Islamophobia: The Bigotry of Our Age

Recently, several shocking instances of Islamophobic bigotry have made newsin the US. Plans to construct and expand mosques have been met with hostility,threats and violence. In Temecula, California, residents voiced theiropposition to a mosque in their community by harassing Muslim worshippers withdogs. In Jacksonville, Florida, someone detonated a pipe bomb at an IslamicCenter while 60 people were praying inside. In Gainesville, Florida, a churchannounced plans to commemorate the anniversary of September 11thwith a public burning of the Qur’an. Political opposition to the constructionof an Islamic Community Center nearby the World Trade Center site wasostensibly premised on the expectation that all Muslims should feel responsiblefor the attack on the Twin Towers. From there it was a short step to theoutlandish accusations by members of Congress and news commentators thatMuslims are conspiring to impose Shari’a law over the United States.

Islamophobia is fear of Islam and the persecution and oppression of Muslimsas well as people associated with Islam in the Western imagination. Primarily,Islamophobia helps justify and sustain a US war agenda and economy andfacilitates the demonizing of resistance to this agenda.  As such, theattacks on the Twin Towers, despite being blowback from decades of US overt andcovert interventions in South and West Asia, became the excuse for ever moreaggressive military operations and occupations abroad. Accordingly, only thosepredominantly Muslim nations that challenge US-Israel (and allied) interestsare targeted by this "War on Terror": Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Syriaand, of course, Palestine/Palestinians. In stark contrast, forces that alignwith the US-allied agenda, such as the repressive and ultra conservative regimein Saudi Arabia, are dubbed "moderate".

The shared interest in military dominance for control of land and resourcesin the region has nourished the long-standing "special relationship" betweenthe US and Israel. For over six decades, Israel has painted Palestinians asterrorists on the basis of the danger that their very existence and survivalposes for the legitimacy of a politically exclusive Jewish state in Palestine.The Islamophobic "War on Terror" of more recent decades positions Israel’snational interests as serving the interests of the "free world." Israel’sapologists have framed Israel as an oasis of Western civilization in a violentand primitive Middle East, both feeding and building upon Islamophobictendencies throughout the world. The Palestinian people are offered as thesacrificial lamb to maintain and facilitate precarious relationships betweenthe US, Israel and regimes in the region. For example, Egypt and Jordan benefitfrom this alliance and from the repression of resistance to Westernization byMuslim forces in their own countries.

Particularly following September 11th, Islamophobia became a keyfactor in garnering consent for the sweeping curtailment of civil rights in theUS, opening the door to a new wave of virulent anti-immigrant legislation. Thisis exemplified by Arizona’s apartheid laws, which are quickly spreading acrossthe US. Globally, Islamophobia is so pervasive because it serves multipleinterests. In Europe, the "international threat of Islam" continues the legacyof discrimination against immigrant communities, primarily from former imperialdominions: Pakistanis and Bangladeshi in the UK, Algerians in France, Turks inGermany, and many more. In India, a powerful anti-Islamic and pro-Zionistpolitical party repeatedly organized pogroms against Muslim communities inwhich thousands of Muslims have been killed. In Pakistan, Islamophobia becamethe basis for alliance between the US and the Musharref regime. Israel continuesits ethnic cleansing across historic Palestine and has perfected subordinationand legal discrimination against Palestinians.

As the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) enters its third year of work, we identify the struggle against Islamophobia as a priority.Being committed to the liberation of Palestine, we note how Islamophobiaprovides cultural and ideological currency to Western support for Israel. Aspart of movements against war and military occupation, we condemn the role thatIsrael plays in the US-allied military agenda and economy. As allies in thestruggle against racism in our countries and communities, we assert that theadoption of Zionism by Western governments and political elites carries a highprice in terms of the well-being and safety of all people. 

Zionism is bound up with Islamophobia, which, in addition to targetingMuslims and other Arab and Middle Eastern people, including Arab Jews, spreadsbigotry and produces an environment of racist and ethnic discrimination.Zionism’s impact on our societies is to feed and strengthen already pervasiveconservative, right wing and fundamentalist political and social trends towarddiscrimination based on cultural, racial and ethnic difference, socialexclusion, and violence that lead to poverty, restriction of movement, loss ofemployment, incarceration, separation, deportation and death.

As a network of Jews committed to respect for Jewish histories, we arestruck by the deep similarities between the role played by Islamophobia todayand the role played by anti-Semitism in a similar consolidation of a Westernidentity a hundred years ago.  In countries where one would be arrestedfor slandering Jews, it is now permitted to express hatred against Muslims andArabs and cast them as everlasting foreigners. We are deeply troubled, not onlyby the failure of Jewish organizations to respond in a remotely adequate way tothis moral challenge, but by the utter complicity and participation of so manyof them in the bigotry of our age.

Jewish groups in the US have been indulging in Islamophobic and anti-Arabrhetoric and activities in their defense of Israel for decades.  Mostrecently, The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center,both posing as leading Jewish civil rights organizations in the US, opposed theconstruction of an Islamic community center in New York City. As a Jewish groupopposed to Zionism, our views are often unwelcome in "mainstream" Jewish groupslike the ADL or the Wiesenthal Center. We are often told by Jews who identifywith Israel that we support Palestinian liberation because we are indifferentto own histories. We beg to differ.

What reading of Jewish history allows a Jew to not hear echoes ofKristallnacht in a church’s plans for a public burning of Muslim holy books?What reading of Jewish history allows a Jew to listen to members of Congressaccusing Muslims of scheming to overthrow the Constitution and impose Shari’alaw on the US and not hear the echoes of Nazis accusing Jews of global domination?In the scapegoating of Muslims to support a US-allied agenda of globaldominance, what reading of Jewish history does not hear the scapegoating ofJews to support a fascist agenda of global dominance? As Muslims arethreatened, taunted and harassed during worship, what reading of Jewish historydoes not hear the rumble of an approaching pogrom?

Refusing to acknowledge the persecution of an ethnic and religiousminority-and participating in it-erases 2000 years of European Jewish historyin exchange for the privileges of whiteness.  It betrays the obligation to"remember that you were slaves." A selective interpretation of history for thepurposes of alignment with dominant power has deep roots in Jewish historyitself, but not all roots should be nourished. Instead, we choose to cultivatedeep legacies of Jewish participation in our own liberation and in collectiveliberation struggles.

We take the opportunity of this year’s Jewish Day of Atonement to reconcilethe lessons of our own histories by resolving to take a collective stanceagainst all forms of racial and religious prejudice and hate.

 

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