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Having dark skin makes one a Muslim in tea-bagger land.
A new poll shows that 1 in 5 Americans think that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. A Puerto Rican man cannot walk through a crowd of anti-mosque protesters without people questioning his religion and place in society. Much like the President of the United States, he is also automatically castigated as a foreigner due to the color of his skin.
The “mosque” on “Ground Zero” controversy is another round of theatrics from the tea-baggers, and like all their theatrics, this one is also full of exaggerations. Simply put, they are protesting a proposal that aims to build a cultural center designed to promote interfaith relations a few minutes away from the site of the 9-11 tragedy. But from the loud bellowing of protesters, one would think that a gigantic mosque the size of the Empire State building is being built on the graves of 9-11 victims from taxpayer money. No, the issue is rather dull and blown out of proportion.
Critics say that the debate over the building of a mosque is a distraction from the more important 9-11 First Responders health care bill that was killed by the GOP. But the issue is not a distraction. The hatred displayed by the anti-Muslim protesters stems from the same conditions that allow a majority of Americans to support racial profiling in Arizona and compels the GOP to use the issue of birthright citizenship as an electoral device: a fear of the Other.
America is undergoing a period of great recession and present unstable conditions allow demagogues to exploit socially divisive issues for political means. African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims are some of the chosen bogeymen “Others” during this era of hate. In the “Ground Zero mosque” narrative, the mosque represents a provocation much like the hijab: it stands for “global Islamic terrorism” and it need not make any sense. On one hand, bigotry on full display in broad daylight is both painful and scary for many people. On the other hand, it tells us that a post-racial America is a fictional entity and we have a long way to go when it comes to matters of race.
For the sake of argument, if the perpetrators of 9-11 did indeed hate us for our freedoms as has been purported time and again, then we are losing a war supposedly waged to preserve those very freedoms? We are losing the freedoms enshrined in the United States constitution and the winner is not a foreign enemy combatant. The winner is the American Taliban.
This isn’t particularly surprising.
American civil liberties get massacred during such crises. Instead of calling Major Hasan an ‘alleged’ shooter till he is confirmed guilty by a court of law (Fifth Amendment), speculators have already gone judge, jury and executioner on him.
What’s despicable is that allegations of Islamic terrorism are already in the media spin and public discourse over this gruesome incident. The mainstream media wasted no time in linking a minority religion to a mass murder simply due to our preconceived notions of who commits ‘terrorism’ or ‘jihad’ for that matter. As a response to this unjust heterogenous racial interpellation, Muslim organizations were quick to come out and condemn the attacks. As a response to backlash, many will back away from the interpellation (I am not a Muslim) rather than condemn all violence.
United States national identity has always predicated on a phantasmic threat of an internal or external Other, from indigenous peoples to slaves to USSR during the Cold War to immigrants and anyone that can be marked with an old Orientalist trope. Often, labels create a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces a bi-polar world-view. The case of Major Hasan might just be one of those self-fulfilling prophecies hidden beneath moral panic.