Breaking the Vicious Circle of Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia
By Louay M. Safi
Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia share a common denominator: they both serve as a strategic weapon in the war of ideas between Muslim and Western extremists and bigots. On one level, anti-Americanism and Islamophobia stem from ignorance, deception, and misrepresentation. On a deeper level, however, they stem from a very basic human instinct: the will to power unrestrained and undisciplined by moral values; they stem from human greed and the will to dominate, exploit, and abuse.
While both truth and vanity play a role in shaping anti-Americanism and Islamophobia, I am less concerned with the vain sources of these sentiments that take the form of deception, jealousy, and arrogance. I am more concerned, however, with the true sources of anti-Americanism and Islamophobia, namely U.S. foreign policy and exclusivist political ideologies that fuel extremism and terrorism. U.S. foreign policy, as articulated by the neo-conservatives, is bent on dominating and manipulating Muslim societies for achieving narrow economic and geopolitical interests; similarly, exclusivist ideologies continue to inflame the vicious terror campaigns that justify the killing of civilians for achieving political ends.
It is not difficult for any person aware of the patterns of U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world, and of the terror campaign conducted by militant Muslims, to see that the two are interrelated and feed one another. The United States has for decades supported dictatorships and corrupt military regimes in the name of maintaining stability, and those regimes have bred extremism and gave rise to terrorist groups.
Yet the fact that U.S. foreign policy feeds into, and is fed by, the rise of extremism and terrorism in Muslim countries does not mean that we are moving in a vicious circle. The Untied States is in a position to end the cycle of violence and counter-violence, and American Muslims are well situated to help in redirecting U.S. foreign policy and in bridging the deepening divide between Muslim and Western societies.
There are reasons to believe that the Bush Administration has become increasingly aware, after 9/11, of the pitfalls of supporting autocratic regimes in the Muslim world, and has made several readjustments in its foreign policy approach toward Muslim countries. Not only is the Bush Administration increasingly reluctant to openly support military and authoritarian regimes, but is increasingly coming to terms with the fact that no democratic government is possible without the involvement of Islamically-oriented political groups, as developments in Turkey and Iraq have demonstrated.
This does not mean that the Bush Administration has undergone a profound change of attitude; nor does it mean that the Administration has distanced itself from unilateralism and military preeminence that led to the war in Iraq. Bush has recently nominated John Bolton, a neo-conservative unilateralist, as the US ambassador to the UN, and continues to give him his full support, despite objection from leading Republicans. This is the same Bolton who, less than two years ago, expressed an utter contempt toward international law and the United Nations. “It is a big mistake for us,” he wrote, “to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so—because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.”
We must reject the neo-conservatives’ obsession with domination and empire building. Their drive to ensure the political and military dominance of the United States might appear at first glance patriotic, but in actuality it is undermining the political and moral standing of the United States by undermining democracy and freedom at home and rolling back the most important American achievements on the world stage: international law and the United Nations organization.
American Muslims are well positioned to expose the deceptions of power hungry unilateralists, and bridge the divide between Muslim and Western countries. American Muslims should equally reject the bigoted spirit of exclusivist ideologies that use religion in all its forms as a weapon for achieving political supremacy, and demonize and dehumanize political opponents. American Muslims should take a firm and resolute stance against individuals and groups that use violence and terror against civilians in the name of Islam, and condemn all campaigns of terrorism by militant Islamic groups like al-Qaeda, as they do condemn those who justify violence and aggression against Muslims in the name of biblical prophecies and religious supremacy.
The time has come for the world to undertake a profound shift in political thinking and practice, similar to the one achieved in Europe in modern times. A democratic and free Europe came to life when the feudal system that privileged a small class of European elites was rejected and replaced with a system based on political equality and the rule of law. A democratic and free world will be achieved when the current political structure that perpetuates political and economic disparity is replaced with one in which all are equally treated under international law, and have fairly equal access to international organizations.
For two centuries, America has shown that it is capable of transcending its limitations and marching behind those who struggle to realize the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality. And throughout its history, America stood behind those who fought for equal rights and equal dignity against self-centered groups that wanted to preserve their privileges. American Muslims must take a firm stand against the militant Religious Right that is bent on denying them the equal dignity they deserve. As long as they uphold the values of freedom, justice, and equal dignity for all, and reach out to other fellow Americans who share with them deep commitment to these values, they are distant, with the grace of God, to defeat the unscrupulous and mean-spirited attacks led by hate mongers and religious bigots.
Dr. Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Indiana based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership awareness and skills among American Muslim leaders, and a founding board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog: http://blog.lsinsight.org
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Reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.