“There Is an Islamophobia Industry in the US That Makes a Lot of Money”
Ben Carson of the Republican Party said he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” A few days later, he argued in an interview with the CNN’s Jake Tapper that for a Muslim to become the US President, “you have to reject the tenets of Islam.” In responding to the disputes surrounding his statements, Carson said that the majority of American people understand and agree with what he has said. He also added that if a Muslim accepts the Sharia law and abides by the edicts of Quran, they would have problems living under the US Constitution.
Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz have also made controversial comments about the “Muslim problem” and the perceived threat posed to the United States by the Muslim nations, including Iran. Speaking of the Muslim “enemy”, Jindal, the governor of Louisiana said, “[t]he politically correct crowd are going to tell you you are anti-Muslim or racist or you have an outdated mindset and I’m telling you that’s ridiculous. We can’t beat this enemy unless we recognize this enemy for what is.”
A progressive American journalist tells Fars News Agency that the right-wing politicos in the United States win more votes and make money through propping up a campaign of Islamophobia.
“I just think that the right-wing in American culture has an incentive to scare people to get their votes and support – there’s an entire Islamophobia industry now that makes a lot of money based on this,” said Zaid Jilani in an interview with FNA. “And I think that the Republicans are not properly being countered by Democrats who sometimes think there are not enough Muslims to make it really politically profitable to resist Islamophobia, although more recently you have seen Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the Democratic National Committee speaking out against it.”
Commenting on the stigmatization of Jews and Catholics in America in the past, Mr. Jilani suggested that the Muslims can also struggle and overcome the bias they’re subject to.
A blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Zaid Jilani contributes to several news websites and outlets including Salon, The Huffington Post and The Nation. He had also been a senior reporter and contributor to the ThingProgress, a blog affiliated with the Center for American Progress. Zaid currently contributes to Alternet as a staff writer.
FNA talked to Mr. Jilani about the comments made by the US presidential hopefuls regarding the Muslims and the hardships and limitations the American-Muslims face today.
Q: The Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump has recently made hateful comments about the Muslims and said political correctness is tearing the United States apart, insisting that the Americans should boldly stand up against the “Muslim problem” facing the nation. Why do you think a great number of conservative and Republican politicians abhor the Muslims so much?
A: It is interesting because Republicans used to be the party of American Muslims. American Muslims were prominent donors and activists for the party. This changed mostly after 9/11 when there was a surge of Islamophobia and then also overseas wars that Muslims opposed. I think that the GOP became the party of hating Muslims because their base was riled up by the talk radio, Fox News right to be very angry at Muslims following wars in Iraq, rise of ISIL, etc. and it is something they can do with very little political cost.
Q: In a recent edition of the “Washington Watch” radio program, the conservative politician Tony Perkins asserted that Muslims are not protected by the US Constitution, reaffirming the GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson who said he wouldn’t support a Muslim to become the US President. Is it really that the Muslims don’t have any rights under the Constitution and that they can’t have chances of being elected to the high political, government offices?
A: Well I think that throughout the American history, various religious groups have been told they should not be in politics. This happened to Catholics, to Jews, to many other groups, but they have always overcome this stigma and prospered. The Constitution guarantees rights of religious minorities, the bigger issue is that Americans have to become accepting enough to vote for them and I do believe that they will eventually become accepting enough to see a competitive Muslim candidate for president just as we today with Bernie Sanders see a competitive Jewish candidate for president.
Q: There have been many great Muslim Americans who made major contributions to arts, literature, culture, sciences and technology in the States. Are these contributions being intentionally ignored? It’s noticeable that a number of Muslim community organizations in the US are being ostracized and defamed for their advocacy work for the Muslim rights. Are there systematic efforts underway to alienate and isolate the American Muslims?
A: I don’t think the effort is necessarily systematic. I just think that the right-wing in American culture has an incentive to scare people to get their votes and support – there’s an entire Islamophobia industry now that makes a lot of money based on this. And I think that the Republicans are not properly being countered by Democrats who sometimes think there are not enough Muslims to make it really politically profitable to resist Islamophobia, although more recently you have seen Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the Democratic National Committee speaking out against it.
Q: The debate on the arresting of the 14-year-old Muslim ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed who brought a homemade clock to his school was so heated in the media in the United States few months ago. President Obama took a prudent action of inviting him to the White House to rehabilitate the child after his apparent traumatization. What does this event signify to you on a larger scale?
A: I think that the case was so clearly a case of unfairness that a lot of Americans woke up and said we have to start speaking out against this and Obama’s action here was helpful because what it did was signal to the rest of his political party that they should start providing some resistance to the bigotry we see against Muslims. I think most Americans were sympathetic to Ahmed.
Q: So, as a regional concern, the terrorist group ISIL is wreaking havoc on Iraq and Syria and causing massive death and destruction in the region. Is the US public being told, either by the media or the politicians, that ISIL is a representative of Muslims worldwide and that it’s Islamic philosophy which motivates its fighters to enslave, rape and behead the women and decimate the non-Muslims?
A: Most people do not outright say that ISIL is representative of Muslims; however, many among the right wing do make the presumption that Muslims are not doing enough to combat ISIL or they are somewhat sympathetic to ISIL. And one of the most common things you hear is that the ISIL-type ideology exists only among Muslims despite the fact similar types of terrorist organizations operate in Christian areas like Central African Republic.
Q: There’s long been a debate on a clash of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, and it’s being claimed that despite the longstanding relations between the Muslims and the Europeans since early 8th century when the State of Andalusia was founded on the Iberian Peninsula, they haven’t been able to interact with each other peacefully and constructively. Is it really the case?
A: I think actually Muslims in the West are integrating fairly well; the incidents that we see where there isn’t constructive interaction are probably less severe than what happened with integration with migrants from Irish Catholics or Jews in America. There are problems, but they are not so severe they cannot be overcome and in some cases the integration is remarkable – notice how the Labor Party just nominated a Pakistani Muslim to be its candidate for mayor of London. 50 years ago such a thing would have been unimaginable.
Q: The 9/11 attacks conceivably gave rise to anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States as President George W. Bush fiercely blamed the tragedy on “Islamic terrorists” and invaded two Muslim countries. The whole scenario apparently played a role in the curtailment of the freedoms and civil liberties of Muslims in the US. How has the situation changed for the Muslim Americans more than a decade after those events?
A: I think Muslim Americans are feeling like they can’t sit on the sidelines and that instead they must get involved in the civic sphere more to defend their reputation and civil rights. The vast majority of older Muslim Americans are engineers, doctors, or small business owners. Now you are seeing more Muslims go into the arts, music, law, politics, etc. Thanks to this, we will in the near future see a more flourishing Muslim American culture that is both integrated into the wider society while still representing our own culture and values.