I’d like to talk to you about a dirty word that I’ve seen popping up all over: Islamophobia. In recent months, reporters, scholars, politicians, and even the president have spoken non-stop about the evils of Islamophobia. Media outlets routinely quote statistics about incidents of discrimination and even violence against Muslims and Arabs in America. Certainly, such actions are deplorable. Our nation is founded on the principles of religious freedom and racial equality, and no one should be forced to suffer for their religion or national origin.
Yet, everyone seems to be forgetting about the second half of the word: Phobia. Fear. Americans are afraid. They should be afraid. Americans are angry, and they have every right to be. Some of our terrified and enraged people are lashing out at the easiest, most available target, perhaps because they feel powerless in the face of a vast, determined enemy. While the expression of those feelings may be offensive, that fact does not delegitimize the fear.
We know why Americans are afraid: 9/11, the Boston Marathon, Paris, San Bernardino, the list goes on. The roots of American anti-Islamic sentiment are obvious, but what is the source of the Islamic vendetta against the United States? Some have suggested that decades of US foreign policy in the Islamic world are responsible for the surge in Islamic terrorism. American history is not without blemishes, no country’s history is, but in reality, America’s record of support for the people of Islamic nations is outstanding. The sins of The Cold War, in the battle against communism, have left a lasting impression on the people of these regions. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, American foreign policy in the region has been aimed largely at supporting liberty in sovereign nations. America has been involved in some bad policy supporting regimes, and sometimes America has made decisions to support leaders that have turned out to be wrong, but the most important thing is America tries to help these nations, and tries to bring democracy to the Middle East and to the majority of the Muslim population.
American political pressure forced the Soviets out of Iran after the Second World War, thereby freeing its people from the fascist regime of Joseph Stalin. Though this action helped launch our nation into The Cold War, the US stepped in again decades later to similarly expel the Russians from Afghanistan. Even when Islamic countries have turned on each other, the United States rushes to their rescue. In the 90s, the United States forced Saddam Hussein and Iraqi troops which had tortured and killed hundreds out of Kuwait. Today, we are taking in hundreds of Syrian refugees who are fleeing not some occupying foreign power, but rather their own oppressive government. We also send billions in support to the Middle East despite the serious debt we are still in.
When Gaddafi ordered us out of Libya, we left. When Khomeini told US troops to abandon listening posts established in Iran to monitor the USSR (a nation which, as I’ve said, actually had occupied Iran), we left. Khomeini thanked us by voicing the support of his religiously restrictive government for the subsequent hostage crisis. Still, though we are mired in tremendous debt, our nation yearly gives billions of dollars in aid to Islamic countries, and yet, we still pay high prices for the Middle Eastern oil we allegedly went over there to steal. After America invaded Iraq, many Iraqis asked: “Why hasn’t America taken over the oil that they conquered?” That is why we are Americans, and we are no enemy of the Middle East or the Muslim people.
Speaking recently from the Oval Office, even President Obama acknowledged, “We are on the right side of history.” If we are on the right side of history, then our enemies must be on the wrong side. They have repaid our actions with violence, with death, with unceasing terror. Can you blame us for being afraid? Can you blame us for being angry? Are you surprised that some of us are lashing out with hate? Hate is a terrible thing, but hatred whose only purpose is hatred, the type of hatred which Islamic nations have been preaching for decades, is what is truly disgusting.
In that same speech, Obama warned us not to allow “this fight [to] be defined as a war between America and Islam.” How can it not be? Our enemy is not one country or a government with any specific grievance or political objective. Nor is it any one terrorist organization. The Boston Marathon bombers did not claim affiliation with any terrorist cell or larger entity other than Islam, and the FBI is currently questioning whether or not the San Bernardino shooters actually had ties to ISIS. The threat of Islamic terror is not confined by borders. Its only goal is the full-scale destruction of the non-Islamic West in the name of an Islamic god. We are not at war with any specific Muslim, the vast majority of Muslims in America are peaceful, innocent people, but we are certainly at war with radical Islam.
Obama spoke out against discriminatory acts of Islamophobia by saying, “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform.” One of those men in uniform, Army Major Nidal Hasan, killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. His reasons were explicitly rooted in radical Islamic beliefs. The Marathon bombers had friends. The San Bernardino killers were liked by their neighbors. In a world where terrorism is increasingly home-grown, and where these murderers seem to share little motivation other than fanatical devotion to a specific religion, the reasoning behind distrust and fear of Muslims is understandable. Who knows which seemingly innocent neighbor will be the next to open fire?
Of course, I am not supporting paranoia or condoning the persecution of Muslim Americans. These incidents are contemptable; however, the media’s treatment of Islamophobia as some nationwide epidemic clouds the truth about this conflict. Just as we are told not to take “small” groups of terrorists as representative of all Islamic peoples, we cannot take a few dozen reported incidents of Islamophobic discrimination in a nation of over 300 million people as indicative of a national trend towards racism. Most Americans are just as peaceful and innocent as any Muslim American. We are all afraid that our offices may explode, that our neighbors will one day turn on us, and that our houses of worship will be destroyed. We are all being persecuted for our religious beliefs. For some Americans, it is because they are Muslim, but for most of us, for the nation and the Western world as a whole, it is because we are not Muslim. We should all be afraid. We all have the right to be afraid. Some of us may make bad choices based on that fear, but the only way that fear will subside is if the spreaders of fear are defeated. It’s time to stop obsessing about the four-letter word Islamophobia and remember who the real bad guys are.