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Old Saturday, October 03, 2015
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Default The Islamophobic abyss

The Islamophobic abyss

Donald Trump and Ben Carson have made political hay by engaging in the kind of vitriolic Islamophobia usually reserved for the European far-right. Trump proved his credentials by not only refusing to correct a questioner who said that the US should get rid of Muslims and that President Obama is a Muslim, but by actually answering the question as if it were legitimate. Ben Carson, on the other hand, took the more direct route by stating that a Muslim should not be President because the Muslim faith is inconsistent with the US constitution. When challenged on his claim, and when it was pointed out that denying the right of a US citizen to become president on the basis of religious affiliation is itself a violation of the constitution, Carson refused to back down.

While it would be very easy to speak of a change to a more aggressive form of US Islamophobia, it would be more accurate to say that we are witnessing a change in how a longstanding anti-Muslim bias is expressed. Islamophobia is well-entrenched in the US, fuelled by a combination of popular culture, two-dimensional news coverage and foreign policy where Muslim lives are clearly valued less than others. Geroge W Bush may have spoken some fine, scripted words about Muslims after 9/11, but it would be hard to imagine the initial levels of national support given for the invasion of Iraq had Bush pushed for invading, say, a predominantly white, Christian nation. Bush simply kept his rhetoric in check while letting US bombs do the talking.

At the time, of course, Bush was considered a human gaffe machine. But now, in retrospect, he seems positively stoic. Trump and Carson are the new ID of the US political right: not only unafraid to express what many in the US think (no matter how offensive or inaccurate), but they appear to revel in their own ignorance and the pain that ignorance generates. This is certainly the case in relation to Muslims and Islam, with Ben Carson tapping into the most ill-informed prejudices against the US Muslim community. And, even when they try to offer a modicum of decency, they reveal themselves. When Donald Trump was challenged on his perceived Islamophobia, for example, he offered the line: “I love the Muslims. I think they’re great people.” This is what Trump understands of racism and discrimination: they are mere PR glitches to be remedied with vacuous platitudes worthy of a late-night TV ad for one of his Atlantic City casinos.

There are always glimmers of hope, but context matters. Collectively patting ourselves on the back because President Obama invited 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed to the White House might feel good, but it doesn’t address the fact that the boy was detained and handcuffed in large part because of the anti-Muslim atmosphere generated by media, politicians and US foreign policy.

The questions we really needed to ask were about ourselves. That would have been real balance that questioned and disturbed, and not the fluffy faux-balance of pundit-driven TV.

And that time has come again. But Trump and Carson now pose a dilemma for US journalists: what do you do within the near religious frameworks of ‘neutrality’ and ‘balance’ when candidates come out with blatantly Islamophobic positions? Yes, their opinions have been criticised, but criticism is not condemnation, and we should ask ourselves not only what we want from politics, but from our media. Is it really forced neutrality and balance, even in the face of vulgar bigotry? Is it media that infantilises us by suggesting that the merits of even the blatantly idiotic and offensive are worthy of debate and analysis? Or, do we want deeper introspection about our politics and our society, and a more painful-but-beneficial discussion?

Just as we gazed into the abyss a decade ago, so we gaze into it today. Let’s cover that story before it’s too late.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘The US gazes into the Islamophobic abyss’.


Or do you think that the Fellows of the Cave and the Inscription were of Our Signs wonderful?
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