Islamophobia? Well, Yeah.

It seems a lot of people, particularly conservative people, are offended by the idea that their opposition to the UAE takeover of six of our ports might be rooted in “Islamophobia.”

“It’s not Islamophobia! It’s prudence,” they say.

Well, okay, but why can’t it be Islamophobia?

After 9/11, I remember going into my local 7-11 for a cup of coffee. This store, like others, is owned by a Middle Eastern family. On 9/12/01 they conspicuously displayed a large American flag in the store, as if to say, “not us! We didn’t do it! We love America!” I remember asking them if anyone had been aggressive or accusatory toward them – which one might expect, given the great tragedy which had enveloped us.

“No, no,” they responded. “Everyone has been concerned for us – that we are being treated alright. This is all terrible.”

I remember feeling so proud of my country when I heard that – proud again when our President visited a mosque, and when I read stories of American women offering to shop with “women of cover” in order to shield them from any random unkindnesses directed their way by overwhelmed Americans who might lash out. I was proud to realize, in the passing weeks, that in a nation of almost 300 million people, only a handful of regrettable incidents occured in which Middle Eastern people were targeted for revenge.

Americans are much more “tolerant” than many will admit, and we’re compassionate, too. I was not surprised to hear that others had inquired as to how the fellows at the 7-11 were being treated. That sort of respect, concern and sensitivity toward others was precisely what I have always expected from my compatriots.

But perhaps America is growing weary of offering up respect, concern and sensitivity when their offerings seem not simply unrequited, but unappreciated as well.

While the World Trade Center fell and the Pentagon burned, the West Bank danced. As America has risked her young men and women in efforts to save Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia, to liberate them in Afghanistan and Iraq, she has had to watch a seemingly endless video loop of screaming Muslims packing the streets, blades exposed, carrying signs denouncing, America, the Great Satan. It seems like the same mobs have gathered to denounce Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan, then George H. W. Bush, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush. Despite all of our “tolerance,” America has seen her flags trampled; despite all the split blood of her young, she have seen her presidents burned in effigy. Despite all of her service to liberty, she has seen scimitars raised at her, in gleeful abandon.

It is undoubtedly true that in a world of 1.2 billion Muslims, the ones who get the camera time and the headlines are the Islamofascist extremists, that the great majority of Muslims are not wild-eyed, ululating deatheaters, but ordinary people who just want to get on with the business of living and raising families. I believe that, and I think most Americans believe it, too.

The problem is, we don’t get to see those Muslims. We don’t know where they are! I see two guys at the 7-11, and they certainly seem like decent enough chaps, but in truth over the past four years they’ve become quieter and twitchier and less forthcoming, and we with our cups of Hawaiian Kona Blend have stopped inquiring as to their well-being. We’ve become quieter and twitchier, too. Everyone is wary and watchful on both sides of the counter, and distrust seems easier, lately.

Am I Islamophobic? I hate to think I might be. I try my best to love everyone, as my Lord has said I must. But a phobia is not – contrary to what the politically correct would tell you – a “hate.” Phobia is fear Am I afraid of Islam?

Well, yeah. Yeah, I may very well be. It is not “hate” but plain common sense that tells me to feel threatened when I know that at any given moment, somewhere in the world, 100,000 men, women and children are gathering and holding signs urging the beheading of anyone who does not show sufficient “respect” to their prophet. I’m a very respectful person, I feel threatened when “respect” seems to mean nothing less than submission and obsequious kowtowing, which I am not willing to offer.

I tend to think the UAE managing a few of our ports is not a bad idea. The enlightened American in me understands that the UAE is an ally, that it has been helpful to our troops and to our government in the war on terror. I know that President Clinton thinks very highly of the UAE, as does President Bush and our Secretary of State, and I assume they know a little bit more about the UAE than I do. I do not for a moment believe that President Bush has suddenly abandoned his promise to defend the nation. I also think that allowing an ally to invest financially in our country gives them a stake – an interest – in seeing that America is not economically crippled by terrorist attacks. I support the deal.

But I can understand why others don’t. And I accept that they may have valid concerns that are seperate and apart from mere “Islamophobia.”

But I have difficulty believing their vehement denials that “phobia” could play even a minor role in their position, because I understand just how afraid and skittish I am feeling about these countries, and the members of their faith who seem like they’d as soon kill me as look at me.

But I am an American, and I will not surrender to that fear any more than I will “surrender” to that faith. I am an American, and I will believe in my God, and laugh when I will, and love where I will, and say what I wish – and I will defend everyone else’s right to do the same, as long as they don’t believe their rights include making me shut up. Because I am an American, I want to see my country create successful working partnerships with Arab and Islamic nations; such a move seems the next logical step in the war on terror. And dammit, I do not want to be held hostage to my fear. I do not want to fear.

Truthfully, the port deal would be a little easier for Americans to swallow were President Bush more aggressive about tightening our borders. The deal would be a lot easier to swallow if we were not getting nightly images of howling mobs screaming for blood.

We need to start seeing some “moderate” Muslims come out and speak up in defense of the America that has been doing its damndest, particularly in the last few years, to help formerly tyrannized Islamic people find their liberty, to bring Islamic countries into the marketplace of ideas and inclusionary economics, without forcing our culture or morals upon them. If we could see these sorts of Muslims, if some of them would come out of hiding and speak up, that would make the UAE deal much easier to support.

But I support it, anyway, because I am an American, and to block a deal that makes a lot of sense to me, simply to ease my fears, seems wrong to me – wrong and ugly. It’s someone I don’t want to be. It’s a country I don’t want America to be.

To trust and to encourage and to take a chance – those are scary propositions in these times. But they are quinessentially American in character. Americans are a courageous people, and courage is about acknowledging danger but carefully – carefully – going forward.

About Elizabeth Scalia