The gestalt of anti-Islamic sentiments here in America because of government action, a pro-Israel biased media (press, television and Hollywood), and Christian fundamentalists serve to compromise American security in the long run by driving Muslims, at home and abroad, to greater resentment. The result will be less cooperation in the "War on Terrorism."
History has shown long term effects of creating an atmosphere of suspicion and censure toward a suspected class of people; they adopt a posture of resentment, or worse, hostility, from their feelings of defensiveness.
Since September 11, there has been a marked step up in anti-Muslim polemics with the effect of marginalizing a distinct class: Muslims and Arabs. The source arises from a triumvirate of government, media, and the Christian right, i.e. Christian fundamentalists (here the term should be understood in the context of Islamic fundamentalists).
With respect to the government, Attorney General John Ashcroft continues to round up Arabs and Muslims who, by Ashcroft's own admission, may have no direct connection to the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda, or Osama bin Laden. Now, on the basis of guilt by association, nationality, and religion, the government draws scrutiny upon this one class. Ironically, these three elements are exactly the basis by which the government cannot discriminate.
Furthermore, after 9/11 John Ashcroft announced that dissenting against the U.S. government provided ammunition to the enemy. George W. Bush, sounding an awful lot like Osama bin Laden in his rhetoric, declared you're either with us or you're with the terrorists (bin Laden, incidentally, declares that if you are a true Muslim you are with us, otherwise you're a kuffr; an unbeliever), thereby, precluding all ideas contrary to the government position. Muslims who dissent with the government's actions are viewed by average Americans as unpatriotic, at best, and at worst, the terrorist in our midst.
On the journalism and media side, no one casts the pall of suspicion more than Steven Emerson, a journalist who claims that virtually every Muslim organization in America, including mosques, is either a front for terrorist fundraising, or is infiltrated by Muslim fundamentalists. Yet, he admits none of these groups are violating the law. Nonetheless, they need to be monitored because they adhere to unpopular political speech and they are of the same ethnicity as the World Trade Center terrorists.
Columnists, talking heads and putative Middle East "experts," constantly attack Islam. Jeff Jacoby, Judith Miller, Daniel Pipes, Charles Krauthammer, Mortimer Zuckerman, and A.M. Rosenthal constantly vilify Arabs (especially Palestinians) and Islam. On a weekly basis they draw the inference that Islam equals suicide bombers, and that suicide bombers equals terrorism. Furthermore, these same people equate Islam's teachings with jihadism or hatred. Their viewpoint is colored in whole by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They ignore that there are more Muslims in India than in the entire Middle East, yet Islam is defined by one conflict.
While firebrand mullahs bear the brunt of fanning Islamic fundamentalism, Americans ignore our own homegrown fundamentalists, the religious right. Televangelists like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham publicly preach hatred towards Muslims, with little reprobation. Both Robertson and Graham claimed Islam as a "violent religious tradition trying to take over the world...[mandating the] killing of infidels." In 1997, Robertson called Islam "a religion of the slavers." While Graham stated, "I believe [Islam] is a very evil and wicked religion.''
Such hate speech may have prompted America's first religiously inspired suicide bomber. Just recently, in Tallahassee, a man tried driving a truck with a propane tank into a mosque. Found in the front seat was a Bible. The attacker claimed he wanted to join the military to kill Muslims.
In a dangerous blend of religion and politics, our own Attorney General, John Ashcroft, proclaimed in an interview with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas that "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you."
I believe if Americans continue on with such attitudes, non-Muslim Americans will drive Muslim-Americans and Muslims worldwide from defensiveness to a posture of resentment, or worse, hostility. In this global war against terrorism, the U.S. government needs the active participation of Muslims, not the alienation of Muslims.
I believe more than ever that all members of all faiths must mend their relationships and cultivate a relationship of respect and acceptance. Rather than subscribe to mistrust, all must build and participate in community. And most of all, we must be free to dissent, or else we are not Americans.
Imran Nasrullah is an attorney living in Boston, Massachusetts. He encourages your comments at : [email protected]