The Dehumanization of American Muslims

Tariq Nelson

Posted Dec 11, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Dehumanization of American Muslims

Tariq Nelson

Dehumanization is defined as a process by which members of a group of people assert the “inferiority” of another group through subtle or overt acts or statements. Dehumanization may be directed by an organization or may be the composite of individual sentiments and actions.

A coalition of anti-Muslim bigots have formed that sit at their computers full time seeking out news – no matter how vague – of bad Muslim behavior to demonstrate to their growing numbers of readers that all Muslims are irreparably evil and ultimately must be put into internment camps and/or systematically eliminated whether by getting them to leave Islam or by killing them.  (Robert Spencer is a prime example of this sort of full time Islamophobe.)

Their assault on Islam and the Muslims is unrelenting and uncompromising. There are no good Muslims. If you meet a good Muslim, then he/she is making ‘tuqiyyah’ and/or part of a “sleeper cell”. Muslims can do no good. NONE!

Their blogs are growing in readership. They are coming out with more and more best selling books smearing and slandering Islam and the Muslims, and are continuously invited back to major media outlets to promote their books and offer their “expertise” on Islam.

They are sending thousands of chain letters across the internet with blatantly false information in it saying that we worship a “moon god” and each of us have secret allegiance to “mullahs”. They have called for Makkah to be nuked, endorse the torture and mistreatment of Muslims and have called for the mass murder of Muslims via the carpet bombing of major Muslim cities, yet still somehow maintain credibility.

A couple of weeks ago, local radio host, Jerry Klein demonstrated the effectiveness of this growing dehumanization campaign when he suggested (only to make a point) that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band. However, upon suggesting this, many of his callers not only agreed, but went even further to suggest that internment camps be set up.

The dehumanization is working.

If a black person robbed a bank, would it be acceptable for a “pundit” to suggest that all blacks be rounded up and put into internment camps? Would it be acceptable to suggest that black neighborhoods be carpet bombed? Would a person be allowed to come on several media outlets and promote a book that promotes hatred of blacks?

The answer is obviously no. Then why are these bigots and racists (yes, RACISTS) continuously invited back to mainstream media outlets to give venom filled commentary on Muslims?

This dehumanization goes even further to attack any non-Muslim who comes to the defense of Muslims. A non-Muslim individual or organization that makes any concession or is even nice in any way shape or form to a Muslim is consistently accused of calling for “dhimittude” or any other number of thought terminating clichés and memes that they have invented. Every Muslim should be suspect and feared no matter what. All who disagree must be discredited and defamed because they are just as dangerous as we (allegedly) all are.

Although Congressman-elect Keith Ellison is far from being an extremist - and is even disliked by genuine extremists - this does not keep the anti-Muslim bigots from relentlessly claiming that Mr. Ellison is an extremist, because part of what these bigots do is exaggerate. So if Mr. Ellison wants to take his oath on a copy of the Qur’an, then they shout and cry from the rooftops that it is the end of American civilization -  and of course “dhimmitude”

A Muslim has no right to ask for equal treatment. Every lawsuit or complaint by a Muslim is frivolous, because a person can treat a Muslim any way he/she pleases. In fact, you are a “good vigilant American” if you mistreat a Muslim or deny him/her their rights. If you do not, then you are under “dhimittude”.

I was amazed when I read on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 that these bigots still claim to this day that Muslims never condemned the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I emailed one individual making that claim several dozen links of Muslim organizations and individuals that condemned the attacks and he responded that he still did not see any condemnation in the links I sent him! We continued to communicate, and I told him that I – as a Muslim - unconditionally condemn the attacks, in an effort to get him to admit that at least one Muslim had condemned the attacks. He then simply accused me of making ‘tuqiyyah’. I was going against his agenda to de-humanize Muslims and portray us all as evil, soul-less terrorists.

Lies, distortions, smears and attacks are all fair game against the Muslims. Even if these bigots are exposed, they will continue to repeat their lies over and over and very few in the media will call them on it.

If Muslims can be seen as sub-humans or animals without real human feelings and concerns, then it is easier for these bigots to call for us to be treated like the animals they say we are.

Fact is that this dehumanization has been going on for decades as Arabs/Muslims have been depicted as mindless killers in Hollywood.

Before I was Muslim, I – like many other Americans - did not even realize it when it was happening, but these images that we received throughout our lives brainwashed us to one extent or another in how we perceived Arabs/Muslims. This brainwashing started from the time were children (Bugs Bunny, Muppet Show, Popeye) and lasted throughout our lives. 

I can remember as a child watching the cartoon ‘Popeye’ and its portrayal of Arabs bowing down and saying: “salamee, salamee, balonee” in mockery (I realize now) of the Muslim prayer.

I can also remember talking to one of my uncles just before the first Iraq war in 1991 when he told me, expressing his concern for American troops that “The Arabs love war! They get bored when there is no war”. And this was from a man that could not point out Iraq on a map much less anything about Arabs or Arab culture. But of course he ‘knew’ that “Arabs love war”

While there were many racist portrayals in the media and cartoons of many minorities (such as Bucktoothed Asians with bottle glasses, “Mammy”, and “Speedy Gonzales”) they moved away from all the negative imaging…except with Muslims. (And, again, anyone who calls it racist is accused of being under “dhimmitude”)

Because these images of barbarism are so deeply rooted in people’s minds, they are not perceived as stereotypical. And this is why anti-Arab/anti-Muslim cartoons were kept in circulation while other racist cartoons were being scrutinized, edited and banned.

So in the aftermath of the 9/11, much of the negative reaction to Arabs was, in my opinion, rooted in these deeply engrained media images that we received throughout our lives. Need I remind anyone that in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing, some Muslims were assaulted in response before it was revealed that it was Timothy McVeigh that bombed the building? It was because people were already prepared to think it was Muslims.

This dehumanization, if not checked, can indeed reach a point where we will be - as Glenn Beck put it – on the other side of razor wire. That is the ultimate goal of these bigots’ dehumanization campaign. When enough people see us as sub-human, the people will DEMAND our internment. The razor wires will then become a reality. 

So where does this leave us? We can’t simply respond to their memes (“dhimmitude”) with our own (Islamaphobia), so we have to take other steps.

We are living breathing human beings with everyday concerns, but it is important that we let the average Joe and Jane know that we are human beings too. It is imperative – now more than ever - that we double our efforts to “humanize” ourselves. We must not only be good neighbors and co-workers, but the best. We have to make extra efforts to get to know them, check on them when they are sick and offer to serve them when they need help. Those of us that are converts must make additional efforts to serve our extended family instead of cutting them off. We must also involve ourselves in civic activities in our neighborhoods. The American people will then see that we are regular people with normal human concerns.

But we can not stop there. Our neighbors must know that we are not just the exception to the sub-human rule being written by the bigots. We as a Muslim community must serve the wider community at large. That means that we as individuals must get involved in the community outreach efforts such as Food Banks, Open Houses, Clinics, Clothing Drives and other efforts all over the DC area and help to improve them.

I strongly urge everyone to help strengthen these programs with your money and – more importantly - your time. Encourage others to join. Help establish other service based programs in the area masjids and Islamic Centers. If there is an open house at your mosque, invite as many non-Muslim neighbors and co-workers as you can to attend.

We must do this because remaining a silent faceless mass, makes the anti-Muslim bigots’ job of dehumanizing us that much easier. If we are pro-active, then we will - without saying a word – call them out on their exaggerations, smears and distortions about us. Their case that we are irrational sub-human beasts will be much harder to make.

Sad part is that this is something that we should be doing anyway. But because of this unyielding onslaught against us, it is even more important for us to increase our outreach now more than ever - before it is too late. The bigots will not stop trying to portray us as evil. We can not stop showing that we are not.

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