Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Roots of Islamophobia

As I mentioned below, I don't think the current "frenzy of anti-Muslim sentiment" is driven by a belief that all Muslims are responsible for terrorist attacks and 9/11, but more nuanced beliefs.

What are those?  Well, here's some of them:

  • A sense that Muslims are more concerned with telling other Americans not to blame them for terrorist acts than they are with purging their religion of terror.
  • What seems to be a double standard.  When there is an act of Islamic terrorist violence, everyone races first to look for a perpetrator who is not Islamic, second to downplay the Islamic element, and third to explain the motivation.  When there is violence that seems to come from the right wing, commentary centers on exploring why there is so much violence in conservatism, and how we can punish them for it.
  • A sense that the Islam being presented for public consumption is a whitewashed version that bears little resemblance to what is practiced in reality.  Yes, "Islam means peace," but there are a number of troublesome aspects of both its current practice and history that it seems people are hoping we won't notice.
  • A sense that other groups had to earn the trust and goodwill of Americans, whereas Muslims are tattling to the teacher to make us play nice with them.
  • Expressing any of the above will get you tagged as a bigot.
Incidentally, the list of grievances fueling the "rising nativist sentiment" looks pretty similar to the above.

Not all of these are completely grounded in fact.  And even if true, they don't justify a generalized anti-Islamic feeling that we're seeing.

But it's also different, and not as obviously absurd as the notion that all Muslims are responsible for 9/11.  

The only socially approved conversation one can have about the above is, "Shut up, you bigot!"  So when someone comes along and tells people, "I get what you're feeling.  Vote for me,"  it's going to have a certain appeal.

I have absolutely no sympathy for the politicians who go about stoking these simmering embers of resentment, and if the resulting flame gets out of control, they will bear an enormous amount of responsibility.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

But those who know better have left this field open to them by answering these concerns with platitudes about Islam being a peaceful religion and how unfair guilt by association is.  If people are interested in stemming this tide, not just feeling superior to it, we're going to have to do better.
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