They’re not like Us, Even When they Are

It is one of the many paradoxes of our age that the “narrative” of Muslim victimization and its paranoid view of Western treachery is complemented by similarly intolerant anti-Muslim zealotry.  Apparently, opposites attract in love and bigotry.

Would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad is the latest to succumb to the Muslim persecution complex often violently manifested in those with one foot in modernity and the other in a tribal and autocratic netherworld.  “Everyone knows,” Shahzad wrote with aggrieved assurance, “of the humiliation [Muslims face] around the globe.”  Such malcontent will surely bedevil us for some time, as the irresistible force of Enlightenment values will not soon cease meeting the immovable object of religious fundamentalism fostered in dysfunctional societies, particularly in the Middle East, that conjure Western ghosts and goblins as convenient scapegoats.

While an Islamic Reformation may be long in coming, those who spin their own narrative of hate by casting Muslims en masse as the enemy only reinforce mutual suspicions.  Such is the symbiosis of reactionaries.  However counterproductive, the paranoia does fill a void.  Not surprisingly, the neocons, those staunch anti-communist crusaders of yesteryear, are leading the charge against “Islamofascism,” whatever that may mean.  It seems no enemy is worse than the lack of one. 

We are told, of course, that our opponent is an intolerant strain of Islam that brooks no compromise with infidels and apostates.  These mendacious Mohammedans will not be satisfied until they succeed in reestablishing a medieval caliphate.  Shahzad personifies the menace, a Fifth Column seeking to undo Western democracies from within.  But what noted neocon Norman Podhoretz calls “World War IV” is not, as the likes of Shahzad believe, a religious conflict targeting Islam per se, but rather a battle against Islamic fundamentalists.  Or is it?   

A tempered view of Islam that singles out radical elements is often just a veneer that barely disguises unvarnished bigotry.  Indeed, Franklin Graham was speaking for many when he characterized Islam as “wicked and evil.”  Objections to the recent crowning as Miss USA 2010 of Rima Fakih, a 24-year-old Arab-American, reinforces the point.  Daniel Pipes, another faux conservative Cassandra, saw the award as possible evidence of "an odd form of affirmative action" while Debbie Schlussel, a fire breathing blogger, branded Fakih a terrorist “Miss Hezbollah.” 

If intolerance is irrational, it is also ironic.  The radical Muslim may well be ruthless, but why excoriate non-Muslims who act and behave just as “we” would like them to?  It is a question raised indirectly by comments made by Fakih’s brother, who said of his sister’s victory, "This will show the good part of Arab-Americans.”  Not quite.  Islamophobes conceive all Muslims as hopelessly misogynistic—Franklin Graham justified his bigotry by saying, “If you just look at the religion as it treats women, it is horrid”—even when the evidence demonstrates otherwise.    

The reaction to Fakih’s crowning is just the latest example of a disturbing trend that has played out in far more damaging ways.  In 2006, a corporate acquisition by Dubai Ports World put it in a position to take over management of a number of US maritime ports.  The reaction created a firestorm of anti-Muslim xenophobia that swept across the political spectrum.  "Most Americans are scratching their head wondering why this company, from this region, now," euphemistically remarked Senator Lindsey Graham.  The message was clear: Muslims aren’t wanted here.

That Dubai is a crass capitalist utopia where the main currency is currency, i.e., it is the very exemplar of a “good” Muslim society, is beside the point.  The deal tapped into a wellspring of xenophobia borne out by a Washington Post-ABC poll that found a quarter of Americans “admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims."  Eventually, Dubai Ports World was forced to sell its US assets, confirming the radical Muslim narrative of Western hostility to Islam. 

It may well be that what we call civilized society is at war with radicalized Muslims.  Whether the conflict defines the age or will be a mere footnote is yet to be seen.  But religious dogmatism cannot be defeated by a competing dogmatism. Even if it could, would victory really be victory?  The challenge, simply put, is to turn back a vicious ideology without becoming more like it.  In that vein, our enemy might more accurately be intolerance, not just Islamic intolerance.

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