American Muslims, Muslimphobia, and dangerous chemerias
by Dr. Gabriele Marranci
The debate concerning Islam and Muslims in the US is a very heated one – sometimes beyond metaphors. The fear that Sharia will rule in the land of the free is a strong one, so much so that there has been more than one attempt to legally ban ‘sharia’. Newt Gingrich, former House speaker who led the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, exclaimed
Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools as a way to “replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Sharia
The list of American anti-Muslim politicians, commentators and pundits is long and often all linked to the Christian Republican right. The most quoted are Ann Coulter, whom invited a Muslim student to take a camel instead of a plane, Fox News personality Sean Hannity, whom drew a parallel between Islam and Nazism, Glenn Beck, Daniel Pipes , as well as showbiz personalities such as the well known “Jihad watcher” and the “femme fatal” of fear mongering, author of “Stop the Islamization of America“.
Forums, discussion boards, popular trash literature (check Amazon.com) and scary statistics show the fear that many Americans have of Muslims — so much so that 22 percent of Americans don’t want a Muslim as their neighbour. This reveals to us the effectiveness of the above efforts to depict Muslims as the dark, silent, insidious threat ready to take over the US.
Yet much of the rhetoric, innuendoes and scare tactics collapse if a rational person makes himself or herself familiar with the simple facts. This statistical data depicts, as we shall see, a very different picture, one which may suggest that Muslims are a severely discriminated against and singled out minority in a fashion not dissimilar to that which the Jews suffered in 1920s-30s Germany (and much of Europe).
The Islamization of the US is apparently carried out by:
- a religious group whose population is just 0.6% of all denominations
- a religious population that in one year has grown just 0.1% compared to 0.2% grow of Mormons (that have even attempted to take over the White House!) and 0.6% of others
- a religious group who are divided (55% of Muslim men and 42% of Muslim women say that are not represented by any Muslim organization)
- a religious group of whom 14% never attend a religious function, 20% do so seldomly (so overall 34% are ‘secular’ in attitude), only 44% attend every week (1% only more than Catholics and Protestants and far from the 66% of Mormon attendance!) and that compared to other religions have the higher rate of non attendance (see Gallup report p.45)
- a religious group that is so trusting in the “American lifestyle” that it has the most positive views about the US economic future when compared to any other (Gallup report pp. 13, 16, 18)
- a religious group that places the most trust in US democracy and its electoral system (For instance 57% of Muslims trust the honesty of elections compared to 40% of non-religious people, 44% of Protestants and 46% of Catholics surveyed, Gallup report p. 23)
- a religious group of whom 89% totally reject violent individual attacks (e.g. terrorism) on civilians, so that only 11% justified them (all other surveyed religious had from 28% (Protestant) to 21% (Mormon) of members justify violent attacks on individual civilians (Gallup report p. 31)
- a religious group of whom 89% of members define themselves as loyal to the US (compared to 56% of Protestants, 59% of Catholics, 80% of Jews, 56% of Mormons, and 69% of non-religious people, Gallup report p. 35)
Although I always encourage a critical investigation of any statistics surveying “religion” as a group, the Gallup methodology is rather robust and the category wide enough to provide such a general picture. Surely this 0.6% of American Muslims appear to be part of the “American dream”, very trusting of their country and, for instance, better integrated than many European or even Australian Muslims.
In 2012, the US suffered zero “Islamic” terrorist attacks and three terrorist plots have been detected. Yet the same country in 2012 suffered sixteen mass shootings, with at least 88 dead, of which 20 were children. Of course, the decision to not label these horrible masacres as terrorism is a matter of Machiavellian politics. Indeed, the reactions of the US parents after the Newtown shooting was very much “terrorized” at a national level.
In the US the fear of Muslims is higher than ever, the agression stronger, and Muslims suffer increasingly common physical assaults as well as damage to their religious buildings. The reasons for this is that, with a mere 0.6% of population, Muslims are rather rare in the US. People often do not personally know any ‘Muslims”, and so their impressions of Muslims are formulated through the stereotypes offered by the mass media.
So, how come this 0.6% of seemingly integrated Muslims are mythologised as being so dangerous? One of the most commonly used arguments (and the one used against the Gallup survey) is that Muslims are a ‘mafia‘ working underground and through the great art of Taqiyya, or ‘dissimulation’. In other words, Muslims, all of them, lie about their real intentions.
In reality, Taqiyya is linked to Shi’a theology and it was used by the Shi’a minority to hide their Shi’a beliefs when among the Sunni majority. Now, some, such as Robert Spencer among others, use Taqiyya in a very different way. He suggests that all Muslims use it in all contexts to hide the real supremacist and dangerous aspects of Islam. Hence the idea of the secret mafia, the secret organization, the 0.6% of agents ready to infiltrate everything and take over the US… actually, even better, the entire world!
Of course, the misused and re-invented tool of Taqiyya is very useful since it assumes that whomever disagrees with the views of the anti-Muslim advocate is in reality a dangerous Muslim in Taqiyya disguise. The list of such Taqiyya obscured Muslims (less lethal than terrorism but more dangerous than it) is long and includes scholars, activists, politicians, and, yes, even the President of the US himself, Obama.
I said that today there is an increasing similarity between anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attitudes. ‘The Muslim’ in the mind of many Americans is not the actual Muslim person walking the streets of America. Klug has argued that anti-Semitism means hostility towards Jews as ‘Jews’. In other words, the inverted commas tell us that the anti-Semites’ Jews exist only in the anti-Semites’ minds and not on our streets. Similarly, we can say that Muslim hate is hostility towards Muslims as ‘Muslims’. This is the first step towards a pernicious and dangerous way of thinking, an example of which we have just seen in the American anti-Muslim movement’s interpreation of the concept of Taqiyya.
We can refer to such dangerous distortions as “Muslim chimerias’, a term which is an adaptation from the work of a great scholar of anti-Semitism, Gavin Langmuir. He argued that Anti-Semitism was progressive in its pernicious effects and that it manifested itself in three different stages, the first one being based on ”realistic assertions”, where statements tends to focus on realistic aspects. In this case, it could be that Muslims are singled out for not being Christians, that Islam was not part of the US before Muslim immigration or before the use of slaves, or theological aspects, such as the fact that Muslims do not dink alcohol so they may participate less in common recreational activities, such as the after-work beer.
Then there is the second stage, the xenophobic one. In this case, if we wish to use Muslims as an example, the xenophobic stage is marked by stereotypes of which some have a “kernel of truth’. For instance, some Muslims reject western values, yet not all Muslims do so; some Muslims have been involved in terrorist plots, but not all Muslims are involved in terrorist plots and so on.
Finally, Langmuir suggests that there is a third and last stage, the one that can lead to extermination (and it did in 1933. Interestingly, the Jews were just 0.75% of the German population). This third stage involves what Langmuir (1990b: 334) calls chimerias, which are something more dangerous than mere stereotypes since they are based on fables. Fables go beyond stereotypes since they represent the collective fear of ‘others’ rather than a simplification of characteristics that have a kernel of truth.
A careful analysis of the rhetoric of Internet websites, pundits, politicians and literature (see above) aimed to create fear of Muslims as ‘Muslims’ since 2001 can easily show a fast and steady progress towards the development of Muslim chimerias. This is a potentially deadly situation –more deadly than it has already been, that is — and we must act to prevent further bloodshed. There are too many guns and impressionable people in the US to dismiss such possibility as hyperbole.
Originally published on Dr. Marranci’s site Islam, Muslims, and an Anthropologist