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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

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March 10, 2013

Abdus Sattar Ghazali’s Islam and Muslims in the Post 9/11 America

by Arthur Scott

[This paper was read at the book signing held on March 10, 2013 in Fremont, CA.]

Abdus Sattar Ghazali, a noted Pakistani and Middle East scholar, has just written a very comprehensive work on the experiences of Muslim Americans entitled, Islam &  Muslims In The Post- 9/11 Era, which was precipitated by the cultural hysteria and political paranoid triggered by the Bush administration under the label of the “Green Fear” (Islamic Extremism) which quickly was turn into the “Green Terror” (ethnic rofiling).

Historically and politically America, as Richard Hofstadter points out in his classic The American Political Tradition, George Washington and other national power elites, including the military-industrial complex and the Far Right, mobilizes popular sentiment by appealing to unreal emotional threats or paranoid based essentially on race, religious and cultural differences.

Race as a political tool has always been prominent strategy in the American landscape as exemplified by Black segregation and Jim Crow, by the “Yellow Scare” leading to Chinese Exclusion and the Gentleman’s Agreement which limited the number of Japanese entering the country leading to Japanese internment during the World War II. Similarly throughout the twentieth century hysterical outburst against communism raised its head taking the form of the “Red Scare” first with the Palmer Raids in 1920, reaching its apotheosis under Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings in the 1950’s in which thousands of Americans were terrorized and had their civil liberties compromised.

Today the Far Right has gone ballistic over gun control seeing in it a governmental/Obama conspiracy to disarm “White America” and to marginalize the Second Amendment. It is no coincidence that these episodes are described in terms of color, for color touches on a deep aspect of the American psychic racism, which is endemic in the American culture going back to first encounters with the indigenous peoples who were described by the Anglo Puritan settlers as “Red.”

Abdus Sattar discusses in great detail the impact of the “Green Terror” on the civil liberties of the seven million Muslims, who comprise the American Islamic community, since 9/11.

he process of marginalizing a people, a formula originated and developed during the Plantation era, by which a racial/ethnic/religious is portrayed as the enemy, begins with a systematic attack on their beliefs/values. For American Muslims, this negative stereotyping /denigration is connected with their Islamic religion/culture.

Of all the desert religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; Islam has been historically seen as being most un-Western, too different to blend seamlessly into the American culture. This Islamphobia can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson’s conflict with the Berber pirates of North Africa, and recently has been intensified by global events stemming from the imperatives of the American Empire including Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic Fundamentalism and the Gulf Wars, Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

Complicating matters for Muslims is the powerful Jewish presence in America. The Jewish community exercises tremendous influence in Hollywood producing and delivering media images that emphasize the horrors of the holocaust and the tenuousness of the state of Israel. The Jewish lobby in particular tends to be sensitive about the future of Israel, and any threats that the Arab world or Palestinian crisis poses to its continued existence often leads to a negative media response in which Muslims are denigrated as foreign or the “other.”

Consequently, American Muslims are never portrayed on television as human beings with families confronted by the same issues that confront all Americans: education, health, and jobs. Rather they are suspect of being an enemy within. According to Sattar, recent Gallup Poll shows that 40 % of all Americans are suspicious of Muslims, and a whopping 50% see them as disloyal. Muslims are seen as too clannish, gather in Mosques, live in separate neighborhoods, are darker in complexion, too patriarchal/sexist forcing women to wear veils, speak a plethora of strange languages, and are wedded to religious Shariah law that violates the American principles of separation of Church and State.

Muslim Americans, as individuals and as a community, have been subject to a comprehensive program of scrutiny, intimation and probing, grounded primary in the passage of the Patriot Act, which many legal scholars see as un-constitutional, but tragically it has given Homeland Security and its ancillary agencies, the FBI and others, wide powers to infiltrate, spy and watch the Muslim American community ad nausea without it being either informed or provided due process. New York Police Department's surveillance of the Muslim Community is one such example.

This “Green Terror” flows from the biased and prejudiced postulation by Ann Coulter "Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims." Individual discrimination runs the entire gamut: verbal abuse, assault /murder, women mocked for wearing the hijab, citizenship denied through extensive bureaucratic delays, difficulty in renting or buying homes in certain neighborhoods (in Vermont 50% of Muslims American experience discrimination in housing), being arbitrarily pulled off planes, and of course prejudice in hiring/promotion as well as difficulty in practicing their faith at work.

Sattar also focuses on institutional discrimination. Mosques are scrutinized; charities are thoroughly investigated on the assumption that they may be potential conduits for overseas Muslim Terrorist organizations. Islamic educational programs and advocacy groups have been hammered by federal authorities who often attempt to undermine the integrity of traditional, credible groups’ like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) on the grounds that their degree of patriotism is suspect, or they are not critical enough of Islamic Terrorism. This unfair criticism forced the CAIR to issue a fatwa in July 2005 condemning outright all forms of religious radicalism and terrorism.

The problem here of course is the double standard. Why does Islam have to make such a statement? What about Christian Churches and Synagogues? Christians and Jews respectively have produced terrorists. Timothy McVeigh, a nominal Catholic, bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 did not lead the Catholic Church to condemn terrorism, nor has the Jewish Defense League, listed by the FBI as a terrorist group, been formally condemned by the Jewish community for its excesses.

To weaken a community the government uses the old formula of playing different groups of Muslims off against the other by sowing seeds of suspicion, doubt and uncertainty not only among them but between Muslims and the larger American community. At the same time attempts were made to silence and undermine established Muslim civil advocacy groups such as CAIR, ISNA and MPAC and promote fringe groups such as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) of Dr. Zuhdi Jasser who was appointed as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which advises the president, Congress and State Department on religious rights abuses internationally.

Despite these challenges over the last decade the American Muslim community has weathered the stormy racism implicit in the “Green Terror” in part because of the current American military draw down from the Middle East, but mostly because of the pro-active policies implemented by American Muslims to address the prejudices and suspicions of the larger culture about it. These activities included opening their mosques to all faith traditions, becoming more active in inter-faith dialogue, sponsoring seminars and conferences that build bridges of understanding at the community/national level, and participating in the political process by which Muslim Americans shifted their political allegiance from the Republican to Democratic Party after the passage of the Patriot Act. Not surprisingly, 85% Muslim voters voted for Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2012 elections, according to the CAIR poll.

Keith Ellison the re-elected Democratic Minnesota Representative has been a stellar exemplar of the humanity of Muslims. For American Muslims, civil rights, rule of law, and education have been significant keys to their re-acceptance into the body politic. These activities have strengthened the American Muslim community and have gone a long way to reduce the misinformation and prejudices that historically has surrounded it. Best example of declining hysteria is that much of the prejudice around the Park51 project, known as Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan, New York, has dissipated.

In short, what has happened over the decade is that the larger community has come around to recognizing that the American Muslim community is indeed what the name Islam implies; namely, a community of peace/surrender/justice. Tawhid (Unity of God) constitutes the essence of Islam, a value based on inter-connectedness/oneness, acceptance which is also the core value of the great diversity of America which Muslims acknowledge and are a crucial thread of its tapestry.

It will not be too much to say that the last decade witnessed the infringement of the civil rights of the Muslim community but also of erosion of the civil rights of all Americans. Abdus Sattar also provides a review of that too.

In conclusion, Abdus Sattar is to be complemented for his excellent investigation on the impact of 9/11 on the Muslim American community. It is well written, extensively documented with exhaustive appendices, and needs to be read broadly by scholarly and non-scholarly audiences as a wake-up call to how fragile civil liberties can be in America, and how easily “civility” can be compromised by the apparatus of a national security state, and by the hysteria voice of fringe groups who ride the tornado of fear and prejudice.

Despite the assault on Muslim Americans what is uplifting about Abdus Sattar analysis is the resilience portrayed by the Muslim community in countering the “Green Terror”, and in the process reaffirming its own identity by reiterating the fundamental precept of  democracy which is the acceptance and recognition of cultural difference as an eloquent/crucial thread crucial to the tapestry of the American Union.

 Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies