The Community of Living Traditions has joined with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi International, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and many others to organize a Global Day of Action and Prayer for Syria on September 21, which is recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Peace. In preparation, a series of experts have contribute essays to help our communities gain understanding of practical peace-making strategies that stand as alternatives to the war and violence that is being perpetuated in Syria. CLT member Susan Smith has contributed the following reflection on the role of Islamophobia in the conflict, as well as another article on the role of Acute and Intergenerational Trauma. To access all the articles, as well as information on how to take action on September 21st, visit globalministries.org

Islamophobia, the United States, and Refugees

By Susan Smith, Community Liaison for the Muslim Peace Fellowship and Community of Living Traditions

Islamophobia, or fear-mongering based on anti-Muslim hate, is a prevailing characteristic of American culture. Its impact is devastating as significant portions of the public are moved to embrace a fascist world rather than strive to achieve a just, tolerant, loving and pluralistic society. Domestically, the rise of Islamophobia has resulted in the creation of a condoned underclass and surge of violent crimes against Muslims and those mistaken as Muslims. Internationally, it manifests as a foreign policy that rationalizes a “War on Terror” through a fallacious military and defense budget, belligerence and military occupation, neocolonialism, the establishment of client regimes, and proxy wars. The result is the annihilation of millions of Muslims and mounting refugee crisis of unfathomable proportions.

While the refugee crisis is an unintended and unexpected burden shouldered by many Western nations, the manufacture of Islamophobia for public consumption is deliberate and strategic according to the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley, which offers this definition:

“Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve "civilizational rehab" of the target communities. Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.” (From "Defining "Islamophobia")

Top on the list of those countries impacted by Islamophobia are Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine and Syria - - some of the very same countries generating the most refugees. Yet, according to Dr. Arun Kundnani, an expert on terrorism, race and culture at New York University, many Americans don’t see the causal and cyclical relationship between the “War on Terror” and rise and spread of terrorism. He points to US-led wars in the Middle East as catalytic in the rise of violent extremist groups and quasi-states, such as the so-called Islamic State or  Daesh. The wrath of which in Syria, along with that of the brutal Assad regime (and proxy wars engaged in by the US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others), has unleashed 4.8 million refugees and 8.7 million internally displaced persons. 

Moreover, the US consistently and flagrantly violates the United Nations Charter, which states in Article 2, Paragraph 4 that member states shall “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." In the past 15 years, Islamic countries invaded include:  Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Mali and Syria, which have endured surface-to-air missiles, carpet bombs, boots-on-the-ground, drones, Black Ops, and other means of modern warfare. Most tragic perhaps is Iraq, where two million have perished in a 10-year period of US-led war according to a 2015 report of the Nobel Prize-winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility. UN figures show an additional 1.7 million Iraqi civilians, half of whom were children, died as a result of brutal sanctions championed by a US-led Security Council.

Meanwhile, the American public writ large doesn’t own itself as a belligerent unchecked superpower, but rather an exemplary and coveted “city on a hill” that embraces religious diversity, lauds freedom, and defends liberty. In order for the US to condone violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehabilitation” of target Islamic countries, its citizens need to identify Muslim nations and communities as villainous pariahs and a threat to American values.  Hence, according to Kundnani, in spite of – and because of – the atrocities committed by the United States with taxpayer dollars, Islamophobia is manufactured as “a ‘lay ideology’ that offers an everyday ‘common sense’ explanatory framework for making sense of mediated crisis events (such as terror attacks) in ways that disavow those events’ political meanings (rooted in empire, racism and resistance) and … instead explain them as products of reified ‘Muslimness’.” (From: Draft paper on Islamophobia as lay ideology of US-led empire)

Islamophobia then, as a lay ideology of the US Government, hearkens of racist and xenophobic precedents and policies targeting Native American, Black, Catholic, Jewish, Japanese and Latino communities. The strategy: malign and vilify people of a minority race or faith by playing upon social, economic and political frustrations; engender fear, loathing and cognitive dissonance as civil liberties are lost to domestic and foreign policies. Hence, the trope of the radicalized Muslim -- and fear cultivated in the hearts and minds of the American psyche – manifest in prevailing governmental systems, structures and apparatuses as media, think tanks, academia, and the non-profit industrial complex institutionalize a domestic war on terror. This in turn garners public support for the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program, which quashes the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution and sanctions Muslim surveillance, infiltration, entrapment, imprisonment and deportation.
Islamophobia has become an internalized, articulated and attitudinal norm: headline news as the Republican nominee for POTUS ratchets up support for surveilling Muslims, closing mosques, and banning refugees from Muslim countries. Meanwhile, at the Democratic National Convention, in the midst of four days of inclusive rhetoric, the inclusion of Muslims was limited to showcasing the parents of a Purple Heart soldier fallen in Iraq. Also, in another classic example of dog-whistle politics, former President Bill Clinton made an insulting appeal to the Muslim community. He said: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” Implicit in that statement are a number of erroneous and Islamophobic messages about Muslim Americans, including:  1) They don’t necessarily love their country; 2) They must prove they love the US and freedom and hate terror (by voting for Hillary); 3) They must give up their citizenship and live elsewhere if they don’t; 4) They are not indigenous (when in fact the history of Muslims in America goes back 400 years and it is estimated that one-third of African slaves were Muslim; 5) They must join the “War on Terror” (which defacto and amorphously in today’s climate of Islamophobia targets themselves); and 6) “A future together” is one in which they must clarify and qualify their Muslim identity.
 
While the fact of the matter is that wars against Islam and Islamic countries hurt Muslims, they also hurt those in Western countries that propagate them: first, by inflicting moral injury and cognitive dissonance transgressing deeply held ethics, beliefs and values such as universal human rights and nonviolence; and second by generating an ever-widening cycle of violence. According to Kundnani, “Islamophobia involves an ideological displacement of political antagonisms onto the plane of culture, where they can be explained in terms of the fixed nature of the ‘Other’.” Projection in the psychoanalytic sense permits racist and imperialist violence otherwise not tolerated by liberal society, and upon which militarism and neocolonialism depend. The result is what Kundnani refers to as a “constant feedback loop of unintended consequences” perpetuating cycles of violence and retaliation, oppression and victimization, acute and intergenerational trauma, and the destruction of families, societies, humanity and the planet.

We can stop the cycle of war and terrorism – and our own inevitable self-destruction -- through interfaith work, grassroots movement building and militant nonviolent civil disobedience that disrupts military machinations such as the production and use of lethal drones and the new B81 Model 12 mini atomic bomb flight tested in Nevada last year (see As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy). We can elect and hold accountable government officials who champion universal human rights and the establishment of an equitable global partnership for peace, justice and development at home and abroad. We can abdicate our abused privilege as a Permanent Member of the Security Council with veto power or use it to implement one yardstick of peace and justice for all. As people of love and faith, we must mobilize against Islamophobia, bring an end to the destruction of Islamic countries by our military industrial complex, and urge our federal, state and local government to welcome refugees.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Join the Global Day of Action and Prayer for Syria on Wednesday, September 21st, 2016 from 5:00-6:30 pm at the Community Church of NY at 40 East 35th Street in NYC. Stand in solidarity with Syrian victims of acute and intergenerational trauma, who are being targeted in many hateful ways. For more information, contact: GlobalDayforSyria@gmail.com.
  2. Use your voice to tell your elected officials to immediately stop all bombing and other military actions that perpetuate the terrible war in Syria. We support a just peace approach scaling up delivery of food and medicine, trauma healing, restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, and transformative dialogue with all stakeholders to build a sustainable just peace.
  3. Tell your elected officials that you support a more humane world and welcome the resettlement of refugees in your community.
  4. Contact the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) for an Advocacy Toolkit to see how your faith-based or community based organization can combat Islamophobia and engage in meaningful interfaith peace building http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/
  5. Join the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s national #GiveRefugesRest campaign to end Islamophobia and welcome refugees http://www.giverefugeesrest.com/
  6. Join the Islam, Social Justice, and Interreligious Engagement Program (ISJIE) at Union Theological Seminar, which promotes academic and public education aimed at cultivating diverse Islamic responses to pressing social justice issues. It also seeks to generate innovative and informed discourse on topics, such as climate change, racism, religious pluralism, violence, poverty and economic inequality, incarceration, and gender and sexuality. https://utsnyc.edu/isjie/
  7. Muslim Peace Fellowship (MPF) as the first Muslim organization specifically devoted to the theory and practice of Islamic nonviolence, and is a gathering of peace and justice-oriented Muslims of all backgrounds and friends of other faiths who are dedicated to making the beauty of Islam evident in the world. Connect to learn about and participate in events Islamic nonviolence https://mpf21.wordpress.com/
  8. Apply your skills and resources to address the refugee crisis locally. Contact the Westchester Refugee Task Force (westchesterrefugeetaskforce@gmail.com) to see how you can assist in the resettlement of 101 refugees in the county in the coming year;
  9. Donate to Islamic Relief USA (www.irusa.org), UNHCR (unrefugees.org), Karam Foundation (www.karamfoundation.org) and other humanitarian relief organizations on the ground in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Greece and elsewhere to provide urgent food and medical care, or to sponsor a Syrian orphan or refugee;

Susan Smith is Community Liaison for the Muslim Peace Fellowship, and belongs to the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center, NY, an intentional residential community of Jews, Christians and Muslims with whom she engages in outreach, activism and collaboration for peace through justice. She has worked for the United Nations and UN community in a number of capacities pertaining to the Middle East and Africa, and is an Association of Trauma Relief and Prevention (ATOP) Meaningfulworld Ambassador.