Is "Muslim" an Epithet in America?
By Riaz Haq

"Are you now or have you ever been a Muslim?" Has this question ever been asked in America? The answer, so far, is NO. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that such a question would ever be asked by high-level US investigators? It seems far-fetched but let's examine such a possibility in the US historical context.
There have been periods in the US history when we have used a broad brush approach to demonize entire groups of people based on their ethnicity, skin color, religion or national origin. During the Second World War, the US citizens of Japanese origin were called "Japs" and imprisoned in camps with the approval of the US Supreme Court. During the Cold War in the 1950s, the US was in the midst of the "Red Scare" where people saw "Commies" hiding in all corners of America.
Sen Joseph McCarthy held congressional hearings and subpoenaed many people and asked the question: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Aided by the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy conducted his search for communists. People were hauled before Congress to testify about their loyalty to the US government. They were asked to name names and report their friends, neighbors and family. Many Americans were convicted of being communists and some were executed for being Russian spies.
Lately, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, has been under "suspicion" of being a "closet Muslim". He and his campaign have denied it and rejected the "Muslim" label as though it were an epithet. In fact, some of the Obama staffers have become so sensitive to this "charge" that they refused to seat hijab-wearing Muslim women supporters behind Obama on stage in front of the cameras at a recent rally in Michigan.
Instead of ridiculing the lies about Obama, the latest New Yorker magazine cover has in fact served to reinforce the rumors and innuendos about his Muslim connections.
In spite of vociferous rejections of the "Muslim" label and repeated denials by Barack Obama, a significant number of Americans continue to believe Obama is Muslim. Based on recent polls, about 10-12% of the Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. Another 12% believe he took oath of office for the Senate on the Qur’an. A whopping 39% believe he attended an Islamic madrassa in Indonesia as a child.
Given our history, the rise in bigotry against Muslims should be a cause for alarm for all American. The best way for all of us to ensure a peaceful world is not by demonizing all Muslims or by using "Muslim" as an epithet or a synonym for "terrorist". Instead we should work toward marginalizing the tiny minority of Muslims who are engaged in terrorizing the world to advance their own hateful ideologies.
Only by marginalizing such "terrorists" can we isolate them and rid the world of their terror and bigotry to live in peace.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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