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.
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.
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]
"Lynndie England handcuffs" by Spc. L. B. Edgar - Photo by Spc. L. B. Edgar, via . Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lynndie_England_handcuffs.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lynndie_England_handcuffs.jpg