Is Islamophobia about to become the new normal in the United States, insinuating itself into the social sensibility of the American people?
At first blush, you would’ve imagined last week that the answer would have to be an emphatic ‘yes’, given the anti-Muslim rallies held across America last Saturday, with activists in several cities hoisting American flags and delivering fiery speeches, in what organisers dubbed The March Against Sharia, not to mention the nearly 400 stories reported in the media in 2016 of American Muslims being attacked, scapegoated and profiled, with their places of worship vandalised and their faith disparaged.
But, truth be told, its all an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Islamophobia is not about to trend in the US, its sinister notions becoming part of the inward preoccupation of ordinary, everyday Americans.
As for last Saturdays rallies, these predictably passed largely unnoticed in the midst of more dramatic news around the country, but that anti-Muslim activists did indeed fan out across US cities to deliver what amounted to hate speech is a fact. ACT for America, a loony-tunes organisation founded in 2007, that claims an improbable 500,000-strong membership nationwide, and that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national advocacy organisation specialising in civil rights, identifies as a hate group, sponsored the rallies.
Its leaders have advanced conspiratorial theories of a secret plot by American Muslims, along with “their enablers in the media”, to destroy the country from within. Members of Evropa, which seeks a whites-only state, joined the rally in New York to show solidarity with ACT for America, wearing tucked-in shirts, sunglasses and slicked-down side parts, known as “fascies”, short for fascist — in emulation of Nazi Germany’s Brown Shirts.
All of which gives you an idea about who these people are — all the more reason why we should dismiss them for the kooky fringe groups they are — and move on.
Indeed, as the Washington Post reported on Sunday, turnout at these rallies was relatively small, with crowds numbering in the dozens, outnumbered almost 10 to 1 by counter-demonstrators, revealing the fact that Islamophobia is not a harbinger of things to come in the US, a prelude to the secretion of racialist poison into the arteries of America’s body politic. Indeed, in the same Washington Post report, we read this: “Lisa Jaffe, 52, who carried a sign saying ‘loving my Muslim neighbour since 1964’, said she participated in the counter-demonstration because the growing lack of tolerance has no place in her America.”
To be sure, the US has always evinced a certain level of intolerance towards every wave of its newly-arrived immigrants. Catholics in the middle of the 19th century, for example, had to face the bigotry of the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. The Irish, in equal measure, had to face all manner of discrimination upon their arrival in the US in the 1840s, after they escaped the potato famine ravaging Ireland at the time. The Jews in the 1920s had to face restrictions, or a quota system, in admissions to professional or white-collar positions, admissions to universities and even admissions to social clubs.
The wretched folks
“The US is the only country in the world today that knows, paradox and hyperbole aside, how to assimilate immigrants with such impressive ease.””Share on facebookTweet this
Italians, Greeks, Poles and others equally found themselves having, in like manner, to struggle against the sense of otherness being thrust upon them at the time by nativists. But by the second generation, these immigrants became fully assimilated — not on the basis of their physiognomy or appearance, their ethnicity or religion — into the mainstream. The US is the only country in the world today that knows, paradox and hyperbole aside, how to assimilate immigrants with such impressive ease.
America is not, say, France — the latter being a country that, despite its traditions of egalite, fraternite and liberte, has shown itself unable, or perhaps unwilling, to absorb four generations of ethnic Frenchmen and Frenchwomen into the broader society. These wretched folks are, of course, “francais”, but not “francais de souche”, that is, French of long-standing French lineage.
This posture is alien to the very ethos of American culture and the sensibility of the overwhelming majority of Americans. I should know. I have lived in the US, as a Muslim, for the last 45 years.
The Pew Research Center puts the number of Muslim Americans at 3.4 million — with 20 per cent being converts — and estimates that their share of the population will double by 2050. None of them need fear actual or potential exclusion in the immediate or distant future.
As for those loony bigots at those rallies last Saturday, well, the Washington Post reported that at one gathering, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the protesters there, standing solemnly, sang “America the Beautiful”. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder though, isn’t it?
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.