Thursday, April 08, 2010

America -- Safe Haven for Muslims

What's Not Happening to American Muslims

To hear Hollywood and the media tell it, American Muslims were the ultimate victims of 9/11. What nonsense.

It can't have come as a surprise that one of the now entrenched myths about America—namely, its ongoing victimization of Muslims—should have been voiced again by a leading citizen of our myth-producing capital, Hollywood. The citizen was Tom Hanks, and the occasion his March interview in Time Magazine in which he declared that our battle with Japan in World War II was one of "racism and terror." And that, he noted, should remind us of our current wars.

The comments caused a furor. But Mr. Hanks, who had made them during a publicity tour—he's the producer of the HBO series, "The Pacific"—saw the issue in perfectly clear terms, which he went on to explain several times more in subsequent media appearances. We can only ponder the joy this must have brought to the hearts of HBO executives.

The Hanks mini-seminar was only one of the many distortions of our still unbearably raw recent history—never mind World War II—encouraging Americans to view themselves as oppressors and racists. The latest reflection of this trend, grown steadily since the attacks of Sept. 11, came with a three-page spread in the Washington Post on March 24 about the tribulations of a Muslim soldier who reported being subjected to slurs, various other insults, and also a threatening note.

His commander suggested he might do well to move to housing off base. The base in question was Fort Hood, where, last November, army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered 13 fellow American soldiers.

The pain of these confrontations was undoubtedly great, as such treatment always is. Ask the members of religious and racial minorities who served, say, in World War II, when it wasn't unusual to hear slurs like "kike" and such hurled at them.

Ask black Americans who had the incomparably worse experience of serving in a racially segregated military, where they were relegated to the worst duties. Not to mention being made witness—in parts of the country—to the sight of German POWs held in the U.S. eating in restaurants barred to black Americans in uniform, and otherwise being accorded respect that those Americans could not hope to receive.

Still, there were no instances of those enduring this treatment undertaking mass murder of other American servicemen. There was rage, and there were some riots, but no cases of U.S. soldiers enlisting in the service of the enemy as Maj. Hasan had. (Hasan, it was explained after he had cut down those unarmed servicemen and women packed into that room in Ft. Hood, had suffered prejudice-related pressures as a Muslim in the armed services.)

There were, in World War II, no watchdog groups like the ones cited in the Washington Post story, no agencies keeping lists of harassment complaints, or name-calling suffered by members of the U.S. military, or of the number of soldiers, like those mentioned in the story, who called crying on the phone. There were back then plenty of officers given to convenient cover-ups. But, it's a good bet, few like Maj. Hasan's superiors—so addled by raised consciousness and worries about appearing insensitive to Muslims in the service that they ignored even the most extreme expressions of his enmity to the United States and its military, his praise of suicide bombers, his jihadi contacts.

Since the events of Sept. 11, we've seen the growth of a view that American Muslims became prime victims of those terror attacks—isolated, fearful, targets of hostility. President George W. Bush, who went to Washington D.C's Islamic Center a few days after the terror assaults, told his audience that Islam was about peace and warned that the nation's Muslims must be free to go about without fear or intimidation by other Americans—remarks he doubtless thought were called for under the circumstances.

It had not, of course, been necessary to remind Americans of who they were and were not. No menacing hordes, then or later, ever threatened American Muslims—and it has been an insult to the nation to have been lectured to the same way after every attempted terror attack, as though wild mobs of citizens might actually run through the streets attacking Muslims.

Even as the ruins of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon still smoldered, countless Americans had reached out to their Muslim neighbors to reassure them.

No matter. Every report of any activity bearing resemblance to anti-Muslim sentiment became, in short order, essential news. Every actual incident, every report of a nasty sign, fitted the all-consuming theme taken up by large sectors of mainstream media: that the country's Muslims were now hapless targets, not only of the national rage at the atrocities committed by Islamic fundamentalists, but also of racism.

It was a view especially well in accord with those of a generation schooled in colleges and universities where pathological extremes of sensitivity to claims of racial, religious or sexual insult or charges of gender bias are considered perfectly normal and right.

Reporters ran with the theme in part because the media's appetite for victim stories of any kind is inexhaustible. But this was, in addition, the kind journalists pride themselves on as socially responsible. It was also one that didn't lack for willing subjects. For American Muslims in considerable numbers apparently subscribed to the view that theirs was the abiding suffering that had been inflicted by the 9/11 attacks.

There was no missing the steady supply of Muslims available to tell inquiring reporters of their feelings of alienation and persecution.

Each FBI terrorist sting that went awry or seemed to, each wild goose chase of a home-grown jihadi threat, spurred a new portrait of besieged American Muslims. When such plots turned out to be true, and their threat enormous—most recently in the case of Najubullah Zazi, a jihadist who planned to set explosives off in the New York subway—the portrait and the theme remained the same. Since alienated American Muslims were forced to live in fear as second-class citizens, it was explained, more and more of them chose extremism and violence.

In short, whether the charges of terrorist activity were false or whether they were true, American society was to blame.

There are other faces of Muslim America. Five years or so after the terrorists drove their planes and passengers into the twin towers and the Pentagon, a cab driver from Pakistan remarked, as we drove past the rubble where the towers had stood, that he could never pass this place without trying to see them again in his mind. A painful effort, for all that it brought back. What was not painful, he added, was the memory of certain people in his neighborhood—a mixed but mostly white area of Queens, with many Italian-Americans, some Jews, and he thought some Irish. After the attacks, some of the men had come to him.

"My wife doesn't go out without a head cover," he explained. The men had come to tell him that if anyone bothered her, or his family, he must come to them.

"I must tell them and must not be afraid. Do you know," he said, in a voice suddenly sharp, "what would have happened if Americans had done this kind of attack in my country? Every American—every Christian, every non-Muslim—would have been slaughtered, blood would have run in the streets. I know the kind of country this is. Thanks be to God I can give this to my children."

Countless American Muslims would, like generations of immigrants of all kinds, say the same. Theirs, of course, is not the face of Muslim America suitable for the continuing chronicle of the victimized American Muslim.

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