Rep. Tom Tancredo has not only refused to retract his "bomb Mecca" comments, but has upped the ante, declaring that his shrill, prejudiced anti-Muslim rhetoric is justified by the supposedly widespread extremism of "moderate Muslims".
While part of his chutzpah can no doubt be ascribed to his own churlishness and to the extreme political climate prevailing within the GOP, to write this off as simply the result of his prejudice is naive. It would be political suicide for any politician to utter such an offensive declaration if it did not appear to be based on "the facts" in most observers’ eyes. He feels able to stick to his guns (unlike Trent Lott did when he, also quite in keeping with the racebaiting ideology of the Far Right, praised Strom Thurmond’s opposition to civil rights; he caved there quickly because popular consensus did not support his reading of American history) because he knows that his assumptions about Muslims as the root of all evil are widely shared.
I understand that many people disagree with my take on Muqtedar Khan’s politics and I respect their views, but I hope those are so outraged by my criticisms of his politics will pause to ponder how his (and some other Muslim pundits–this isn’t unique to him) analysis of the Muslim community might reinforce the underlying attitudes that make Tancredo’s outburst seem "pragmatic" rather than bigoted and paranoid (e.g., the myth that Muslims have been supporting terrorism, that
mainstream Muslim organizations have been havens for political
extremism) . Those assumptions have a far more decisive impact on the Muslim community in the greater scheme of things than upbeat soundbytes, however good they may make us feel. Every time a Muslim commentator validates all this "Green Menace" hysteria, it becomes a little bit easier for bigots to rationalize their hate and political agendas against Muslims.
You don’t fight demonizing rhetoric by taking the path of least resistance and using John Kerry-style "dissent" (e.g., publicly accepting W’s philosophy and then criticizing trivial details of that philsophy). You fight it by challenging all its problematic and incorrect assumptions. For example, you don’t hear responsible African-American leaders accepting claims that all sorts of unqualified minorities are taking away all the jobs from qualified white people, the kind of rhetoric that one hears on the Far Right concerning Affirmative Action (and, in more a subtle form, in mainstream Republican circles).
When Hussein Ibish, whom some Muslims might find an unlikely defender of Islam and Muslims because of his secular leanings, debates a Muslim-bashing pundit, he takes apart all his opponent’s arguments. He doesn’t say, "Well, you’ve got a point about the Muslim community being overflowing with extremists." or "Yeah, Muslims need to stop whining about how Israel treats the Palestinians." Similiarly, when Farid Esack debates with Muslim-bashing hawks, he goes for the jugular and dismantles the underlying justifications for war and empire. The late and great Edward Said, who could’ve been forgiven for sharing some of these stereotypical views of Islam since he was a Christian, wrote Covering Islam, and powerfully challenged *all* the myths, doublestandards, and steotypes about Islam and Muslims, not just the ones that were politically safe to question. He realized that the way Muslims and Islam are subliminally otherized and systematically misrepresented in the mainstream media was at the heart of the political problems of his day. Said challenged the unspoken assumptions of his opponents’ arguments rather than quibbling about secondary issues or limiting himself to the headlines of the day. And similiar things can be said about Noam Chomsky. And the list of (mostly non-Muslim) critics who understand what’s really at stake in these debates goes on. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can always be said for Khan’s contribution to
the debate, which tends to pass over in silence many of anti-Muslim
assumptions that people like Ibish, Esack, Said and Chomsky would openly refute, and sometimes even reinforces them.
I choose those as examples quite aware of their irony in some respects–especially given all the hoopla about PMU–and because I want to highlight how this isn’t simply a question of whether or not people are "good Muslims", or even Muslims at all. Speaking truth to power is as rare a trait among Muslims as everybody else.
Good luck fighting for Muslim civil rights while we quietly accept Muslim-bashers’ talking points as we "defend" Islam. If that’s going to be our approach, we should get used to this kind of abuse, because it’s only going to become increasingly mainstream as this worldview filters down, unchallenged, to the masses.