Demonizing Muslims Is Not America
by Nadia Hijab
Last week, Colin Powell got it right: Increasingly, the right’s scare tactics are turning Americans off John McCain’s campaign. But Muslims and Arabs are still too easy to demonize – and, as Powell said, ‘that’s not America’, notes Nadia Hijab.
A friend’s mother -- a white Christian in central Pennsylvania as it happens -- resisted her family’s arguments in favor of Barack Obama. Then she got an unsolicited call raising fears about the Democrat. She was so outraged by the blatant propaganda that she has now decided to vote for Obama.
Increasingly, the right’s scare tactics are turning Americans off John McCain’s campaign, despite the Republican candidate’s (half-hearted) efforts to disavow his supporters’ excesses. But there always seems to be another well of fear to tap.
Of course, racism is being used to raise fears against the first major party African-American presidential candidate. And it has also been remarkably easy to use anti-Muslim sentiment against Obama – who is a Christian.
“So what if he were a Muslim?” former Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded during his recent endorsement of Obama: “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America."
The problem is that many Americans have come to believe there is something wrong with being Muslim in America. The anti-Muslim brush also tars Arab Americans -- even though most of them are Christians, like Obama.
Why are Muslims and Arabs so easy to demonize? The obvious reply is 9/11. But negative feelings pre-date that tragedy. Answers could be provided by a closer look at some of the demonizers. They include the most right wing elements in the United States and Israel: the so-called “Christian Zionists” and neoconservatives over here, and the Likud Party over there. Their agenda promotes war on Iraq and Iran, and a “Greater Israel” that has kept Israel occupying Arab land since 1967.
Sounds far-fetched? Not so. The late Israeli premier Menachem Begin first reached out to Christian Zionists in the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter raised the specter (as viewed by the right) of a homeland for Palestinians. The current Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to cultivate them.
Like the Likud, American “Christian Zionists” don’t want Israel to give back Arab land. They believe that Jesus will return when all Jews are gathered in Biblical lands. During these “end of days,” Jews will die in the battle of Armageddon -- except for a lucky 144,000, who will embrace Jesus as their Messiah, and convert to Christianity.
This unholy alliance rightly alarms many people, including American Jews in the political center who believe that only peace with the Palestinians will make Israel secure. MJ Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum has written scathingly about the Christian Zionists “loving Israel to death.”
The alliance of the scary right was taken to the next level when the controversial pastor John Hagee established another lobby for Israel on the Hill in 2006, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). The longstanding Israel lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) helped him do so.
Attacks on Islam are common at CUFI conferences, which draw thousands of participants from all over the United States. Stoking Islamophobia secures Israel’s position as an indispensable US ally and obstructs the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It ties in neatly with the neoconservative agenda which has, since the 1990s, promoted the invasion of Iraq, and wants Iran to be the next frontier -- as do AIPAC and CUFI.
The same actors who speak at and participate in CUFI conferences are also active in groups that monitor “anti-Israel” sentiment in the media and on campuses, and promote Arab and Muslim-bashing. They include organizers of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” -- which just hit campuses again this month. The organizer, David Horowitz, claims that the focus is only on “radical Islam.” But the term Islamo-Fascism, which links a billion people’s faith to fascism, says it all.
A related cast of characters supported last month’s distribution of 28 million copies of a DVD called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” -- a fear video inserted in newspapers reaching voters in swing states.
Investigative reports by Inter Press Service have identified several of the groups behind the multi-million dollar smear and their Israeli ties. For example, the Endowment for Middle East Truth brings together hard line US neoconservatives and former Israeli diplomats, and is tied to a billionaire who donates to rightwing US Zionist organizations, the far right lobby group Freedom’s Watch, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
John McCain’s campaign has taken part in propagating this Islamophobia. McCain spoke at the 2007 CUFI conference, and only rejected Hagee’s endorsement after Hagee drew outrage with his remark that God permitted the holocaust so as to bring the Jewish people back to Israel. Nevertheless, McCain ally Joe Lieberman was a prominent speaker at the 2008 CUFI conference.
The Obama campaign has tried to shake off the right’s mud but has tiptoed around the broader issues. Perhaps Powell’s remarks may make it safer to speak up for Muslims and Arabs in America. And perhaps others, Democrats and Republicans, will follow his lead and begin to drain the swamps of racism and xenophobia so that all Americans can feel at home, irrespective of their color or creed.
Nadia Hijab is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington D.C.
Copyright © 2008 Nadia Hijab
Source: Middle East Online