By Contributor on March 22, 2006
Vilifying Muslims is wrong, un-American
By Moustafa Bayoumi

March 22, 2006

Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the United States.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Americans hold negative perceptions of Islam, 7 percentage points higher than after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The poll also discovered that a third of the respondents have recently heard prejudiced comments against Muslims. Even more depressing is that one in four openly admits to harboring prejudice toward Muslims.

Is this surprising? Unfortunately, it's not. The vilification of Islam and Muslims has been relentless among segments of the media and political classes for the last five years.

The dangerously popular right-wing columnist Ann Coulter, for example, routinely drums up racist diatribes against Muslims. She questioned the "personal hygiene and grooming" of Muslims in a recent column. What other group can be so openly and maliciously maligned in American mainstream discourse today without consequence to the author?

During the whole Dubai ports deal debacle, even Democratic leaders engaged in unfounded scare mongering to score political points.

And it continues. Colorado Rep. Jim Welker, a Republican, was recently discovered to have sent an email to his constituents titled: "Beware of Islam in America." The text of his email read, in part, "Can a devout Muslim be an American patriot and loyal citizen? Politically, no. Because he must submit to the mullah, who teaches annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan."

This is rubbish, of course, but such bigoted ideas continue to thrive, leaving many American Muslims politically fatigued.

"In the aftermath of 9/11, Arab and Muslim Americans have been compelled, time and again, to apologize for acts they did not commit, to condemn acts they never condoned and to openly profess loyalties that, for most U.S. citizens, is merely assumed." That is the conclusion of Sally Howell and Andrew Shyrock, two professors from the University of Michigan who have studied the Arab and Muslim communities of Detroit.

We need to tap into American traditions of tolerance to help us differentiate between a religion and its extremists. We can engage the philosophical school of American pragmatism to dismiss bigotry and opt for real analysis.

But in times of political turmoil, Americans have historically turned inward. Borders close, populism rises and demagoguery takes off.

"The goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination," said televangelist Pat Robertson recently.

This is not just wrong. It's dangerous. And this kind of demagoguery must be resisted before it gains even more traction. Otherwise, the noble American tradition of tolerance will be the next casualty in the war on terror.

Moustafa Bayoumi is a professor in the English department at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and co-editor of "The Edward Said Reader" (Vintage, 2000). He is also an editor at Middle East Report (www.merip.org). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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