Sunday, November 22, 2009

Going McCarthy

An interesting editorial by Washington Post blogger, Abed Z. Bhuyan, comparing Islamophobia to the Red Scare...

The Faith Divide

Going McCarthy
Today's guest blogger is Abed Z. Bhuyan. Abed is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service where he majored in International Politics and minored in Islam and Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is currently a high school teacher in New York City with Teach for America.

In his most recent weekly column at Forbes, New York University Professor Tunku Varadarajan asserts that the recent murders at Fort Hood is a case of an individual, Nidal Malik Hasan, "Going Muslim." A term coined by Varadarajan himself, it is an adaptation of the phrase "Going Postal." While Varadarajan pats himself on the back for his neologism, he only succeeds in showing his own ignorance and bigotry.

In fact, Varadarajan is the latest in a series of individuals who engage in something that might be called "Going McCarthy" -- after the anti-Communist, fear-mongering Sen. Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s. Indeed, the fear-mongering that Varadarajan espouses is not uncommon to us now nor is it unusual in our collective national history. Islam has been conveniently placed in the void left by the Soviet Union and communism in the post-Cold War world. Modern-day McCarthyites, including Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson, pride themselves on instigating a paranoia that targets American Muslims like me. Let there be no doubt that Varadarajan has officially joined their ranks.

Varadarajan defines his new term as one that describes "the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American--a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood--discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans."

With this term, Varadarajan concedes what many Americans already knew about the likes of Varadarajan: they do not distinguish between the few violent members of a religion and the overwhelming majority of that religion's practitioners, who account for as much as 25% of the world's population. Moreover, Varadarajan absurdly creates a world where an American Muslim can either be the friendly donut vendor or the mentally disturbed mass murderer.

He argues that religion has been privileged and exempt from rules of normal discourse. This, apparently, is a recent concern of Varadarajan. After all, he made no claims this past summer that the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller was an example of "Going Christian."

To say that I am baffled by Varadarajan's calls to end the political correctness when publicly discussing Islam is an understatement. Political correctness is not there simply because he says it is there. On the one hand, we have Pat Robertson stating that Islam itself is the problem, and on the other Bill O'Reilly admits that America is trying to win the hearts and minds of Muslims because "we can't kill them all." If this constitutes political correctness in 2009, then I shudder to think of what a politically incorrect statement would look like.

Perhaps even more disturbing to me was that an official at NYU, where Varadarajan teaches, quickly dismissed calls from Muslims and other people of conscience who found Varadarajan's article hateful. "We are an institution that treasures free speech and open dialogue," wrote Dean Thomas Cooley in a condescending e-mail reply. "You need to think more about what this means since you don't seem to understand it."

Of course, in giving Varadarajan this free pass, Dean Cooley only exacerbates the situation, not only by insulting the intelligence of his own students, but by giving the cop-out answer that is too often used to defend and facilitate Islamophobia in our midst. It is important for leaders like Dean Cooley to firmly reject the dangerous narrow-mindedness and intellectually baseless claims of men like Varadarajan, who should not be granted immunity simply because he wears an NYU or Forbes uniform.

One can't help but wonder whether Dean Cooley would have been more thoughtful in his response had homophobia, anti-Semitism, or racism been at issue.

The fact of the matter is that all forms of bigotry must be condemned and certainly not glorified in the name of free speech or academic freedoms. The same way that homophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism must never go unchecked, Islamophobia must never go unchallenged. Allowing any form of bigotry to fester is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst. [To his credit, NYU President John Sexton has publicly stated that Varadarajan's article was offensive and wrong.]

The horrifying tragedy at Fort Hood is a time for solemn remembrance of the brave soldiers who died. Sadly, for opportunists like Varadarajan, it also serves as an event ripe for exploitation. His published bigotry is an insult to the institution of free speech and ought to be wholly condemned.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

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