ISLAM IN AMERICA: The Public Face of Bigotry
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is assistant professor of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. A member of the boards of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, his articles are archived at .
All societies have their flaws. Some are racist, others intolerant of religious differences. Some societies view their fellow human beings as untouchables, while others insist on limiting the public role of women. Contemporary American society has suffered from the pernicious persistence of anti-Semitism and racism. What is remarkable about America, however, is its conscious attempt to purge itself of its moral flaws. Since the civil rights movement of the early 1960s and the simultaneous spread of liberal values, American society has struggled to eliminate all forms of bigotry from its public sphere. (Islam, incidentally, describes this conscious endeavor to transcend the self in pursuit of moral perfection as jihad-al-akbar, or the supreme jihad.) And America has waged its jihad against prejudice without compromising its constitutional First Amendment rights.
TWO REVEALING CONTROVERSIES
Unfortunately, two events--Election 2000 and the ongoing battle for Jerusalem--have revealed that the U.S. still has some distance to go before it can claim to have become a society where prejudice and bigotry have been purged from at least the public sphere. In recent weeks numerous instances of anti-Muslim prejudice have surfaced, suggesting that Americans who are Muslims still are treated as a despised other who can be publicly maligned without fear of consequences.
In the New York Senate race, Republican candidate Rick Lazio's campaign made thousands of phone calls to Jewish Americans claiming that Hillary Clinton was taking money from the American Muslim Alliance and the American Muslim Council. These organizations were alleged to be closely linked to terrorism against Israel and the U.S. and to the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole. Although the FBI had yet to determine the real perpetrators behind the USS Cole attack, Lazio's campaign allowed neither morality nor legality to hinder its quest for the Jewish vote. Not only did it have no qualms about calling American Muslims terrorists, but Lazio even claimed that the $50,000 that Mrs. Clinton had received from AMA was "blood money"!
Also competing for the Jewish vote essential for any political victory in New York, Mrs. Clinton did not let Lazio outdo her in publicly condemning Muslims as terrorists. Publicly returning the checks she had received from Muslim PACs, she in effect endorsed Lazio's bigotry. Apart from Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's strong condemnation of Lazio's shameless calumny against Muslims, neither Lazio nor Mrs. Clinton has suffered any other adverse consequences. New York Muslims, caught between two acts of bigotry, chose to support Mrs. Clinton, whose prejudice they interpreted as "pragmatism," and punished Lazio, regarding him as genuinely bigoted. …