There is a new racist dogma that is taking hold in this country that if allowed to fester any further will result in the greater marginalization of minority groups and increase the prevalent atmosphere of fear and mistrust. The most glaring manifestation of this phenomenon is the unbalanced and intellectually impoverished discourse about Islam and American Muslims.
America’s last accepted form of racism tolerates statements about Muslims that would be unacceptable if referring to other groups. In this paradigm multiculturalism is a threat to the foundations of democracy and those voices who espouse a contrary view are opposed to freedom of speech. The great American melting pot is conspicuously thrown to the wayside.
This school of thought is brought to its logical and most radical end in such destructive and violent actions as occurred recently in Florida. On July 6th 2007, a Bosnian Muslim family who were on vacation had their home torched and the words “F*** Islam” spray painted over all their walls. This family moved to America for the express purpose of leaving their war torn nation for safer shores. When the wife was asked “if this reminded her of back home?” she replied “Pretty much.” If the occupants of that home had been part of any other race or religion there is no doubt that the media coverage would have been much larger.
Pop culture personalities such as Don Imus, Glenn Beck, and Anne Coulter feed the hysterical atmosphere of racism and Islamophobia that lead to such tragedies as the one in New York. Don Imus is known as the radio host who for 36 years made his name known as a shock jock with a wide audience and influence. He was heavily courted by politicians for support and endorsements until recently when he ‘finally’ stepped over the line by making demeaning racist and sexist comments about the female Maryland basketball team. While this comment rightly got him fired, it wasn’t the first time he had made outrageous racist statements.
Muslims, one of his most consistent targets have invariably been called “ragheads,” “goat humping weasels,” “filthy animals,” and he has even suggested that they “all be killed.” The question is: where was the outcry, the suspensions and the apologies when these racist and xenophobic statements were being made. Most glaringly, why are they tolerated when it comes to one group and not to another?
Syndicated talk show host Glenn Beck has made bashing Islam a major objective of his show. When the first Muslim elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, was interviewed on Beck’s show he was asked to “[p]rove to us you are not working for the enemy.” Aside from the condescending tone of this question, it reveals the extent to which suspicion is automatically magnified by a mainstream media personality onto anyone associated with Islam. It also raises a critical point about the psychology of difference that is deeply rooted in the thinking of individuals such as Beck. It is the height of absurdity to ask such a question to an individual whose family has been in America since the early 18th century as Ellison’s has.
Anne Coulter, a regular guest on the cable networks and lecture circuit has famously been quoted stating “we should invade their (i.e. Muslims) countries, kill all their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” Yet she continues to be invited to appear on TV networks, at universities, and organizations in effect legitimizing Islamophobia as a part of the overall discourse on Islam and American Muslims.
In the midst of this growing phenomenon there are a few voices that are noticeably missing. The most deafening silence comes from liberals and conservatives who seek true understanding and espouse American values of human rights, freedom and tolerance for multiculturalism. It may be that they are dismissive of these radical personalities or hope that by ignoring them they will just go away, but if that is the case it is not working.
In the age of consumerism, where people get their information on the go and rarely pause to contemplate on the subtleties of complex issues, one must ask the question: “who is doing the talking?” By remaining silent in the face of hate speech and demagoguery, well-intentioned liberals and conservatives allow their voices to be drowned out by radicals.
One of the most enduring qualities of America is its ability to bring together different cultures and allow them a space to settle into the fabric of this nation. It is the secret of our success as a nation, yet it is increasingly under attack from those who espouse a mono-cultural America. We need to take a shared responsibility and give voice to a consistent message, that hate speech and marginalization of any group must not be tolerated.