October 1, 2018
haled A. Beydoun’s American Islamophobia; Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear promises to help American Muslims, “at a time when American Islamophobia is intensifying at a horrific rate.” Beydoun draws “on a range of sources, from court cases, media headlines, and scholarship to his own experiences in walking the walk every day” in order “to provide general readers, students, and activists an intimate and accessible introduction to Islamophobia.” Writing this book, he tells us, was perilous, endangering the people he loves most. His fears “were stoked daily by big headlines and backward actions taken by the Trump administration,” but—thankfully!—he assures us, “I try to remain optimistic.”
Beydoun, a Muslim American law professor and civil rights activist, sees America as an Orwellian dystopia, where Muslims are persecuted for simply being Muslim. Americans view their speech, attire, the company they keep, the Mosques they pray at, and their social media activity as circumspect at best, and potentially criminal at worst. The American regime and its state sponsored political and legal machinery has systemically and systematically kidnapped democracy to brand the American Muslim as a terrorist. In America, writes Beydoun, “Islam was and still is a political identity that instantly triggers the suspicion of acts of terror and subversion…because of the way we look and the way we dress”.
Surprisingly however, nowhere in the book does Beydoun suggest that Americans (or Europeans) have reason to be suspicious of Islamist nationals. This is baffling. Between January 1, 2017 and July 20, 2018 alone 2,073 Islamic attacks (with 12,150 fatalities) took place. These numbers do not include attacks in France, England, Belgium, Spain, and other European countries, all in the name of Islam. This should justify at least some of the measures taken by America to minimize potential terrorist activity on its soil.
Beydoun brands Muslim American critics of Islam “native informants”—short-hand for collaborators and traitors. Beydoun cites Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi:
For the American imperial project to claim global validity it needs the support of native informers and comprador intellectuals…. CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] policing in particular…cannot be carried forward without the endorsement of a cadre or cohort of Muslim Americans that rubberstamp it. Without their legitimization, these programs are plainly and painfully exposed as patently Islamophobic. Muslim faces and voices make them seems reasonable, sanctioned by the idea that if a Muslim deems CVE policing to be legitimate, then the public at large should find no problem with it.
Beydoun accuses radical Islam’s Muslim American critics of endorsing the structural “Islamophobic” policies of the American state for personal gain. His examples include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brigitte Gabriel, and Maajid Nawaz all of whom, he claims, have “built careers castigating Islam, casting Muslim Americans as domestic threats and endorsing strident war on terror policies.”
I have followed the work of these intellectuals closely and strongly doubt that a life spent in hiding under state and police protection constitutes private gain. Just ask Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, against whom a Fatwa was decreed ordering Muslims to kill him. He lived over a decade in hiding.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the scriptwriter and voice of the short film, Submission, which deconstructed the treatment of Muslim women in Holland. The film led to the 2004 assassination of director Theo van Gogh. His murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, pinned a note to Van Gogh’s chest with a knife, saying that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was next. She still lives in hiding.
Beydoun accuses Americans of lumping all Muslims together, but “there is simply no coherent way of regarding all American Muslims as a single monolithic community, or of speaking about them as such." Interestingly, leading Muslim clerics and jurists disagree. Islamic law scholar Uriya Shavit explains that the Ummah, or Muslim community, is a group of people from diverse backgrounds, ancestry, locations, and nationalities,
yet united in a very tangible way. They are one nation or community united under the guidance of the One God…. [An] Ummah is a community of believers bound together with a common purpose, to worship God and with a common goal to advance the cause of Islam; "And verily this Ummah of yours is one Ummah and I am your Lord and Cherisher, therefore fear Me and no other." (Quran 23:52)
Islamist jurists believe Western civilization is marked by a moral and spiritual void and so Westerners will, ultimately, gravitate toward Islam. They see the Western nation-state as a temporary entity, and the Muslim nation both eternal and universal. Under the unifying umbrella of the Ummah, Islam has international and global aspirations for the Muslim faith and identity.
Regardless of sect, legal school, nationality, or political status, Muslim jurists from Arab countries have reached similar conclusions as to the proper status and role of Muslim emigrants to the West. They call upon Muslim in the West to place religious identity above national and ethnic identities and to promote the interests of the global Muslim nation.
Muslim jurists assert five points: First, a greater Islamic nation exists of which Muslims are members wherever they live. Second, while living in a non-Muslim society is undesirable, it might be permitted on an individual basis if the immigrant acts as a model Muslim. Third, it is the duty of a Muslim in the West to reaffirm his religious identity and to distance himself from anything contrary to Islam. Fourth, Muslims should champion the cause of the Muslim nation in the political as well as the religious sphere, for there should be no distinction between the two. Lastly, Muslims should spread Islam in the declining, spiritual void of Western societies.
Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but sadly, and as the evidence supports, most terrorists are. Beydoun fails to consider this painful evidence.
Facing up to outside criticism, and encouraging debate within Muslim communities, would lend the American Muslim project more legitimacy. If Americans saw a vibrant Muslim civil society protesting human rights violations and terrorist attacks perpetrated under the name of Islam, they would more readily perceive Muslims as part of the democratic social fabric of America. Sadly, they usually see nothing of the sort, but rather hear cries of Islamophobia after terrorist attacks.
Many American Muslims are hardworking and positive members of society. They have succeeded in divesting from themselves the cloak of victimhood, and, like other ethnic minorities in America, have successfully handled political, cultural, religious, societal, and cultural challenges in their new home. Beydoun’s is a bleak picture of Muslim life in America. Hopefully his American Muslims readers think so, too.