Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004


The near-saintly restraint of U.S. Muslims

By Tom Plate

Bigotry and hatred are stereotyping part of our society

If I were an American Muslim, I might be getting a little angry.

Just listen to this: "Islam is like a virus — it affects the mind. It is a cancer that destroys the body it infects. The Quran is simply the 'software' for producing deviant cancer-cell political behavior and violence in human beings. No doctor would hesitate to eliminate cancer cells from the body."

Those are the considered views of one of the two authors of the bestselling anti-Kerry book: "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry."

Or how about this? In a Florida high school earlier this month, a 15-year-old Muslim girl, her account backed up in writing by at least four non-Muslim students in her history class, complained to authorities that the teacher made fun of her last name as sounding like Saddam Hussein's and said all Muslims were suicidal terrorists who must kill at least one American.

(The Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — CAIR — has lodged a formal complaint that the school is investigating.)

And who can ever forget (answer: perhaps our commander in chief) the remarks of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who publicly called the war on terrorism a battle with "Satan," claimed America had been targeted "because we're a Christian nation," and condemned Allah as "an idol," compared to the "real God," Christ.

If you were Islamic, mightn't you get a little hot under the collar?

What's therefore astonishing is the near-saintly restraint of America's Muslims. There are more than 5 million of them, about two-thirds clustered in 10 states. Before long, their aggregate numbers may equal America's Jewish population, of which perhaps a quarter live in New York City. But while Jewish-American groups have long had a profound impact on U.S. politics, Muslim-Americans have not yet.

That may be changing. In the 2000 presidential election, many registered Muslim-Americans voted for Republican George Bush. They responded warmly to his emphasis on conservative family values and his outspoken opposition to detaining any American citizen, including Muslims, without proper safeguards. But with the widely publicized brutal treatment of detained Muslims in Iraq, the rise of the U.S. Patriot Act, Republican support for even tougher such legislation, and the failure to discipline Gen. Boykin, Muslims have begun to worry that the Christian Bush's praise for Islam as a "religion of peace" may be lip service at best.

One poll showed Bush's 83 percent 2001 favorable rating among Muslims to have been cut at least in half; another of Arab-American voters in four key electoral states (Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania) placed the president's approval rating at about 30 percent; a recent CAIR poll revealed Muslims much less inclined to vote for Bush than Kerry, about whom, however, they were so far anything but enthused.

Fortunately for Bush, these figures are in flux, and Muslim-Americans, rather than being some sort of predictable monolithic voting block, are human beings like most of the rest of us who go into the voting booth with a variety of concerns. When we bluntly asked Matt Vray in the political office of the Washington-based Muslim American Society how U.S. Muslims will vote in November, he snapped back: "Every Muslim has a free will to vote as they'd like."

Quite so: Muslim-Americans have the right to be regarded as human beings and not stereotyped as group suicide bombers or soldier-Satanists, not to mention mass-metastasizing cancer cells.

In a recent speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, insisting that Muslims have only themselves to blame for the poor image of Islam today, told the world's one billion Muslims that they must modernize their faith, avoid mainstreaming extremists and spurn violence to resolve internal and external differences.

It was a brave and welcome speech, especially before an Islamic conference.

But it is simply not true that Muslims are wholly to blame for their worldwide image problem. The West's many bigots who poison the political dialogue with ignorance or willful evil — and then are never held to account — are responsible, too.

Such people are the new Ku Klux Klan in today's globalized world. Fanning the flames of intense religious and ethnic hatred, they comprise the new intellectual lynch mobs that bode to someday scorch the political earth.

Neither President Bush nor for that matter challenger John Kerry appears to comprehend what is at stake. At a time when the world desperately needs a strong and clear voice to light the darkness and lead us out of the caves of ignorance and hatred, political pygmies, or religious bigots, stand in the way of progress. It's a tragedy in the making.

And it's not the American way.

UCLA Professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is founder of the Asia Pacific Media Network.