Muslims have nothing to prove to America.
We Have Nothing to Prove to America
BY Yaman Salahi - Recent Articles from this Writer More
Monday, July 16, 2007
There is no doubt that Muslims and other minorities in America have faced varying degrees of discrimination and intimidation in recent years. We can even find evidence of this trend on our own campus. But Suhail Khan’s op-ed (“Islam’s True Nature Lost in Interpretation,” July 9) fails to identify what exactly is at stake with the rising anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-minority attitudes in this country and, in fact, only helps to perpetuate prevailing paradigms by making hackneyed and misguided arguments.
In the first place, Khan expends much effort trying to “prove” that Muslims are just as “American” as everybody else. He writes that “like their fellow Americans,” Muslims “live, work and serve” in our country, “pay taxes,” “(own) businesses,” and “serve in uniform.” To be sure, Khan is not the only Muslim to engage in this flawed strategy of making the Muslim American a mirror image of his white middle-class Protestant American counterpart. This has become cliche, as many Muslims scramble out of fear to show everything they have in common with a certain image of the American.
But why should immigrants and other minority populations follow these arbitrary standards in order to be accepted as co-citizens and neighbors who have equal rights to political speech and power in the first place? Khan argues that Muslims are just like other Americans and thus deserve to be accepted, when in fact he should be arguing that other Americans should accept Muslims and other minorities as they are.
This is something that immigrants and minorities of all backgrounds should bear in mind: why is it that when the American mainstream speaks about minorities and immigrants, we speak of their worth in terms of their willingness to be “diligent” or “hard-working,” as if they would otherwise not deserve the same respect as other humans, as well as equal access to political power and representation?
Khan also condemns “terrorism” and the perpetrators of September 11 ad-nauseum. His claim that “Muslim organizations and religious organizations have unequivocally condemned terrorism and violence time and time again” is true. Practically every Muslim organization in this country has gone to such measures, especially since September 11.
However, while Khan ascribes the failure of these condemnations to win the love and respect of other Americans to a lack of media coverage, the reason actually stems from the fact that those calling for condemnations, are not actually looking for condemnations at all.
What is being demanded today of Muslims and other minority and immigrant groups in our country is political subservience and silence.
Muslim organizations can issue fatwa after fatwa declaring terrorism an illegitimate form of violence, but until they renounce their right to organize politically along religious lines and stop criticizing the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other criminal activities conducted by the American government and its allies, they will never be accepted as they are.
Calls for these meaningless condemnations are a way to exclude informed and dissenting voices in the Muslim community from the political arena.
We should not be surprised that Khan’s column failed to make similar insights instead of engaging in trite discourse while opting to ignore the political implications of what we are witnessing today with regards to the Muslim American community. In its deceptively scant by-line describing him merely as a 1991 alumnus, the Daily Californian fails to note that Khan has spent his time since working for Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA), President Bush and other free market organizations like the Islamic Free Market Institute Foundation. In other words, the Muslim American who has found his way to the levers of power is precisely that one whose political ideology has not deviated from that of the powers that be. He has a voice because he has said nothing out of line.
It is no surprise that Khan frames the current political situation in the same simplistic way as the President: that of America versus the terrorists, of good versus evil. Given the way in which Khan decides to talk about why Muslims should be appreciated by other Americans, it is also no surprise that he misses the point about what today’s increasingly Islamophobic environment means for this country.
What we are witnessing with regards to the political marginalization and exclusion of the Muslim community is the death of pluralism and democracy. Only when we recognize that Muslims, in all their diversity, have just as much right to say what they believe and to have the political beliefs that they do as the rest of us, can we rest assured that we live in a truly open and democratic society.
Yaman Salahi is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.