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TRNN Replay: Religious diversity versus “The clash of civilizations” paradigm Pt.4

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi. Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington. And now joining us from Izmit, Turkey, is Sener Akturk. He’s a political scientist and a fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, lectures at the Department of Government, both at Harvard University. And coming from Berkeley, California, is Mujeeb Khan. He’s affiliated with the doctoral program in political science at the University of California Berkeley. He wrote a chapter in the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy. So, Mujeeb, finally, we’re talking about the Fort Hood incident; we’re talking about the rise of anti-Muslim campaigns in Europe and the United States. Talk about why all this should matter to an ordinary American.

MUJEEB KHAN, UC BERKELEY: What is being promoted here—and this has been going on since, as I mentioned, long before 9/11, is this clash-of-civilizations paradigm. And the danger with this is that both—all societies are, to a great extent, and, you know, particularly here in the United States, religiously, ethnically, racially diverse. And so what’s disturbing is first we’re seeing in Europe groups that were marginalized as being neofascist, racist, and out of the mainstream like the British National Party, the National Front in France, the Swiss and Danish People’s parties or the Vlaams Belang, Flemish the party in Belgium, becoming mainstream. And the way they’ve done this is in the past they used to be overtly anti-Semitic, but now they’ve distanced themselves from that, at least at the surface level. Instead they’ve replaced that with this viciously anti-Muslim rhetoric, which is seen as more acceptable. But the danger is that, you know, they use that as a wedge and use this kind of anti-Muslim bigotry which finds resonance in outlets, mainstream sort of media outlets like we have with Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation and its counterparts in Europe. And then what happens is that it spreads to other groups. Once you can target Muslims and express, you know, in a very generalized, broad-brushed way, anti-Muslim bigotry, it doesn’t take long for it to be extended towards African immigrants, for example—and we saw the recent conflict in Italy taking place—or against Jews or any other group. And similarly in the United States we’ve been sensitive about making broad-based racial, bigoted racial or religious comments, except when it comes to Muslims—that has been acceptable. Like I said, you know, Representative Peter King and his comment that there are too many mosques in this country. But we see that on Fox News, we see it on the radio with Michael Savage and Sean Hannity in these types of shows, where they get away with expressing this kind of bigotry, and then it becomes part of the political process as well. And the danger with that is is that once you make that kind of bigotry kosher for one particular group, it will spread to other groups. So, you know, Muslims were targeted in this way in a very broad-brushed away. The use of “Muslim” as a slur during the Obama campaign, for example. And it was only until Colin Powell came and said, you know, even if he wasn’t Muslim, what’s wrong with that? You know, then that’s a quarter of the world’s population. What are you saying here? That went on for a very long time. And it’s no coincidence that, you know, Hispanic Americans were targeted shortly after that by Lou Dobbs and many other media outlets, what they were seeing as an alien invasion of the United States. There was this, you know, terrible hysteria extended against them. And so that’s the danger is that once this kind of bigotry goes mainstream, it doesn’t just stop [inaudible]

JAY: Sener, in Europe the more overt anti-Muslim campaign is exactly that, more overt than it is in the United States, in the sense it’s gone more mainstream. In the sort of official position, even over Fort Hood, you had the Army and the White House. And the same thing under the Bush administration. Even after 9/11, there seemed to be a certain amount of effort to try to differentiate al-Qaeda attackers from American Muslims. In Europe this anti-Muslim campaign is at a more advanced state. So talk a bit about to what extent has that spilled over into a kind of wider suppression of political dissent, ‘ause in the United States there’s been this merging of this anti-Muslim rhetoric with antiterrorism rhetoric, and then if you’re—then you can get [inaudible] to being soft on terrorism, and then we’re back into McCarthyism.

SENER AKTURK, DAVIS CENTER FOR RUSSIAN AND EURASIAN STUDIES: In many ways I think the cost of anti-Muslim rhetoric has been extraordinarily high for the average American as well, and that cost has been both economic and political. Economically, without the anti-Islamic subtext, which wasn’t so explicit but which was felt throughout, United States would perhaps have harder time justifying the war in Iraq. Yes, it was justified on the basis of weapons of mass instruction which were never found, but there was always the subtext, especially in right-wing of the Republican Party and right-wing media outlets, that there’s something wrong with Islam and its connection, it’s presumed connection with violence and terrorism and everything evil. And surely the Iraq War and eight years of Bush administration has cost average American billions of dollars, eroded $1 trillion surplus that Bill Clinton left, and contributed to the largest decline of American power globally.

JAY: Finally, Mujeeb, what responsibility or what should American, North American Muslims be doing in terms of profile of North American Muslims? And let me just add to that: to what extent do you think there’s a problem that Muslims in America so want to be part of the official narrative here, and only really raise the issue of the critique—I’m talking—broadly speaking—of course there’s many who don’t, but broadly speaking, they raise their critique when it affects Muslims, the same way many Jews only raise issues if it affects Jews. But to what extent is so wanting to assimilate into the official narrative playing into it?

KHAN: That’s true to an extent. I mean, a lot of professional Muslim
organizations, largely immigrants, people who are immigrants during
the Gore-Bush elections, voted for George W. Bush, and that created a
lot of rifts in the Muslim community with African-American Muslims and
others [inaudible] based on socioeconomic lines. But they came to
regret that greatly when Bush went back on his promises of, you know,
ending racial profiling and other sort of things or being more
balanced in his approach. So I think, you know, that was a lesson the
American Muslim community learned, and the lesson is we need to really
stand up for everybody’s rights, whether it’s racial, religious
minorities, or even the gay community in the United States. I
think there’s another aspect to this, which is that American Muslims
can serve a very important role in promoting democracy and human
rights in the Muslim world itself, and it’s the lack of those, of
democracy, respect for human rights, and equitable use of resources
which is really at the base of fueling the sorts of militancy and
conflict we’re seeing in the region. Now, what’s unfortunate is the
United States has long supported those conditions, those negative
sorts of structural conditions, in the support of royal families, for
example, in the support of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian
territories, rather than pushing for a just two-state solution.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Sener. Thanks, you, for joining us, Mujeeb. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network

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Sener Akturk is a political scientist and fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, lectures at the Department of Government, both at Harvard University. .

Mujeeb Khan is affiliated with the doctoral program in political science at the University of California Berkeley. He wrote a chapter in the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy..