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Demonization of Muslims Caused the Iraq Abuse

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

What is common between the images of American soldiers laughing at naked and humiliated Iraqi prisoners, the video of a terrorist group in Iraq slaughtering an American civilian, and the photos of an Iraqi mob desecrating and hanging the bodies of four American private commandos on March 31st in Fallujah? It is the hatred and inhumanity of the people doing it.

Whereas one can find a mob and a terrorist behaving inhumanly, the same cannot be expected of soldiers of an organized, trained army like that of the United States. Considering that these cases are not isolated but instances of systemic abuse as the International Red Cross puts it, one must ask why did soldiers do it? Why did only one or two complain about it? Why did our military leaders and political leadership tolerate it?

Soldiers are neither perfect people nor robotic machines. They are a part of our society. Their minds are set by the same media as that of civilians. They are just as likely to be influenced by Hollywood, where Arabs and Muslims are almost always the villains, and where talk show hosts can issue advisories to "kill all Muslims" and "bomb Mecca" and get away with it. Although soldiers are professionals who are expected to behave in better ways, they are also subject to the same hate waves against Islam and Muslims as other citizens.

General William Boykin, head of military intelligence and an evangelical Christian himself, has publicly given anti-Muslim speeches while in uniform. Reuters now reports that his "recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners." According to General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the prison system in Iraq, all Iraqi prisons were under the effective control of the US military intelligence when the abuse occurred, and the job of the military police was redefined to assist in interrogations through this torturous process.

According to Reuters two of the returning soldiers from the 870th MP unit, Sgt. Mike Sindar and military policeman Ramon Leal, brought to light the anger and racism against Iraqi prisoners. Hooded prisoners had racial taunts written on their hoods such as "camel jockey." Sindar and Leal also mentioned that "a lot of people had so much pent-up anger, so much aggression" towards the prisoners that abuse was very common.

The same anti-Muslim sentiments found their place on the slurs soldiers wrote on rockets and cruise missiles before launched on Iraqi targets last year, photos of which were proudly published by newspapers across America.

One tragic example of how anti-Muslim hysteria is affecting life in the military is the case of Captain James Yee. Fellow officers were the ones who accused the now fully exonerated Yee, a Chinese-American Muslim Army Chaplain. All headlines in America screamed in unison about him being a spy and a traitor. He was put in solitary confinement. After all the media frenzy and bad name for Muslims as a result of this case, he was ultimately cleared of all charges and given his job back at Fort Lewis. Yee was a victim of an atmosphere of Islamophobia in which no Muslim is trusted even if he is a West Point graduate.

Unfortunately, dehumanization of the enemy is part of the game in war. But the question is, how can we create hate and then tell people not to behave accordingly?

Demonization of Muslims is feeding the hatred

A potent mix of three specific factors have fomented this demonization of Muslims: government actions, irresponsible media, and the hate speech of some national leaders.

Public Policy and Government Action:

The first factor--government action--has done a great deal to undermine the self-confidence of Muslims. Arrests, special registration, police raids, FBI interrogations, profiling at airports, and secret evidence have left Muslims, particularly men, feeling insecure and even paranoid.

The now infamous PATRIOT act begins by praising the heroism of Pak-American Muslim Salman Hamdani. Hamdani died on September 11, 2001 after helping victims at ground zero. Ironically, the act which praises this Muslim's heroism has resulted in the devastation of Pakistani-American neighborhoods in Brooklyn, New York. 

Although widespread discrimination against Muslims and brown-skinned people in America is coming from the general population as well, most of the egregious problems today stem from the actions of the US Justice Department.

Dick Armey, a Republican conservative and a former House majority leader, said it best: "The Justice Department...seems to be running amok....This agency right now is the biggest threat to personal liberty in the country." Despite this assessment, few Americans are aware of the department's misdeeds.

Because of government secrecy, the full extent to which people have been affected must be extrapolated from media accounts and from projections based on available government reports. Even according to US government statistics, policies targeting Muslims in the US have resulted in affecting 212,638 Muslims in the country through arrests, interrogations, deportation, etc.

The implementation of a policy in which FBI raids are conducted with the presence of television cameras while the exoneration of the accused is hardly covered creates a sort of official confirmation of existing stereotypes. While only a handful of those 212,638 Muslims investigated or raided  by FBI were found to have any links to terrorism, the image it created in the mind of America is: "yes-they are terrorists."

Hate Speech by Opinion Makers:

The second factor that has helped create and sustain fear is the frequent and public hateful speeches of public figures and leaders close to the Bush administration. Since 9/11, President Bush has consistently said that Islam is a religion of peace and warned against anti-Muslim prejudice. However, one of his close personal advisors and an influential public figure, Rev. Franklin Graham, called Islam a "very wicked and evil" religion. Daniel Pipes, President Bush's appointee to the United States Institute of Peace, a federal agency that gives grants and hosts scholars, suggests that mosques in America are breeding grounds for militants. US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, has gone so far as to compare his God to the God of Muslims negatively.

President Bush has continued to say that Muslims are good people and that Islam is peaceful, but he has also continued to coddle and patronize those who are outspoken about their dislike, and in many cases hatred, of Islam and Muslims. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jerry Vines, are all high-profile men in America and all have had extremely destructive things to say about Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, these are also men of influence who have a huge sway with Americans, especially Christians.

Irresponsible Media:

The third factor responsible for the demonization of Muslims is irresponsible media. While the mainstream media's reporting has essentially failed to generate any sustained debate on the Bush administration's policies until the latest prisoner abuse scandal, national opinion makers, through their 'talk radio' and syndicated columns, regularly throw up poisonous and ignorant commentary. "Language that would get people fired if applied to blacks or Jews now passes without comment when used against Arabs and Muslims"  In the wake of 9/11, syndicated columnist Ann Coulter wrote America "should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Coulter also called for the "mass deportation of Muslims." William Lind, with the Free Congress Foundation said, "Islamics [sic] cannot fit.....They are a fifth column in this country."

The neo-conservative media has built upon a heritage of persistent and prolonged vilification of Arab peoples in mainstream Western movies. There are more than 100 Hollywood films depicting Arabs and Muslims in a sub-human way.  According to the media advocacy group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting),  over 1,000 talk shows have been contributing day and night to this Islamophobia, which has not only demonized Muslim-Americans, but has rendered them suspects instead of assets in this war against terrorism.

It seems that the war on terrorism has issued a license of hate against Muslims. All sorts of generalizations, cultural constructions, and racial and religious prejudices are being allowed by the mainstream media when it comes to Muslims and Arabs.

The Impact of the Dehumanization campaign:

This systemic hate propaganda has resulted in a constant increase in the dislike of Islam in America. A January 2002 poll showed that some 24 percent of Americans had a negative view of Islam and Muslims. By October, that number had risen to 33%. The most recent PEW Foundation survey found that the number as of July 2003 was 44%.The number of Americans who think this way is increasing as the 'war on terror' continues.

Neighbors are Affected by this environment:

According to the Inspector General of the US Justice Department, 28 percent of all innocent people arrested after 9/11 were reported on by their neighbors. They lost their liberties and in some cases jobs and lives, just because of the way they looked and their faith. While all suffered, none of these 9/11 detainees were charged with anything related to terrorism.

According to a Zogby Survey,  75 percent of Muslims reported that they themselves or someone they knew had been a subject of harassment and discrimination in post-9/11 America.

Muslim visitors to the US suffer daily humiliation by our immigration officers at the airport. Even returning citizens are at times detained for hours before being let go without an apology and explanation. The case of Yemeni Muslim guests invited by the US State Department who suffered humiliation at the airport recently came into the limelight. The Pakistani general who is commanding the Pakistani forces fighting Al-Qaida was humiliated when visiting the US at the invitation of our armed forces. It seems we have lost all notions of hospitality. Even President Bush's own Arab-American security agent suffered from this type of humiliation.

Although the media reporting of hate crimes against Muslims in the US media have gone down, hate crimes have gone up 70 percent in the last year, according to the Council on American Muslim Relations (CAIR), the highest number of Muslim civil rights cases ever recorded by the Washington-based group.

Conclusion:

Court-martialing some soldiers, reprimanding some generals, and apologizing to Iraqi victims are all good steps in dealing with the moral crisis that we are facing as a nation. But we must begin to address the root causes that are resulting in wrong policies and actions at home and abroad.

As an American, I request fellow citizens to embark upon a national soul searching mission about our Islamophobia. While we are asking others why do they hate us, we must ask ourselves why do we hate them. Learn the truth, free our Muslims, and check our hate-mongers.

As a Muslim, I must admit with full humbleness and sadness that many Muslims have stopped being the just people they used to be during our heyday. Although most Muslims do not associate with the killing of civilians and brutality, our moral outrage is not reaching the ears of the world. Treating one's enemy inhumanly and brutally is in complete violation of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings and engaging in such despicable behavior denies the moral ground that the perpetrators' causes may deserve. 

Although I have no sympathy with them, they do undermine my ability as a Muslim to share with America the ideals that Muslims are asked to uphold by God.

"You who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear God. For God is well-aware of all that you do." [Quran 5:8]


Your Comments

Margolis, Chicago - wrote on 11/21/2005 12:00:15 PM
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Comment: To Mr. Taveli: Wow, I feel really sorry for you. Although you admit it's wrong to blame Islam, you are blinded by your own laziness and ignorance. You've taken the easy way out as most people do by not thinking critically about the issue at hand and digging deeper. I guess that's typical of most people today who live in their own little world, satisfied with their own biases and prejudices. Ridding the world of Islam will not solve the problems in the Middle East or elsewhere. While religion is one factor, politics, istory, human rights violations and more are also part of the situation's complexity. I guess that's too difficult for people like yourself to understand, since you are so satisfied with your prejudices, but that's the truth. And yes, the truth if often hard to swallow, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true, even if we don't like it.


Fotu Tauveli, Missouri - wrote on 7/17/2005 8:00:57 PM
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Comment: ..great article but typical of writers with an agenda. We try to put the blame of our actions as someone else's fault then convinced our comrades to behave. The damaged is already done before one gets to the conclusion..at least that is what I am getting from this article. War in the middle east is nothing new and I was hoping it just stays out there instead of spreading out to other nations. I know its not fair to blame Islam but that is what I see and read about everyday. I wonder what would this world be like without it? wonderful is the only words that come to mind...is my biased deduction


Jamie, Natick, MA - wrote on 5/19/2005 5:12:58 PM
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Comment: Assalaamu alaikum. This article was well researched and eloquently written. As an American born Muslim, it breaks my heart to see the country that I love and call my own turn and abuse people of my faith. Thank you for helping us to pinpoint some of the catalysts in this Hate Movement so that we know where the healing needs to begin. May Allah protect us and guide us.


SHABNAM CHAKA, LEICESTER, ENGLAND - wrote on 5/19/2005 5:38:07 AM
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Comment: this is so tru, but if we want the islamophobia to decrease then we should represent islam in a positive way , we shud not act unjustly towards anyone. just by being muslims we need to set an example and show ppl what islam is really about instead of telling ppl. we shud show the world the light beauty of islam , the religion of total peace and harmony, the perfect religion free from flaws and faults, perfect in every way.


Maryam Arinola Alege, Lagos, Nigeria - wrote on 5/13/2005 6:33:52 AM
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Comment: This is minding blowing and calls for sober reflection. The question that should be on every mind is"if they hate us, WHY and if we hate them, WHY" Remember Qurán 49 Verse 13 which says "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Ma Salaam.


Barbara, California - wrote on 5/11/2005 10:45:16 PM
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Comment: All the injustices sadden me. I was watching a religious program last Sunday here in California and Pastor something or other, I forgot his name, came on blaspheming the Islam. I was shocked and very hurt and wrote the station of my indignation. True, there is no perfect society and there are extremists in all sectors. I just don't understand how people cannot have compassion and acceptance for one another--no matter what their religion, race or culture. And if anyone is going to take it upon themselves to judge another, to think twice before doing so. Here in L.A. County we have all nationalities, foods, and religions and everybody works well together. I don't know how it is in their homes. But personally, I relish the differences and am very interested in everybody elses customs and religions. Now I wonder when these extremists will start attacking other religions such as Budda, etc. But I still think that the majority of the people are good all over, and it's a shame everybody has to pay for what their ambitious politicians and extremists do--considering they have the power to sway the multitudes and that they don't pray for guidance and wisdom before they open their mouths.


Mohammad Ishiyaku, Charlottesville - wrote on 5/11/2005 2:57:09 PM
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Comment: I totally agree with you Abdul Malik. Muslims have unfortunately allowed miscreants to lead. Our global noncharlant attitude towards calling people of other faith, through good neighbourliness, good conduct and care for others, irrespective of their believe, as taught and practiced by the holy prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); to this beautiful religion brought us to this disrespectful position. Our leaders even now are busy bringing more poverty, hardship and dishonour to their own citizen. Who do you expect to listen to us when we virtually dont have any evidence of practical positivity to do good for ourselves not to talk of others that we share the world with. Let us do more in making others to appreciate Islam as a practically peaceful and progressive way of life wherever we may be. These unfortunate treatments meted to muslims in some places is transient. However, only a rapid change in the mentality of muslims about what islam is, will hasten the change of attitude to us by the rest of the world. The verse quoted from the holy Quran by Malik said it all.


sami, australia - wrote on 9/3/2004 12:38:21 AM
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Comment: its a nice article


nusrat ahmed, salt lake city - wrote on 6/2/2004 12:03:22 PM
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Comment: Iexperience pain in my heart about discrimination,because i choose this country to live on the basis of freedom for all,equal rights and the basis America flourished,but this picture is tarnished.But we all live on hope and survive with our strength.we also believe to do good no matter how the circumstances be hard.we should not be victoms but we have the obligation to teach and educate people about Islam.The true meaning have been losrt because of our own deeds,we never educted other people.Muslim Jamats come frome all over the World but they come and reside for few weeks go to the muslim communities to teach them read salat and Quran,the valuable time is wasted,we in America most of us try to live our lives within boundries of Islam,we do not care about their teachings because we have plenty of basic knoledge available .These Tabligi Jamats should be trained to lead the world,they should learn the language of the country they are going to,We are loosing grounds because we never were strong to face these things.We living in Pakistan were never taught arabic language to read Quran meaningfully.We followed british curriculam,and we always followed western life felt proud to speak english and feel ashamed to speak our language in our own country.The blame goes to our leaders,firast adult generation of Pakistan is not able to lead their own country.Ithink briefly this war "IS AN EYE OPENER".My opinion is that every muslim should get highiest education and be vocal so that world should know about" Islam" not Alqaida.


Maria, Australia - wrote on 5/29/2004 9:36:10 PM
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Comment: Your article good, I think the MAIN thing to be realized is that we are ALL human being created by ALLAH and that the only way we can resist this prejudice against us is by being the BEST human beings possible, showing others that a TRUE Muslim is kind, pious, peaceful and friendly. It is by spreading our kindness that we can make people realize that being Muslim does not equal being a terrorist or being violent. Muslims living all over the world, my message to you is to embrace humanity and not confine yourself into becoming friends with only one particular race, religion..etc. We need to become open-minded, embrace humanity and show people what being a TRUE Muslim really MEANS.


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