities.
These episodes best reflect the dilemma and predicament of seven-million American Muslims who remain the target of bigotry, hate crimes, discrimination and profiling 14 years after 9/11.
To borrow comedian and writer, Dean Obeidallah, “radical Americans” are plotting to kill Muslim Americans to stoke the flames of hate against the Muslims with the hope that others will be inspired to do just that.
Astonishingly, these acts of terrorism are not called terrorism and the perpetrators of these crimes are not called terrorists by authorities and media. Even these crimes against the Muslims are not given due importance and coverage in the mainstream media. In other words these stories are virtually ignored by the ‘impartial’ corporate mainstream media. Simply, the mainstream media is not interested in non-Muslim attackers.
Allow me to say that if the perpetrators of such crimes happened to be Muslims then there would have been international headlines immediately. As grave as these incidents were, they failed to grab headlines or the attention of cable news pundits for perhaps one simple reason: the attackers weren’t Muslim.
Hence, Dylann Roof, 21, who murdered nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 for racial ideological reasons and with the intention of starting a civil war, was identified by US media as a “racist,” and not as a “terrorist.” He is charged with hate crime and with 32 other federal charges.
When the three Muslim students of North Carolina University are assassinated in an execution-manner it is casually reported as a parking dispute. The perpetrator is not considered as terrorist by officials or media. It may be recalled the three young students were assassinated weeks after the release of the controversial movie American Sniper, when many tweeted hateful and deplorable messages demeaning to Muslims and Arabs.
Glendon Scott Crawford, 51, a professed member of the Ku Klux Klan, and his accomplices acquired an X-ray device that they planned to modify into a "death X-ray," and they successfully built and tested a trigger device that could have activated it. The goal: to kill "enemies of Israel," (i.e. Muslims) according to the indictment. He is convicted of trying to acquire a radiation weapon for mass destruction and not terrorism.
Robert R. Doggart, 63, was arrested for plotting to kill Muslims and destroy a mosque in Islamberg, a Muslim area in the state of New York. He had spoken about his plans to attack targets in Islamberg during phone calls and also on his Facebook page. He was release subject to multiple conditions, including electronic monitoring, no internet activity, posting a $30,000 unsecured bond and staying away from any of the victims or potential victims. Doggart does not face charges of a hate crime or terrorism. Not surprisingly, Doggart's story was virtually ignored by the mainstream corporate media. The Daily Beast wrote on May 18: "Have you heard about the Christian terrorist Robert Doggart, who was plotting a violent attack against a Muslim-American community in New York State? Probably not, because when U.S. law-enforcement officials arrest a Muslim for planning a violent assault, they issue a press release, however they didn’t send out a press release or held a press conference publicizing Doggart’s arrest.
Yet another anti-Muslim episode: 67-year-old Michael Sibley of Marietta, Georgia, left a backpack along a hiking trail in Roswell Park containing two partially-constructed pipe bombs. A Qur’an and a copy of the book The Rape of Kuwait was also found in the backpack. Sibley is being charged with conveying false or misleading information and maliciously intending to destroy federal property. He is not charged with terrorism.
Alarmingly, an intelligence bulletin issued by the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division in May 2015 warns that the so-called “militia extremists” are likely to begin targeting Muslim institutions, including mosques and other religious facilities. The bulletin titled “Militia extremists expand target sets to include Muslims” says that militia extremists have been conducting surveillance of “diverse locations including Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Montana, New York, North and South Carolina, Utah, and Texas.” The report indicates that extremists have often focused on targeting Islamic facilities, such as mosques or community centers, though some have discussed targeting individual Muslims within their community.
Almost 14 years after the 9/11 terror attacks which sparked a violent backlash against American Muslims, anti-Muslim hatred is again on the rise as activists and politicians exploit atrocities committed by the Islamic State and other jihadists, according to the new issue of The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Report, released on June 10, 2015. “Living While Muslim” examines how this renewed violence against American Muslims took off in February, following the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the beheadings of hostages in North Africa by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. Violent attacks apparently motivated by anti-Muslim hatred have taken place in Texas, New York, North Carolina and elsewhere since then, and the jihadist attack on a Muhammad cartoon contest staged in Texas last month (May 2015) has only added fuel to the fire. “It should be no surprise that Muslims in this country feel that they are under siege as politicians and ideologues exploit violence committed by radical Muslims to demonize the entire community,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and editor of the Intelligence Report.
American Muslims face Neo-McCarthyism
The American Muslim community was alarmed at the suggestion of Republican presidential candidates to putting mosques under surveillance on the pretext of keeping American safe. This came during the first debate of the eight Republican hopefuls in Detroit on August 6, 2015 when Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: "If I have to monitor a mosque I'll monitor a mosque. If I have to take down a cyber wall I'll take it. If I have to send more American troops to protect us here I will do it." Another Republican presidential hopeful former New York Gov. George Pataki expressed similar views.
Earlier, in July, Senator Rand Paul, former NATO Commander General Wesley Clark and Christian evangelist Franklin Graham shocked American Muslims with their anti-Muslim proposals. 2016 presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) – notorious for his Muslim-bashing speeches – wants to restrict immigration from Muslim countries and restore National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program which required nonimmigrant men and boys from 24 Muslim countries to report to an immigration office to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, the retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark called for the creation of internment camps for what he called “disloyal Americans.”
Franklin Graham, son of evangelical leader Billy Graham, wrote on Facebook that the U.S. should bar Muslims from immigrating. He wrote: “Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized… During World War 2, we didn't allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?” These statements came in reaction to the deadly shootings that took the lives of five service members and injured one law enforcement officer in Chattanooga, Tenn. Although investigators were still searching for possible terrorist links of the attacker (Kuwait-born Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez), right wingers quickly jumped in to cash in on the attacker’s Muslim identity.
Anti-Islam armed rally outside Phoenix mosque
Amid mounting rise in Islamophobia, an anti-Islam rally was held in May 2015 outside the Phoenix mosque. The rally was organized by a Phoenix man, Jon Ritzheimer, who says he is a former Marine who fought in the Iraq War and claims that Islam is a violent religion. He led about 250 people who carried pistols, assault rifles, American flags and drawings of the Prophet Muhammad to the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. Earlier in the day, Ritzheimer posted a message on his Facebook page which in part read: President Obama said "The future must not belong to those who insult Islam." I am asking him to change his statement to "the future must belong to those who have the FREEDOM to insult Islam if they want." The organizer encouraged attendees to bring weapons to ensure that no one interfered with their First Amendment rights. Several people, many wearing fatigues, showed up at the rally with assault rifles.
Jon Ritzheimer billed the anti-Islam rally as "Freedom of Speech Rally," in response to an attack outside a controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest on May 3 in Garland, Texas. A security guard was shot when the two men, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, opened fire with assault rifles outside the contest to draw cartoons of Muhammad. An on-duty police officer shot and killed both gunmen. The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix is the mosque that Simpson and Soofi reportedly attended for a time.
The Texas caricature event was hosted by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller who is the President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). Pamela Geller gets paid pretty well to demonize Muslims. Her salary is paid from her organization, AFDI, a group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an active “anti-Muslim organization.” In 2013, the AFDI reported $958,800 in gross receipts and paid Geller a base salary of $192,500, plus $18,750 in other income.
Relating all the hate attacks, discrimination, mosque vandalism, and other negative incidences related to the American Muslims are beyond the scope of this article.
73 percent Americans have negative view of Muslims
14 Years after 9/11, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry is worse than ever in America. Tellingly, 73 percent Americans have negative view of Islam and Muslims. Only 27 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Muslims, down from 35 percent in 2010, according to the Zogby poll, commissioned by the non-profit Arab American Institute last year. Favorable attitudes towards Arabs also dropped to 32 percent from 43 percent in 2010. An increasingly prejudiced and vicious environment of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric has created a hostile situation for Muslims in the post-9/11 America.
No doubt the violent actions in several Muslim countries – such as the Boko Haram kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria, and rampaging of ISIS through Iraq and Syria - helped spur anti-Muslim opinion. However, the main reason in creating hostile public opinion, in my opinion, is fear mongering by some vocal Muslim bashers who made it their career. They make a living writing books and giving lectures about unfounded fear about peace-loving Muslims. At the same time there are politicians, almost exclusively Republicans, who gin up hate of the Muslims to achieve political gain. Unmitigated hate spewed by some Republicans inspired hate crimes.
With anti-Muslim rhetoric reaching epic proportions in broader U.S. society — largely tolerated, rarely condemned – the American Muslim community remains sanguine that the current campaign will eventually subside since the religious freedom is a founding principle of this country and the main catalyst for its origins in the early seventeenth century.
On the positive note
All is not downbeat for the American Muslims. Despite prevalent negative public opinion American Muslims get support from the fellow Americans in their time of distress. When Jon Ritzheimer organized an anti-Muslim rally outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix a counter peace-rally took place at the same time by another group. It was called a "love rally" to show the world that Arizonans respect the right of people to practice their religion in peace. One group from Redemption Church in Tempe arrived dressed in blue and lined up in front of the mosque.
A fund raiser was held at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis for the Minneapolis mosque which was burned on the New Year day. Three people were killed in the fire. Trinity Lutheran Church stepped up to offer its space for prayers when the mosque had to close.
A the Muslim community faces difficulty in establishing new mosques or expand the existing Islamic Centers, Atlanta city approves a mosque in a shopping center and a mosque construction is OK’d by Monroeville Council in Pennsylvania.
Despite increasing anti-Muslim bigotry in the 2014 election, two Muslim Congressmen, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson were re-elected in the November 2014 midterm election. From Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District Keith Ellison (Democrat) won nearly 71 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the seat, which Ellison has represented since 2002. From Indiana's 7th Congressional District Andre Carson (Democrat) was re-elected with more than 50% votes. Congressman Carson won his first full term in Congress in November of 2008 and was reelected again in 2010, 2012, and now in 2014.
The Berkeley-based Zaytuna College has been given accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, becoming the first accredited Muslim college in America.
The American Muslim community has responded to its challenges in the post 9/11 America with political activism and an intensive interfaith and outreach drive to build bridges and reach other ethnic and faith communities. It gains strength from the principles of freedom, liberty and equality on which this great nation was founded.
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