Published in the Florida Times Union, November 16, 2007
Given their divergent views on issues from abortion to same-sex unions, televangelist Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani makes them the quintessential odd couple.
One area in which they have discovered a convergence of interests is fighting “Islamic terrorism,” echoing Giuliani's longstanding description of the war on terror as a war on "radical Islamic fascism." This belligerence reverberates in conservative activist Gary Bauer’s characterization of the fight against “radical Islam” as a major “family value” that tops the new Conservative agenda. Christian leader Charles Colson describes “Islamofascism” as the “long war” while James Dobson exhorts his fellow faithful to “wake up” for the fight against “militant Islam.” For Giuliani and these conservative leaders, the point of emphasis is on Islam, not terror.
Thus exempt from their “war on terror” are groups like the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda, which commits terrorism in the name of Christianity and Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, a Hindu-Marxist group, which remains one of the worst perpetrators of suicide bombings. This new battle cry seeks to exploit pre-existing fears of Islam.
Nearly 4 in 10 Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims, and 70 percent say that Islam has nothing in common with their faith. Among self identified Conservatives, such trends are generally worse. Pat Robertson is the latest in a long line of Team Rudy fans who are distinguished by their disdain for Muslims.
New York Congressman Peter King, an advisor to Giuliani, complains that "unfortunately we have too many mosques in this country." Another Giuliani advisor, Daniel Pipes, questions the wisdom of allowing American Muslims to vote and views the "enfranchisement" of American Muslims as a threat to the Jewish community. In his hostility to Islam and Muslims, Robertson outshines them all. Robertson has railed against many groups that he views as “un-Christian,” but he has always managed to save his harshest invective for Muslims.
He has called Muslims "satanic," claimed the Quran is "fraudulent" and said Islam is "a monumental scam." Robertson also called the Prophet Muhammad "an absolute wild-eyed fanatic, a robber and a brigand...a killer." Politics has always been a theatre of the absurd. However, the injection of Islamophobic rhetoric into presidential campaigns is not mere rhetoric, as it solidifies the specter of a self-defeating clash between civilizations.
People like Giuliani, who insist on conflating Islam with terrorism and fascism, care not about the linguistic absurdity of such combinations. “Islam” is an Arabic word while “terrorism” and "fascism" are English words rooted in the European, not Islamic, experience. Alas Giuliani is not alone in his attacks. Other Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have followed his lead. Mitt Romney went a step further and ran television advertisements citing “jihadism” as "this century's nightmare.”
Along with the sheer naiveté of such views, a more fundamental question is - what do Arabic words like “jihad” or “Islam” mean when combined with English suffixes like ‘-ist’ or ‘-ism’?
Muslims understand “Islam” and “jihad” to mean “peace” and “striving” respectively. But words like Islam-ist, Islam-ism, jihad-ist or jihad-ism lack uniform definition and appear to most Muslims as essentially the rhetorical equivalent of Islam.
It is thus not coincidental that today almost 8 in 10 Muslims worldwide perceive the war on terror to be a war against their faith of Islam. Such perceptions, by most expert accounts, cannot make America safer. As such, those actions or policies that lead to these perceptions cannot reasonably be accepted as either promoting “family values” or America’s security.
Ironically, those promoting the use of "Islamic terrorism" side with terrorists if it suits their agenda. They remain silent while the U.S. military permits the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist organization, to keep safe harbor in Northern Iraq from where they launch terror attacks against Turkey.
They find no double standards in Bush administration’s tacit support of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a State Department designated terrorist group, which conducts terror attacks against Iran from their bases in Iraq. The “family value” champions often speak about a culture of life and yet remain silent about the Iraq war, which has left hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, more than two million homeless, more than three thousand dead American soldiers and countless others injured.
How can they keep supporting a war that was initiated on deceptions and lies? Lying and deception that leads to loss of countless innocent lives is not a value that most Americans seek. Opposition to the Iraq war is at an all time high and most Americans do not approve of further military actions against Iran. As the election season heats up, the politicization of the “war on terror” will unfortunately intensify. In this new political game, Islam will be made a scapegoat to rally voters through evoking fear and paranoia.
Muslims will be divided into those who are “with us” (good Muslims) and those who are “against us” (bad Muslims).The “good Muslims,” no matter how undemocratic or oppressive, will be touted as our “Westernized” and “secularized” friends. The “bad Muslims,” even if popular and representative of their own people, will be marginalized as “fanatical” and “radical.” American Muslims long for the day when their faith is no longer the object of such machinations by our political leaders or targeted by the spurious religious interpretations of those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam.
Speaking out against these promoters of a clash between civilizations will be a value worth fighting for.
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