United States of Islamophobia

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Sophie Mize March 7th, 2019 Honors English IV 4th Period American Islamophobia and Genocide Hatred is a learned behavior, and more than a behavior, it is used as a tool in times of turmoil. Historically, this hatred leads to divisions in society and an inevitable widespread violence. The method of dispersion and implantation of ideals varies, from the identification system and propaganda slander of the Tutsi by the Hutus, to the current brainwashing against those to fail to acknowledge Kim-Jong-un as Supreme Leader of the Republic of Korea, to WWII and the Nazi Party’s systematic genocide of the Jewish people. The population victims are often chosen at a young age, taught how to hate the ‘others’, and equipped with the tools to do harm to them once the time comes.

The United States of America has often been thought invulnerable to this method of attack, not with the rampant liberal media and lack of restraints on reporting. But with the rise of ‘fake news’ and the divisive political parties, propaganda has begun to look familiar. The ‘counter terrorism’ efforts and related propaganda and conviction against Muslim people in the USA today holds an eerie number of parallels to historical genocides. First, in order to examine more closely the parallels, definitions must be established. Genocide has been defined and redefined countless times by many different organizations. However, for the purpose of this paper, that of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a United Nations convention, will be used, detailing several different acts, all of them having in common the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group” (Alispahic 7). Focus should be directed towards a specific one of those acts, “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (Alispahic 7). The lead-up to this process is heavily dependent on propaganda, in order to convince the masses to help inflict these conditions; often, the propaganda is a part of these conditions. In relation to terrorism and counter terrorism, the definitions are loose for both of them. UNODC points out that this is possibly due to the fact that leaving terrorism officially undefined “facilitate[s] the politicization and misuse of the term “terrorism” to curb non-terrorist” actions, which can allow states to violate citizen rights under the guise of “counter-terrorism efforts”. This is a key point to understanding the relationship between terrorism and genocide; in its very definition (or lack of), lies propaganda and familiar pre-genocide acts as states attempt to warp perceptions to fit their needs.

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The United States itself, the topic of focus, has different definitions of terrorism within different departments. The FBI’s focuses more on the consequences and legal qualifiers that make something ‘terrorism’ (FBI), while the US State Department defines it as, “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” (STATE DEPT.). Neither detail extensively the American civil liberties that may or may not be broken in attempting to enact counter terrorism. Having a definition hasn’t seemed to help much in the USA, as heated political divides have led many to use ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ to describe broad groups of people and actions that don’t actually apply. After the September 11th attacks, these accusations typically fall upon people of Middle Eastern descent, and/or Muslims. “Boko Haram — not the Islamic State — is the world’s deadliest terrorist group” (Attiah). The fact that Attiah has to state this fact in her article illustrates the exaggerated and hive-minded viewpoints of a mass of Americans towards the Islamic State itself. New America demonstrates the relationship between worldwide terrorist incidents and the subsequent dramatic rise in anti-Islamic attacks in the United States of America, including hate crimes and Anti-Sharia legislature (?); the word ‘terrorist’ is now permanently intertwined with ‘Muslim’ in the American eye, and violence has already been sparked because of it.

This is in most part because of propaganda and slander against Muslim groups. It’s often subtle; rather than coming in the form of political cartoons or outright statements, media (and often right-wing media) presents facts in a skewed manner. In a study done by blank blank blank, it was found that “attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks” (SSRN). Islam and Muslims are highlighted in militaristic, violent views, rather than focusing on other aspects, or leaving the groups out of media at all. Outside of news outlets, Muslims are often presented in fiction as “brute murderers, sleazy rapists, religious fanatics, oil-rich dimwits and abusers of women” (Jack Shaheen). Racial radicalization and stereotypes are not new to the United States, but the influx of anti-Islamic sentiments and Islamophobia is strongly correlated with global terrorist attacks and the rise of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Fear-mongering like this has real world applications that don’t revolve just around violence; in 2016, four men claim to have been kicked off of a flight for their appearances, presumably because they are Muslim (Carrega-Woodby). Through showing only the negative sides of Islam and inflating these negatives disproportionately, America vilifies a diverse and a-racial religion. And in doing so, gives Americans a sort of ‘free-pass’ for expressing hatred and distrust themselves. Film is a key characteristic, one such example being a seemingly innocuous movie, “Back to the Future” (1985), which, as pointed out by Considine, depicts ambiguously Middle-Eastern villains who senselessly gun down their enemies while shouting in Arabic (title?).

Introducing a people as a recognizable evil creates an inherency for the evil; when a ‘visibly Muslim/Arabian/Middle-Eastern’ character appears on screen, the audience expects their role to be that of the antagonist. Another pointed example is that of the film “Iron Man” (2008). The comic version of the character first appears in the issue “Tales of Suspense #39” (March 1963), having been kidnapped in the jungles of Vietnam (with whom the United States was at war with at the time). However, the movie, having come out after the September 11th attacks, features a kidnapping in Afghanistan and an amalgamation of ‘Middle-Eastern’ villians in a generic, faux terrorist group, ‘The Ten Rings’. This substitution is not a coincidence, but a pointed reflection on who the ‘stereotypical enemy’ of the United States is at the time of the character’s existence. In this trend, the media and nation have created “visible archetypes” (the PDF) for Muslims, something not uncommon with early steps to genocide. Which introduces a key factor: historical comparisons. Perhaps the most relevant at this time to the above example of “visible archetypes” is that of a 1942 Nazi propaganda comic in which “a stereotyped Jew conspires behind the scenes to control the Allied powers, represented by the British, American, and Soviet flags” (Holocaust Encyclopedia).

In current politics, where Islamic groups that truly do seek to terrorize and politically control the world (such as ISIL) are confused for an entire religion of peaceful citizens, the comic is a fitting comparison. Film is mentioned above, and serves as a key component in the spread of set viewpoints towards groups of people and religions. Just as today Muslims in media are recognizable by visible, general characteristics, and set as villains, so did the Nazis portray the Jewish people in similar mediums. They focused on “the intrinsic evil of the enemies as defined by Nazi ideology” (Nazi Encyclopedia), ‘intrinsic’ being the keyword in common. There are a multitude of American free-speech radio stations, podcasts, and daytime television shows which renounce the Muslim faith and spout hateful slander towards Islamic people. In fact, a Republican lawmaker in Florida, Brian Mast, was caught in 2018 appearing on a self proclaimed “anti-Islamic” radio show (Bowden). Support for these types of shows has historically been present pre-Genocide, such is the case in the Rwandan Genocide, as Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said, “hate media organs in Rwanda — through their journalists, broadcasters and media executives — played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for genocide”. In this case, the referenced organizations increased the rates of violence in their areas exponentially (Maximino).

In doing so, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality is created, and even residents and citizens who feel no compulsion to one side must pick one in order to have a side at all. This is accomplished through the fact that “war propaganda is often labelled as ‘news’, manipulated to further separate agendas” (Hauschildt), as was also the case in Rwanda. In America, this divide not only falls into religious separations, not only racial separations, but also finds itself picking apart anti-Islamic people from ‘tolerant’ people in the form of difference of political party. Politics, as it turns out, plays one of the most important roles in propaganda and national ideologies. Entire campaigns are run on platforms surrounding religion and opinion towards ‘immigrants’, a word often used as a substitute for Muslims and targets immigration from Islamic nations. January 27th, 2017, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, enacted what is known as the ‘Muslim Ban’. The ban kept all Syrian refugees from immigrating to America, and prohibited immigrants from seven other predominantly Muslim nations from visiting or immigrating to America for ninety days (ACLU). The President has shown other actions in support of anti-Islamic groups, such as re-tweeting from a British hate group known for their harassment of Muslims, and inviting the head of Act for America, another Islamic hate group, into the White House for dinner (Beirich). Political moves such as these have a far-reaching impact on the culture of a nation and can sway large groups of people towards a certain opinion.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes have shown a 19% increase in 2016, according to the FBI Census, a rise that so happens to fall around the time of Trump’s campaign and subsequent presidency. They can also destabilize and divide a liberal media culture, although this could be seen as a positive facet, as pre-Genocidal incidents rarely involve such a high freedom of speech. But campaigning on the platform of thinly veiled hatred of an entire group of people is not unfamiliar to history and fits in well as a precursor to heinous acts. Political goals can be the entire foundation for genocides, as hatred and damaging racial/religious/ethnic propaganda can create conflict and draw attention to a platform. It allows those who already had misconceptions and prejudice against a certain group to come forward and express such under the guise of supporting a party or person. In addition, it rallies, turning words into violent action. Such as examples such as the Muslim Ban above, which is a not-so-subtle attempt at creating a certain American ethnic and religious profile, the Nazi Party also instigated similar behaviors. In fact, some of the sentiments were near-identical, as SPARTACUS says, in relation to the platform of the early Nazi Party, “Jews and other “aliens” would lose their rights of citizenship, and immigration of non-Germans should be brought to an end” (cite). Although the goal isn’t quite as blunt and clear, inspiration clearly hails from the exact same party. The all-clear signal from dominant political leaders and parties has lasting effects on a nation. And it is in part because the aims are nationalist.

Attempts to close off immigration such as this, and denouncements and subtle support of hate groups (see above) committed by leaders such as Trump, point to a certain sense of nationalism. This is often seen as a precursor to genocide itself. “In Rwanda, the preparations for genocide revolved around an extreme Hutu nationalist political bloc (scholarworks)”. This certainly isn’t a unique phenomenon. But perhaps the most worrying part of the building Islamophobia in the United States of America is not the visible instances, but the behind-the-scenes “counter-terrorism” movement. Not only does this government movement target peoples of a certain descent and religion, it sends out quiet messages through the above propaganda to facilitate and support their actions, while violating civil liberties and the privacy of American citizens. The institution is a relatively new one to the world, as a response to the technological advances of the ages, which enables both the terrorists and the nations to instigate and defend against attacks. These nations are given far too many liberties in fulfilling an agenda, in large part due to the above qualm over definitions; leaving ‘terrorism’ as an open-ended concept allows anyone to choose a correct response. Initially, there was open political support for the Muslim people in light of September 11th; President George W. Bush spoke of not blaming Islam for the terrorists who twisted it (cite?), but in the same breath, he brings about fear-mongering in an attempt to justify a new war and, though he may not have known it at the time, decades of internal invasion on the United States. The entire establishment of this propaganda, the lead-up, the parallels between words and actions and pre-genocidal instances of both, not only feed hatred into a willing population, but allows the government to act more freely where they see fit. When there’s a common and clear enemy, there’s a possibility to do the most in order to fight it.

“Terrorism is a support instrument in spreading fear among the population” (UN paper); the United States is creating its own form of domestic terrorism. And while the two concepts of terrorism and genocide might not be equatable, the UN paper also points out that, “terrorism precedes genocide.” And this goes in a multitude of ways. By rising to meet a political agenda with violence and war and prejudice, the political agenda of the opposing party is proven. Attiah summarizes it well, stating “The United States’ anti-terrorism agenda could actually be better served with R2P (Responsibility to Protect)’s focus on protecting populations, as opposed to our current kill-them-so-they-don’t-kill-us-here approach” (Attiah?). Creating an international example and standard of treating violence with peace rather than paralleling actual pre-Genocidal steps would foster better relations and help to prevent terrorism. Propaganda in media, reinforced stereotypes, and examples set through high-level politicians and major political parties can all establish a sense of prejudice in a population. It is this sense of prejudice, historically, which can eventually foster genocides such as the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide.

The United States of America ventures into dangerous territory as it exhibits some of these behaviors exactly. In labelling Muslims and ‘middle-eastern’ citizens and immigrants as ‘terrorists’, and in spreading hate and inflating facts about them, the public is labored with a harmful association between Islam and violence. This association can be used as political points in platforms, and it allows the government to perform acts that would have otherwise been deemed ‘too-far’. Genocide begins with hatred, it begins with stories and lies and the inspiration of fear in large groups of people. It begins by twisting the truth and acts through an overbearing government. And it always ends with irrevocable actions. The United States has the opportunity here to cease the agenda of the counter-terrorism movement. To set an international example and establish peace. The best way to prevent genocide is to study it. And the best way to end terrorism, to end any violence, is to stop the hateful conditions from which it arises; to become an educated, peaceful nation. To end the ‘war against terrorism’ and to begin the fight against the conditions under which it’s started.

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United States of Islamophobia. (2019, Jan 26). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/united-states-of-islamophobia/