Battling Islamophobia: Strategy and Options

By: Waheeduddin Ahmed, Ph.D.

Muslim citizens in the U.S.A., as well as in Western Europe are facing an unpredictable future because of the ever-increasing xenophobia which pervades these societies. Among the various causes is the compulsion of imperialist wars, started by the Bush administration and zealously expanded by its successor. Such wars are necessitated by the bulging unchallenged military power of any country as history has repeatedly shown. The socio-political dynamics in such a situation do not work in any ethical or moral framework. The military machine has momentum in accordance with its weight. Bush or Obama at the wheel make no difference. It is no accident of history that as the USA, finding itself the supreme unchallenged military power feels to flex its muscles, Muslims happen to be its choicest target. Weak, fragmented, non-nuanced, fratricidal and estranged from rationality, they are ready to be preyed upon.

At present, the American military machine has rolled into Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Other countries will follow, which offer suitable political landscape for such channelization. The wanton destruction of life and property and established institutions in their homelands has radicalized hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth worldwide. Nowhere will this effect be more prominent than in Europe and North America, which are home to millions of Muslim youth, native-born or immigrant, who will be angry to the point of committing irrational acts. Here lies the potential danger. It will be a fallacy to believe that they are controlled by Al-Qaeda or governmental or non-governmental agencies in their homelands. They are the products of the socio-political environment in vogue in the countries of their residence.

The Department of Homeland Security and its counterparts in the European countries are doing a good job in trying to prevent terrorist acts from happening, although there have been some clear cases of enticement to commit crimes and entrapment of gullible youth by the law enforcement agencies. However, we cannot expect these efforts to be 100% effective. Things will happen, which will change the dynamics of community relations and harden the attitudes of the people. The more our military destabilizes the Muslim countries, more will be the number of youth joining the terrorist groups and greater their chances of success. To make matters worse, the American government has put itself in a straitjacket by declaring that any act of terrorism on the American soil by ex-patriots such as the people of Pakistani origin will provoke a strong response against that country. This will close the loop of mutual destruction and usher in a terrible period of turmoil for the entire world. Unfortunately, nobody is looking at the obvious solution nor is the White House amenable to any suggestion from our side.

So, here is the question. What are we, the Muslims of America, to do in terms of self-preservation? Shall we resign to our fate and wait for the doomsday or shall we be stirred to action and at least develop a strategy to avert the impending disaster?  I suggest we opt for the latter.

There is no doubt that we have to treat this matter as a national emergency. It must be the fulcrum of all our activities. If we can learn  The meaningless and wasteful annual conventions should give way to focused debates and discfrom the Jews how to survive, we must. We should put “Islamophobia” at par with “anti-Semitism”. The meaningless and wasteful annual conventions should give way to focused debates and discussions. Strategies must be developed and solutions must be found. The urgency with which we are confronted, demands, first of all, that we obliterate commercialism, sectarianism, egotism, oligarchy and other negative traits from our institutions.

Secondly, we should stop looking towards our Old countries and detach ourselves sentimentally from them. They have created an unbelievable mess. For example, individuals and institutions in Pakistan are immersed in corruption from top to toe. It is only a matter of time before providence deals them a final blow. The Arab world, it seems, is peeping out from the dustbin of history. Events in Palestine, which is the epicenter of all the turmoil in the Arab and Muslim world, now presents a scene, which makes us think that we are hallucinating. Having told us a million times that Israel was theirs and our arch enemy, the Palestinian leadership is now aligned with the same enemy in exchange for peace and comfort and plots to use the Israeli gunships against their poor relations in Gaza. The most powerful Arab states tell the Israelis to attack other Arabs and finish them off quickly before the UN Security Council could intervene. It seems that we must exit from this world of madness, if we want to keep our own sanity intact.

After retrieving our sanity, we should look inwards and see if there is something we should or should not be doing. For one thing, it should not be difficult to surmise that while our actions have been quite benign; our mouths have been on a mission of quixotic self-infliction. We have killed hundreds and thousands of Kuffar in our verbose hallucinations invoking, falsely and stupidly, the injunctions from the Quran and Hadith. Many of our khateebs test their indiscreet verbosity at the pulpit. We must put an end to this.

Our opiate self-indulgence in irrational gossip and conspiracy theories is another problem, which keeps us sterile. The problem we have been discussing above has been solved and resolved as our detective masterminds have discovered that the Jews done it! We are now free to sit down for another round of dope. We must free the minds of our young men and women from lazy thinking and intellectualize them — Don’t take my word for it; see the various exhortations in the Quran. Teaching rituals is fine but rituals are not the end; they are a means to the end. We must broaden the scope of our teachings, in schools as well as in the masjids, to include religious as well as secular topics — Remember Dar-al Hikmah?  Anger is justified and anger against injustice is sacrosanct but we should sublime this anger into the spirit of competitiveness.

Friday khutbas are the greatest means of mass communication that our religion has bestowed upon us. People gather in numbers unachievable in other gatherings, captive in one place and attentive to a word. At no other time and at no other place can an educator get an opportunity to disseminate information with such ease. We should fully utilize this opportunity to fill the gap in knowledge and awareness, instead of sprinkling on the congregations, words which are fragrant but of no consequence. Inspirational speech must be occasional, not perpetual. Putting people in a trance does not translate into actions.

Interfaith dialogue is a significant part of our activities these days. No one can deny the usefulness of this public relations exercise. However, what is more urgently needed in the present circumstance is building bridges across communities and groups: rainbow coalition, as Rev. Jesse Jackson would call it. Traditionally, the first generation immigrants are inward looking and self-centered and very resistant to social intercourse with other communities. This is very prominently manifest among the first generation Palestinians, a majority of which owns businesses in inner cities. In many cases the nature of their relationship with their clientele borders on hostility. Experience has shown that this situation is not likely to change any time soon but the second and the successive generations must be malleable as the cultural orthodoxy gets diluted. It is this generation of immigrants which must be coaxed into being outward looking and to sever adhesion to parental attitudes.

There have been a number of incidents in which the converted Muslims are accused of committing or attempting to commit terrorist acts. We must recognize that New Muslims are our greatest asset. Since docility is not one of their characteristics, inappropriate militancy can be very easily induced and used by special interest groups to serve their ends. These special interests themselves do not proselytize. They attract people who are already in the fold of Islam but are looking for explanations and directions which the masjids have failed to provide them with. They are also looking for social adoption having been estranged from their non-Muslim families. The solution to this problem is obvious but not easy. Here again insular attitudes are the main culprit. A focused and concerted effort to meet their educational, spiritual and social needs is an absolute requirement for the security and the integrity of the community.

I am not a legal expert but I am baffled by the fact that the law allows a government agent to spend months and years with a gullible young person, slowly working up his emotions and wearing down his resistance to commit a violent act, whereupon the courts step in and commit him to life imprisonment. To me this is a travesty. Since there does not seem to be a legal recourse, we must have our own “counterespionage”. Also, the parents, the guardians, friends and companions and community leaders must keep a watchful eye on our vulnerable youth and their questionable associates in order to prevent things from getting out of hand. Our young men and women should be strictly forbidden to discuss politics with anyone except in large groups.

Lastly but not less importantly, I want to touch upon a complex issue: stereotypes. In France, they have legislated against women wearing veils. As is obvious, this is only a propaganda issue. The number of resident women wearing veils is miniscule. In the United States, one will have to wait for years, if one wants to catch a woman in veils and in a majority of the Muslim countries, veiled women in public places are a rarity and yet we have allowed our enemies to create controversy over a non-issue. However, the Islamic requirement of modesty is another matter. There is extraordinary leniency with regard to men as compared to women.

Men can dress in tuxedos or in beachwear.  They don’t have to wear a kufi at work and they don’t. Women, on the other hand are required to dress modestly, which is defined in the Quran and Sunnah. We must remember that hijab is a mode of clothing, not a style. This is where we have plenty of flexibility. Instead of wearing a uniform let our women diversify the “hijab” and be creative. Let us camouflage and offer multiple stereotypes rather than one. A case may be made that we must insist on our fundamental rights but the realities are often very ugly. There are various ways in which a woman wearing hijab could be discriminated against in hiring and in promotions, without a reasonable chance of successful litigation. We should not believe that we are living in a society of benevolent and compassionate angels.

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