Islamophobia, Close to Home

By Khaled A. Beydoun, author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear

Muslim Americans were intimately familiar with Islamophobia well before it became a cognizable term plastered on protest banners and echoed by media pundits. For Muslims, Islamophobia was central to their experience as American citizens or residents. It was manifested by the “random” checks at airports, the incessant stares while walking down the street, the presumption that they don’t speak English at the check out line, and the backlash that descended onto their communities after a terror attack. These experiences, and others, formed the core of the Muslim American experience after the 9/11 terror attacks and, most recently, the rise of Donald Trump, but also characterized the lives for numerous Muslim communities well before these transformative moments.

On April 27, 1995, roughly one week after the domestic terror attack remembered as the “Oklahoma City Bombing” and years before the term “Islamophobia” existed, the phenomenon hit close to home. My family lived in Detroit, right outside the densely Arab and Muslim populated community in East Dearborn, widely regarded as the symbolic hub of Muslim America, and for hate mongers then and today, an easy target. One of my mother’s friends, Zeinab, a middle-aged Lebanese woman that wore the hijab (headscarf), was shopping at a grocery store on Dearborn’s (then predominantly white) west side. It was the evening, and as she was walking to her car in the dimly lit parking let, sensed footsteps tracking her own. As she stopped to unpack her cart and place her groceries in her car, two teens pounced on her.

“They weren’t trying to rob me, like I thought,” she recounted in Arabic, “but were trying to pull my headscarf off of my head, they didn’t try to take my purse.” The teens called her “stupid A-rab,” a racist slur for Arab, and told her “to get out of our country,” although her and her three children were citizens, and had made Michigan their home many years ago. Yet, their message was clear, and manifested a core baseline of the phenomenon we understand as Islamophobia today: that Islam was unassimilable with American values and identity, and Muslims were presumed to be foreign, subversive and terrorists. It did not matter that the culprit of the Oklahoma City Bombing was a white man, Timothy McVeigh, and that roughly 63% of mass shootings since 1982 were commit by white men. The terrorist stereotype eclipsed these statistics, and drove the violent backlash Zeinab endured in that grocery store parking lot and the frightening uptick in anti-Muslim bigotry unfolding in America today.

Source: Mother Jones’ Investigation: US Mass Shootings, 1982-2017 (6/14/2017)

And the law followed suit. The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) was enacted because of the Oklahoma City Bombing. But instead of grappling with the white separatist element that conspired to commit that horrific terror attack, it fixated on Islam. This, before 1995 and indeed well after it, is the very dynamic that not only embeds Islamophobia, but also advances it. Instead of dismantling or disavowing stereotypes about Islam or Muslims, the law, most potently through the War on Terror policy and strategy, endorses and advances it. Therefore, although Islamophobia is today a widely known term as a consequence of 9/11 and the Trump Era, it has long prevailed as a phenomenon and system deeply inscribed into the law. Muslims living in America know this quite well.


Khaled A. Beydoun is Associate Professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. A critical race theorist and political commentator, his writing has been featured in top law journals, including the California Law Review, UCLA Law Review, and Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. He is also the 2017 winner of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination (ADC) Advocate of the Year Award.


Discussing Terrorism, After 9/11

It has been sixteen years since the Twin Towers collapsed, forever changing the physical and emotional landscape of those who call the United States their home, and those worldwide who stand in solidarity. Today, we remember those we’ve lost. But we also consider the changes that 9/11 has brought, such as it’s impact on democracy, and how we can remind future generations of students and people about what this day means.

Since 9/11, how have our discussions about terrorism, whether it be by individuals or groups, changed? And how do we view other people worldwide in light of what has happened since that day?

Below, we’ve included some recommended reading to help share the continuing conversation on terrorism and its impact on our global society. #neverforget #Sept11th #Remember911

The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 edited by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman

“Over its 109 years of existence, these historians [of this edited volume] and their colleagues argue, the Bureau has shaped American religious history through targeted investigations and religiously tinged rhetoric about national security.”—The Atlantic

Hear more about timely lessons for the FBI in the age of Trump. And read a sample chapter from the book.

Terror in the Mind of God, Fourth Edition: The Global Rise of Religious Violence by Mark Juergensmeyer. 

“Juergensmeyer’s work is a sensitive, comparative study of terrorist movements and the religious beliefs that motivate them.”—Washington Post

Read an excerpt regarding Burmese Buddhists and the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. And read a sample chapter from the book.

 

Constructions of Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Research and Policy edited by Michael Stohl, Richard Burchill, and Scott Howard Englund

“Counter-terrorism would be less counterproductive if policymakers would take heed of their advice.” —Alex P. Schmid, Research Fellow and Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague

And read the introduction from the book.

 

The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to ISIS, Updated Edition with a New Preface and Final Chapter edited by Gérard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin

“Provides a useful and levelheaded survey of a subject that is regularly misunderstood and often manipulated.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A recommendable book for sociologists, anthropologists and social scientists who are interested by these types of hot topics.”—International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies

Read a sample chapter from the book.

Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan by David B. Edwards 

“Such a beautifully written and imaginative work comes along rarely—at once a deeply felt personal memoir about the author’s anthropological encounters with Afghanistan and a highly original theory about suicide bombing as sacrifice.”—Steven C. Caton, Khalid Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Harvard University

Read a sample chapter from the book.

A Culture of Conspiracy, 2nd Edition: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America by Michael Barkun

“Ideas, even bizarre and marginalized ideas, do have consequences, and we ignore them at our peril. Barkun’s explorations, like the canary in the coal mine, warn us of what may lie ahead.”—Paul Boyer Christian Century

Read an interview with the author. And read an excerpt from the book.

 

The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays by Richard Taruskin

“This is one of the most important books about music you’ll read this year. . . . No one has bridged the gap between music scholarship and mainstream media as virtuosically as Taruskin.”—Tom Service The Guardian

Read a sample chapter from the book.


Burmese Buddhists and the Persecution of Rohingya Muslims

By Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, 4th Edition

In the past two weeks, at least 313,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, roughly a third of the Rohingya population living in the predominantly Buddhist country. As we seek to understand the Rohingya people’s situation—and why religious power has manifested into violence—we turn to Mark Juergensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind of God. In this excerpt from the chapter, “Buddhist Faces of Terror,” Juergensmeyer visits the monk Ashin Wirathu, who has been credited with inciting angry Buddhists in Myanmar to riot against the Muslim minority. The author has adapted this excerpt for the UC Press blog.


When I talked with Ashin Wirathu in his comfortable office in the Ma Soe Yein monastery in the central Burmese city of Mandalay he was prepared to defend himself against the terrorism label branded him by Time magazine and by many other journalists. Wirathu was blamed for fanning the flames of ethnic hatred. He is the most well-known spokesman for the “969 Movement”—named after the nine special attributes of the Buddha, the six distinctive features of his teachings, and the nine characteristics of monks—which was formed to defend the purity of Burmese Buddhist culture against its adulteration from outside influences, primarily Muslim. Hence it was widely regarded as an anti-Islamic hate movement.

“They are trying to transform Myanmar into a Muslim state,” Wirathu said. He claimed that this was the reason that he and the 969 Movement were trying to protect Burmese Buddhism from what he regarded as a program of cultural annihilation.

Representatives of the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, however, have seen this differently. They have identified Wirathu as one of the main figures in Myanmar’s pattern of human rights abuse against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya who live in the northern portion of Rakhine province adjacent to Bangladesh. Though the Rohingya people claim to have lived in the region for centuries, many Burmese regard them as aliens, and the most recent government census refused to let them identify themselves on the rolls as Rohingya rather than as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Wirathu has been outspoken in his insistence that the Rohingya are not legitimately native to the country but are interlopers.

In the years immediately following Burma’s establishment as an independent country in 1948 there was an effort to extend citizenship to all groups within the country. This was the vision of Aung San, the symbolic father of Burmese nationalism—and the actual father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize–winning activist whose party came to power in the 2015 elections. In the first years of independent Burmese rule, Rohingya were included as cabinet members of the government.

In 2012, however, tensions between Burmese and Rohingya in Rakhine state came to a boiling point. Burmese leaders claimed that the increase in the Muslim population would soon make them the majority, and riots ensued, with killings on both sides. This tension spread throughout the country in a spiral of anti-Muslim activism, fanned by the rhetorical of activists monks like Ashin Wirathu. The government responded to the anti-Muslim sentiment with a series of enactments that greatly restricted the rights of Rohingya within Myanmar, essentially making them citizens without a country. In 2015, some twenty-five thousand Rohingya set sail on crowded boats seeking asylum in surrounding countries. It is estimated that hundreds died attempted to set shore on Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

This dismissal of the rights of Rohingya in Myanmar is one of the things that has been criticized by the UN Human Rights Commission. According to Wirathu, rich Muslim countries have bought off the UN, and its human rights accusations were part of a Muslim plot. “It is not the United Nations,” Wirathu told me, “but the United Muslim Nations.” Wirathu claimed that U.S. President Barack Obama was also duped by these influences, and this is the reason why he spoke about the rights of Rohingya people in his visit to the country. From Wirathu’s perspective, however, it is not a matter of human rights but a battle for the cultural integrity of Myanmar. It is a war between good and evil, between Buddhist morality and the Muslim hordes he imagines to be poised to conquer Burma’s soul; and Wirathu would like to be its savior.


Mark Juergensmeyer is Professor of Sociology and Global Studies and Founding Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Terror in the Mind of God, now in its fourth edition, analyzes in detail terrorism related to almost all the world’s major religious traditions. Drawing from extensive personal interviews, Juergensmeyer takes readers into the mindset of those who perpetrate and support violence in the name of religion. Identifying patterns within these cultures of violence, he explains why and how religion and violence are linked and how acts of religious terrorism are undertaken not only for strategic reasons but to accomplish a symbolic purpose. Terror in the Mind of God continues to be an indispensible resource for students of religion and modern society.

Read a sample chapter or request an exam copy for your courses.


PBS documentary signals anew the pivotal character of 1995

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of 1995: The Year the Future Began

PBS is set to air on Tuesday an “American Experience” documentary about the deadliest spasm of home-grown terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

The program revisits a crime staggering in its cruelty. The bomber, a 27-year-old Army veteran of the Gulf War named Timothy McVeigh, parked a rental truck packed with explosives outside the Murrah federal building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He said he intended to punish the federal government for episodes like the fiery disaster two years before at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, site of a prolonged standoff with the FBI.

field-of-empty-chairs
The “field of empty chairs” outdoor memorial that occupies the site of the bombing.

On the Murrah building’s second floor, commanding a view of the street where McVeigh parked the truck, was a day-care center. Among the 168 people killed in the attack were 19 children, the youngest of whom was three-months-old.

McVeigh was executed for his crimes and his principal co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was sentenced to life in prison.

The forthcoming documentary offers more than reexamination of a wanton terrorist attack: Its airing reminds us of the enduring significance of a watershed year — the subject of 1995: The Year the Future Began, my 2015 book with University of California Press.

It is not difficult to encounter these days telling evidence of the pivotal character of 1995. The ugly 2016 presidential campaign was made uglier by Donald Trump’s periodic references to Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s clandestine affair, which nearly cost him his presidency, began in November 1995 during a partial shutdown of the federal government which, itself, became a source of lasting, bipartisan enmity in national politics.

Popular fascination still percolates about the 1995 O. J. Simpson double-murder trial — as suggested by two critically acclaimed cable series that aired last year on FX and ESPN. The programs, respectively, reenacted the case and revisited Simpson’s celebrated football career and subsequent misdeeds.

The programs were much-watched, suggesting that something in the national consciousness remains unresolved about the Simpson case. Although Simpson was acquitted of viciously killing his former wife and her friend, most Americans now believe he was guilty of the crimes.

An potent measure of lasting importance of any year lies in whether or how long its major events resonate. Clearly, the watershed moments of 1995 reverberate still.

The bombing at Oklahoma City was staggering in its toll, perplexing in its heartland setting, and done without warning. Those elements contributed to a vague but enduring sense of insecurity in America, and the bombing marked the onset of unexpectedly dangerous times.

Indeed, the bombing projected consequences that have been felt long afterward, notably in the rise of preemptive security measures that became ever tighter, and ever more conspicuous, after 1995.9780520273993

Oklahoma City was a wake-up call in domestic security. As I wrote in 1995, the bombing’s lasting consequences lie “not in awakening Americans to the deadly threat of domestic terrorism, nor in exposing vulnerabilities of American life. The epiphany was not of that sort. Rather … the bombing at Oklahoma City signaled the rise of a more guarded, more suspicious, more security-inclined America, of what can be called ‘a national psychology of fear.’”

Striking evidence of a preemptive, security-first mindset emerged soon after the bombing. Before dawn on May 20, 1995, authorities set up concrete barriers to detour vehicular traffic from two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue nearest the White House in Washington, D.C. The closure was ordered unilaterally, without notice or public debate. And it was permanent.

The capital grew bunker-like after 1995. An architecture of defensiveness became plainly visible and the numerous barriers and steel gates lent a shabby and wary look to the heart of Washington. The Washington Post observed years later that the Oklahoma City bombing “ended the capital’s life as an open city.”

Oklahoma City also re-exposed a deep flaw in American news coverage of sudden and dramatic major events: A tendency to indulge in latent stereotypes and to get it badly wrong.

In the hours after the bombing, suspicions fell squarely if vaguely on Middle East terrorism, and the news media rode that angle hard. Connie Chung, an anchor on CBS, declared, for example: “This is the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil ever. A U.S. government source has told CBS News that it has Middle East terrorism written all over it.”

Shock was thus palpable when, two days after the attack, McVeigh was arrested in the bombing and brought briefly before television cameras. The suspected terrorist was no foreigner. He was not from the Middle East. He was lanky, white, and American.


photo of W. Joseph CampbellW. Joseph Campbell is a professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. He is the author of six books, including 1995: The Year The Future Began.


Germ Wars

by Melanie Armstrong, author of Germ Wars: The Politics of Microbes and America’s Landscape of Fear

9780520292772I teach in an Environmental Management program. When I give my elevator pitch biography, brows often furrow as listeners try to reconcile my research on bioterrorism preparedness with my academic position. In explanation, I challenge them to consider why it is that among the many studies of how people have managed and manipulated “the environment,” we have largely ignored microbial nature.

Human societies have spent vast amounts of time, effort, and money trying to control microbes. The modernized world, with its sewer systems and soap dispensers, looks this way because of our work to manage microbes. Moreover, while government spending on climate change research or species conservation often meets with political strife, few question large-scale allocations for disease control. It is socially ratified environmental management.

Continue reading “Germ Wars”


UC Press Scholars Look at Implications of Bin Laden’s Death

The History of TerrorismIn the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, many are seeking to put the event in context and determine what the loss of al Qaeda’s leader will mean for the organization. UC Press publishes some of the best available scholarship on the issue. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda is an authoritative work that examines terrorism’s long and complex history from antiquity to the present day. Apocalypse in Islam is an eye-opening exploration of a troubling phenomenon: the fast-growing belief in Muslim countries that the end of the world is at hand, which has seen an extraordinary resurgence in recent decades.

In recent media interviews, the authors and editors of these books examined the implications of bin Laden’s death for terrorist movements, cautioning that al Qaeda’s reign is far from over.

In an interview with The Hindu, Gérard Chaliand, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Afghanistan and one of the editors of The History of Terrorism, questioned the role of Pakistan in the search for bin Laden: “The fact that bin Laden was found not in some inaccessible cave but in the heart of Abbotabad, some 50 kilometres from the Pakistani capital, comfortably housed in a massive complex of buildings in an area peopled by well heeled retired army officers indicates that the Pakistani army and spy agencies knew of his whereabouts all along.”

Apocalypse in IslamRohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research and a contributor to The History of Terrorism, was quoted at length in The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and elsewhere, on the next generation of leaders and operatives that will run al Qaeda. Bin Laden “has built a movement that will outlast him,” Gunaratna told The Washington Post. “He was more like a politician when it comes to collaborating with other groups. In doing so, bin Laden was able to replicate core Qaeda tactics and operations in other theaters, so that many new al Qaedas emerged.”

Jean-Pierre Filiu, author of Apocalypse in Islam, spoke to AFP on the implications of bin Laden’s death for the organization’s power structure. He said it “would accelerate the group’s existing division into separate fighting entities,” noting that bin Laden’s “number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian and won’t be able to impose his will in a comparable way.” Filiu went on to explain the interests of al Qaeda’s various factions in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and North Africa.

Excerpts from both books are available on our website.