Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hyphenated America

Hyphenated America
Passionate Detachment, Middle East International, 27 May 2010

From Ian Williams

In the equations of bigotry, substituting the terms, as in algebra, reveals the prejudice. For ace neo-con Daniel Pipes, Rima Fakih, an Arab-American of Muslim background, winning the Miss USA pageant, made him “suspect an odd form of affirmative action”. He does seem to have had the acuity to pull back from his initial knee-jerk position, unlike the rest of what perforce we will call the Judeo-Christian blogosphere.

In the great prejudicial spirit of having cakes and eating them, Fakih was an unworthy floozy because she had performed in some pole-dancing contest – and a crypto Shi’i Hizbullah agent because she was, after all, Arab and, what is more, Lebanese. Her appearance in a skimpy bikini was deep uncover for some even deeper Islamic plot. Others speculated that the admittedly odious Donald Trump, owner of the franchise, had contrived her victory in order to further some business deal with Arabs.

If you wanted investment from, say, Saudi Arabia, it is arguable that getting young Arab maidens to prance about in their underwear is not the way to go. But it is such sheer lunacy in the commentary that showed the deep vein of ugly and irrational anti-Muslim prejudice. At least Pipes conceded that Fakih had qualifications as a beauty queen, by being, well, attractive. Now let us reverse the terms of the equation. Patrick Buchanan, a paleo-conservative of the old nativist school, pointed out that if Elena Kagan were nominated to the Supreme Court, it would mean an overwhelmingly Protestant state was being judged by six Roman Catholics and three Jews. Even though Buchanan is a Catholic himself, his mathematics brought down hellfire on his head, with accusations of anti-Semitism redoubling against him.

It is easy to be suspicious of American, and indeed modern Anglo-Saxon bean-counting. After all, when you consume beans, you get flatulence. After Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir or Indira Gandhi, the idea that electing women to positions of power necessarily did much, either for the world in general or women as a group, had, surely, been discredited. Indeed, the conservatives have had their own fun with the idea: the only black judge on the Supreme Court bench is the un-regenerately conservative Clarence Thomas, whose views have little or no support whatsoever from black Americans.

The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ may have begun as a reflection of perceived Western cultural identity, but there is little doubt that its use in the United States has often been a conscious attempt to create a spurious philosophical unity between Jews and Christians – and against Muslims, who are being punished for the mistake of inhabiting the place that Zionists had decided was their own. After all, on the big theological issues, who is closer? Muslims who revere Jesus and Mary, and even accept the virgin birth, or Jews who either ignore or disdain the Galilean prophet? If Muslims are excluded for adding an extra prophet, how do we fit in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith?

However, this rhetoric, with a big helping hand from the likes of Usama Bin-Laden, has successfully positioned Muslims as the outsiders. It would, truly, be anti-Semitic to say that all Jews are crooks because of Bernie Madoff, and prejudicial to cast all blacks as murderers because of Willie Horton. But far too many Americans can safely assume that because al-Qa’ida claims to be Muslim, all Muslims are tainted with its crimes.

That is why, within days, the usual suspects exploded again. Near the World Trade Centre in downtown New York, two new mosques are under consideration for congregations that are already worshipping in the vicinity. Mark Williams, Chairman of the Tea Party Express, denounced them as monuments to the 9/11 hijackers, and derided their dedication to the “Monkey God”. Admittedly, with the sophisticated sense of balance so characteristic of the Tea-Partiers, he apologised. But it was to Hindus he said sorry, in case anyone mistook his words as a slight against the god Hanuman.

Facebook immediately had 45,000 people sign up for a page denouncing the attempt to build a mosque close by. They had even more signing up for the page demanding cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in response to threats from some fanatical Muslims against cartoonists. Many of the signatories invoked a defence of free speech, but once again we substitute the terms.

When Mayor Rudi Giuliani tried to close down a Brooklyn museum for showing works that included a crucifix in urine, I do not remember hosts of defenders racing to micturate on icons. Rather, they protested his disregard for the First Amendment, and indeed went to court to overthrow his decision to de-fund the museum.

It all leads to the unsurprising conclusion that in the modern United States, there is only one permissible form of naked prejudice. The good news is that the statements made about Arabs by the pro-Israeli right, including the convenors of the Tea Party crowds, reveal their bigotry, and that alienates them from most Americans, including American Jews. If it weren’t that the know-nothing minority was disturbingly large, it would be almost music to the ears to hear bigoted blowhards talking themselves out of political influence in such a fashion.

1 comment:

Rupa Shah said...