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Islamophobia

Discrimination in the New Millennium

Has the United States, and most of the world, learned nothing? It is 2015 and still entire groups of people are being targeted for being ‘different’, which, in the minds of so many people, equates to ‘dangerous’. In the U.S., this is a time-honoured tradition. From Native Americans, slaughtered for their land, to Mexicans, Filipinos, Germans, those of African descent and so many other ethnic groups, and Catholics, Mormons and members of other religions, the list of ethnic and religious groups that have experienced horrendous discrimination seems endless. For some, it is ongoing and now we see Muslims being singled out for abuse and humiliation in restaurants, airports and wherever they happen to be. Some history will suffice to demonstrate this ongoing pattern. The examples included herein are in no way exhaustive.

North American white settlers found a land rich in natural resources, populated by millions of natives. There were two views of the Natives: one saw them as “…unconcerned about private ownership and the accumulation of wealth but, sharing all things unselfishly….the Indian represented an idyllic state from which the European had strayed or fallen. Dwelling in an earthly paradise, the Indians were a living example of a golden age, long past in European history.”[1]

Yet these settlers also observed practices that violated their elegant sensibilities. The Native American was seen as “treacherous, cruel, perverse, and in many ways approaching the brute beasts with whom he shared the wilderness.”[2] Additionally, “…descriptions of Indian life noted the squalor, the filth, the indolence, the lack of discipline, the thievery, and the hard lot accorded Indian women. Not a few Englishmen saw the Indians with their superstitions and inhuman practices as literally children of the Devil.”[3]

So what was to be done, when ‘treacherous, cruel, perverse’ people stood between colonizers and the abundant natural resources this New World offered? Kill them, of course. After all, weren’t they just ‘brute beasts’?

Philippine-American WarIn early 1899, the Philippine-American War began, and once again, slaughter of innocents was the name of the U.S. game. After the U.S. acquired the Philippines following the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley said that the U.S. possession of that nation would be ‘benevolent assimilation’. In the same proclamation, he said that the U.S. was to ‘extend by force American sovereignty over this country’. The irony of ‘benevolence’ coupled with ‘force’ seemed to be lost on Mr. McKinley.

Maud Huntley Jenks, the wife of a government anthropologist, made this observation of the Filipinos: “It looks to me as though it will take fifty generations of ‘line upon line’ and ‘precept upon precept’ before these natives will know enough to govern themselves. Many of them seem to be very stupid. The men here in the house, who teach in Manila schools, say the natives can’t reason.”[4]

If anyone needed a more frightening omen; the observations of Major General Adna R. Chaffee will provide it: “We are dealing with a class of people whose character is deceitful, who are absolutely hostile to the white race and who regard life as of little value and, finally, who will not submit to our control until absolutely defeated and whipped into such condition.”[5]

The barbarism with which the Filipino people were treated by the U.S. clearly demonstrates the belief that they were little more than ‘brute beasts’. At the start of a campaign at Samar, Brigadier General Jacob Smith gave orders to his troops: “Kill and burn, kill and burn, the more you kill and the more you burn the more you please me.” [6]

The following further describes the horrors inflicted: “On the eve of the Samar campaign, the war was clearly degenerating into mass slaughter. It was hardly precise to call it ‘war’ anymore. The Americans were simply chasing ragged, poorly armed bands of guerrillas and, failing to catch them, were inflicting the severest punishment on those they could catch – the people of the villages and barrios of the theatre of operation.“[7]

One more quotation is revealing, this from Anthony Michea of the Third Artillery: “We bombarded a place called Malabon, and then we went in and killed every native we met, men women and children. It was a dreadful sight, the killing of the poor creatures.”[8]

The atrocities committed by the German government in World War II have been widely exposed. Yet hostility in the U.S. was not confined to the government, or even the German military. Germans were vilified everywhere. At least 11,000 Germans living within the U.S. were interned during the war, with the last being released in 1948, three years after the end of hostilities. Novels of the time were replete with Americans talking about going ‘over there’ to kill Germans. U.S. towns with German names changed the names, and by the time World War II began, the popular German Shepherd had been officially renamed the Alsatian Wolf Dog, in order to remove the offensive word ‘German’ from its name. The name of ‘German Shepherd’ was not restored until 1977.

Any rigorous documentation of the barbaric treatment of Africans by the U.S. would require volumes, countless numbers of which have been written. First forced to the country on slave ships, the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 decreed that an African-American was worth only three-fifths of a white American: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”[9] ‘All other persons’, of course, referred to African-Americans. In the 1857 Dred Scott Decision, the Court said that African-Americans, free or enslaved, could not be U.S. citizens, and therefore had no legal standing to sue the government.

At least until the 1950s, lynching of African-Americans in southern states was common, and these events were gleefully watched by white crowds. No one was ever convicted for any of these crimes. Although the Civil Right Act of 1964 removed all legal barriers to equality, one only need look at the disproportionate number of unarmed African-Americans killed each year by white police officers, and the extremely low rate of charges ever filed, let alone convictions made, to know that this ugly racism persists in the U.S., not only among the general populace, but in government institutions as well.

Each of the situations mentioned above involved prejudice due to racial identity. But religious groups haven’t been immune from such ugliness in the U.S. either.

When mainly-Protestant settlers arrived in the New World, there was little tolerance for Catholics. At the time of the American Revolution, Catholics constituted only about 1% of the white population. Many states passed laws that prevented Catholics from holding office. Catholic buildings were destroyed and many Catholics experienced discrimination in employment and housing.

governer al smith
Governor Al Smith

In 1928, the Democratic Party nominated New York Governor Al Smith, a Roman Catholic, as its candidate for president. Fear that a Catholic president meant that governing of the U.S. would be carried out from the Vatican was fanned to a fever pitch, and Mr. Smith was defeated by Herbert Hoover in a landslide, in which Mr. Smith received less than 41% of the vote. Experts generally agree that a robust economy, coupled with Mr. Smith’s religion, all but guaranteed Mr. Hoover’s election.

The next time a major party nominated a Catholic for president, again the Democratic Party, was Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960. Fears of a transfer of power from Washington, D.C. to the Vatican again were raised, but Mr. Kennedy was elected in an extremely close vote, winning 49.7% of the vote to Republican Richard Nixon’s 49.5%. The legitimacy of that election, and questions about voting irregularities in Chicago area voting districts, will not be addressed here.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, a new religion appeared on the U.S. horizon, and it too was met with violence. A young New York farmer named Joseph Smith introduced The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, claiming new scripture in the form of the Book of Mormon. Initially a tightly-knit group, church members were, like so many groups before them, seen as ‘different’, and thus a threat to life as it was then known. ‘Mormons’, as they were insultingly called (the religion has long since accepted the word as its nickname), were violently driven from Upstate New York; Kirkland, Ohio; Nauvoo, Illinois, and Far West, Missouri. In 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an executive order stating the following: “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description”.[10] This order, although not much observed after Mr. Bogg’s time, was not repealed until 1976.

Today, another group has come to the attention of the ignorant and fearful. Muslims, practicing the centuries-old religion of Islam, are now treated with the same intolerance and violence that the groups mentioned above, and countless others, have experienced. Today, while there is still prejudice against various religious and ethnic minorities, most especially in the U.S. against those of African descent, it is Muslims who most experience it due to their religious practices. A few examples will suffice:

1. Tahera Ahmed on United Airlines

Tahera

  • On May 29 of this year, Tahera Ahmad, flying from Chicago, Ill to Washington, D.C., was refused an unopened can of soda-pop, being told by the flight attendant that giving passengers an unopened can was prohibited, because it could be used as a weapon. Moments later, the passenger sitting beside Ms. Ahmad was given an open can of beer. When Ms. Ahmad questioned this, the attendant continued to insult her. When she requested support from fellow passengers, all but one ignored her, and that one verbally abused her. All this because she wears a hijab (religious head covering).

2. Phoenix mosque protest

stop islam phoenix protest

  • On that same day, a group of heavily armed demonstrators, some wearing shirts bearing the logo ‘F— Islam’, gathered outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona, during prayer services, in an event spawned by one held several days earlier (see below). The organizer, Jon Ritzheimer, said the event was necessary to “expose the true colours of Islam”. Mr. Ritzheimer has proclaimed repeatedly that those who participate in protests against Islam and Muslims are true patriots. One wonders what would have happened if a group of heavily armed Muslims had surrounded a synagogue or Christian church, in an effort to ‘expose the true colours’ of Judaism or Christianity.

3. The Abumayaleh’s treatment by a neighbourhood vigilante

635683626526734637-Couple

  • A day earlier, in Maple Grove, Minnesota, Majida and Adly Abumayaleh were picking up their teenage son at the home of a friend. It should be noted that Mrs. Abumayaleh wears a hijab. They were approached by Nancy Kay Noble, a neighborhood vigilante, who began pounding on their windows, demanding they step out of the car. Ms. Noble then aimed a gun at the terrified Abumayalehs. She demanded proof that they were there to pick up their son. When the son came out of the friend’s house moments later, Ms. Noble was appeased. Although she has since been arrested, this is another example of the treatment of Muslims in the U.S.

4. Pam Gerllar’s ‘Draw Muhammad’ event

Pamela Gellar

  • On May 3, a minor icon of the extreme, so-called Christian right, Pam Gellar, organized an event outside a mosque in Texas, wherein participants would draw cartoons of the Muslim prophet, Mohammed. This, for Muslims, is a grave insult. Ms. Gellar’s actions resulted in the deaths of two people. One must wonder how Ms. Gellar would have reacted had a group of Muslims gathered outside a Catholic church during services, to draw insulting cartoons of the pope, perhaps surrounding his image with drawings of anguished young boys.

5. Fox’s Andrea Tantaros’ “history of Islam”

Andrea Tantaros

  • On August 14, 2014, Andrea Tantaros, a FOX news political analyst, provided her audience with this ‘history’ lesson: “If you study the history of Islam. Our ship captains were getting murdered. The French had to tip us off. I mean these were the days of Thomas Jefferson. They’ve been doing the same thing. This isn’t a surprise. You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand.”[11]

6. Virgil H. Goode’s comments after Keither Eliison’s swaering in using a Quran

Virgil Goode Jr. Campaigns In Roanoke For President

  • In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. At his private swearing-in ceremony, he used the Qur-an. This did not sit well with at least one of his new colleagues, one Virgil H. Goode (R-VA), who said this in response: “The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”[12] Such a horror! More Muslims elected to office!

No attempt is made by this writer to document the full history of racism and religious prejudice that exists in the U.S. today, and has since its bloody founding nearly three centuries ago. He has not mentioned prejudice against several groups that experience horrific treatment at the hands of the white majority; rather, he has provided a sampling only.

The much-revered U.S. Constitution guarantees, at least on paper, the individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all U.S. citizens. Additional rights are granted to those living in the country, or visiting, who are not citizens. But those guarantees are empty, meaningless in a nation that still fears anyone not white, that grants privilege to the wealthy, and that seems to glorify ignorance as it dismisses the well-educated as part of a culture of ‘elitism’.

In a speech that was considered a turning point in the campaign for the presidency of Mr. Kennedy, he said, in part, this: “For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist.”[13] He might have said a Mormon, or a Muslim, or an African-American teenage male. He was prophetic in seeing that the ‘finger of suspicion’ would continue to be pointed, and it is currently aimed squarely, although not exclusively, at Muslims.

It must be remembered that each of these circumstances benefited someone, usually the government, and always the wealthy. When the U.S. wanted to expand its empire, what did the lives of innocent Filipinos matter? Texas, as a Mexican possession was rich in natural resources, and in the eyes of the U.S., Mexico was unreasonable in thinking it should not surrender it. War is always big business, whether world war, as has occurred twice in the last century, or the U.S.’s continual ‘interventions’. And now, with many mainly Muslim countries in the crosshairs of U.S. weaponry, what better way to get the support of the U.S. lemming-citizens then by demonizing Muslims?

It is said that those who do not learn from the past are destined to relive it. This certainly seems true of the United States. Wherever the U.S. operates, it is always the innocent who suffer.

by Robert Fantina


About the author: Robert Fantina is an activist and journalist, working for peace and social justice. While living in the U.S., he actively opposed the war in Iraq, prior to and following the U.S. invasion of that country. Shortly after the 2004 presidential election, he moved to Canada. He is the author of Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776 – 2006; Empire, Racism and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy, and a Vietnam-era, anti-war novel entitled Look Not Unto the Morrow. His writing can be seen on Counterpunch,org, Warisacrime.org, the Independent International Political Research Center (IIPRC.org), the Palestine News Network (http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/opinion), and many other sites. He is currently active in supporting the human rights struggles of the Palestinian people. Mr. Fantina is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He now resides in Kitchener, Ontario. Visit his web page at www.robertfantina.com

[1] Prucha, Francis Paul, ed. (1975). Documents of United States Indian Policy. University of Nebraska Press.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Desertion, pg 86

[7] Desertion, pg 85

[8] Desertion, 86.

[9] https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlei; accessed on June 8, 2015.

[10] Encyclopedia of Mormonism; page 480.

[11] http://theweek.com/speedreads/447745/fox-news-host-history-islam-shows-bullet-head-only-thing-people-understand. Accessed on June 8, 2015

[12] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=2743475. Accessed on June 8, 2015.

[13] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600. Accessed on June 8, 2015.

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