Why Liberals Fear Islam
- The Only Good Muslim is the Anti-Muslim
Why Liberals Fear Islam
By M. JUNAID LEVESQUE-ALAM
For some, Barack Obama's stature as a man of the left has fallen
precipitously, like late autumn leaves shed by branches bowing to
the will of winter.
Disappointment has often been self-inflicted. Supporters have dipped
their pens deeply into the inkwell of Obama's inspiring story and
written their own lines on Afghanistan, oil drilling, or the death
penalty - only to see these wishful words unceremoniously erased by
presidential politics or the senator's own views.
But for American Muslims and progressive allies, both eager to see
an end to the vilification of Arabs and Muslims in the United
States, Obama's mantra of hope and change barely set in before it
First we witnessed the embarrassing spectacle of micro-level ethnic
cleansing when two Arab women with headscarves were whisked offstage
ahead of a campaign photo-op in Detroit. Then we heard Obama call
false claims about his purportedly Muslim identity "smears" as if
he was accused not of belonging to an Abrahamic faith observed by
more than 1.2 billion people, but of slinking out of Congress to
visit a brothel. Soon after we saw the senator genuflect before
AIPAC and call for a permanently Israeli Jerusalem - a vision the
Jewish state has assiduously tried to realize by macro-level ethnic
cleansing, purging its Arab residents.
A more recent political maneuver also turned out to be a purge: the
Obama campaign's Muslim outreach coordinator, Mazen
Asbahi, "resigned" this month after a brief stint of several days.
The event went almost unnoticed.
But two sharply different responses to this episode - and the
standing afforded to the authors of these responses - reveal that
the senator is not alone in failing to stanch America's anti-Islamic
miasma. Rather, the shortcoming is a collective one, shared by many
liberals whose prejudice against Muslims and Arab-Americans is
surpassed only by an apparent disinterest in correcting it.
One response to the resignation came from James Zogby. An Arab-
American Christian, Zogby's credentials as a man rooted in his
community are matchless. He helped found the American-Arab Anti-
Discrimination Committee. He led non-sectarian campaigns to assist
war victims in Palestine and Lebanon. And he serves as president of
the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
Yet despite 30 years of community advocacy and experience, his views
on Arab and Muslim issues appear in just two popular non-ethnic
publications. One is The Huffington Post. The other is in Egypt.
Commenting on Asbahi's short tenure, Zogby writes, "In the brief
time he held his position we spoke almost daily. He learned so much
and did so much to make Arab Americans and American Muslims feel
included in the campaign."
"Then," Zogby observes, "it happened." One of the many
websites "monitoring" Muslims in America discovered that eight years
ago Asbahi served on a board which included a controversial imam.
Asbahi resigned from the board after two weeks.
Like vultures eyeing a wounded gazelle, the usual assortment of
right-wing bloggers descended on Asbahi. They vilified him as a
closet fundamentalist for once belonging to the Muslim Student
Association, a well-established mainstream group with branches on
dozens of college campuses across the U.S. and Canada.
Not to be outdone, the Wall Street Journal threatened to amplify the
echo chamber, the walls of which reverberate with the hysterics of
its associates in the right-wing "blogosphere."
Faced with mounting pressure and bereft of support from any quarter,
Asbahi and the campaign "agreed" he would relinquish his post.
This sequence of events comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with
neoconservative methods. It is but a reenactment of previous
attacks: the mendacious 2005 campaign to oust Columbia University
professors who used Israel's own archives to dismantle pleasant
fictions about its history; the dissemination of e-mails containing
crude anti-Semitic nonsense sent out in professors' names to destroy
their credibility; and the ongoing efforts to publicly intimidate
universities into denying academics employment or tenure.
But amid the past few years of attacks, outrages, and, yes, smears,
hurled at Muslims and Arabs in this country, one Muslim figure
stands curiously unsullied: Irshad Manji. She, too, wrote about
Asbahi's dismissal, though we would do well to acquaint ourselves
with the author first.
Unlike most of her coreligionists, Manji has been lavished with
attention and awards by mainstream and liberal America. She garnered
Oprah Winfrey's first "Chutzpah" award, Ms. Magazine's "Feminist for
the 21st Century" seal of approval, New York University's Wagner
School "Moral Courage Project," a column in The Huffington Post,
production of a PBS documentary, and the list goes on.
In an era when Muslims find themselves boxed in by political attacks
here and military assaults abroad, one wonders: what is Manji's
secret to success?
She wrote a book - and not just any book. Titled The Trouble With
Islam Today, hers won applause not only from liberals but other,
more interesting quarters. The Wall Street Journal praised it
as "refreshingly provocative" and "deserv[ing] of the attention it
is receiving." Daniel Pipes declared, "Manji - a practicing Muslim -
brings real insight to her subject." Phyillis Chesler beamed, "Manji
has written a bold, sane, passionate, compelling book." And Alan
Dershowitz announced, "Manji is a fresh, new and intriguing voice of
A fine example of damning with loud praise.
What could a Muslim have written that would delight supporters of
bombing and torturing Muslims? What sweet words could have moved
Daniel Pipes - who specializes in hyping anti-Islamic hysteria on
Fox News and elsewhere - to welcome into his generous bosom the
ideas of a "practicing Muslim?" What might motivate Alan Dershowitz,
better known for backing the torture of Muslims than for reading
their books, to plug Manji's effort?
The answer lies in the content. The Trouble With Islam Today is an
unhinged polemic that derides Muslims and demeans their faith.
Examining a few of the book's points should reveal what has caught
the fancy of neoconservatives and liberals alike.
The author devotes two pages to comparing Osama bin Laden to Prophet
Muhammad. "Is it mere happenstance," Manji rhetorically asks, "that
bin Laden spends so much time in caves, like the meditating
[Prophet] did?" With penetrating and piercing logic - in the sense
that one must penetrate one's skull and pierce the cortex to succumb
to it - she goes on in this vein, declaring "camel saddles"
and "online transactions" twin evils. The "parallels" between Osama,
the man who blesses the murder of innocent people, and Muhammad, the
man who forgave the murderers of his closest companions, "continue
to proliferate," Manji insists, much to the delight of the Muslim-
haters behind the curtains.
A good portion of the book is also dedicated to attacking the Quran
(and the Quran alone), which the intrepid author does without any
background in religious studies or a single footnote. But no matter.
This book, Manji intones, is "profoundly at war with itself."
Religious texts should apparently read like do-it-yourself plumbing
guides, bereft of subtlety or layers of meaning, particularly if you
are trying to flush the whole thing down the toilet to boost your
celebrity status among Islamophobes.
Manji's fans must especially enjoy her excoriation of Muslims as
fake victims. Muslims wallow in their "screaming self-pity," she
snickers, as though one ought to see the fuselage of cruise missiles
as half-full rather than half-empty as they fly en route to the
nearest wedding celebration or apartment building.
Manji's attacks on Muslims appear almost kind next to the beating
she doles out to logic itself. She surmises that since Muslims have
been more harmed by Muslims than non-Muslims (based on what data or
criteria, we dare not guess), there is little reason to complain
about atrocities authored under the "war on terror." She does not
add whether she also ordered families of Sept. 11th victims to get
over themselves when the casualties were surpassed by that year's
domestic homicides - a case of "Americans having been more harmed by
Americans than non-Americans."
Finally, Manji enjoys ridiculing dispossessed Palestinians. Ignoring
over two decades of work by Jewish scholars and human rights groups
on Israeli ethnic cleansing and massacres, she neatly eliminates the
Palestinians altogether by dubbing them Jordanians and hails Israel
for its "compassion." It must have been precisely this "compassion"
that moved 23 ANC veterans, several of them Jewish, to compare the
Israeli occupation with South African apartheid during a recent
Now well-acquainted with America's favorite Muslim, let us turn to
her article on the departure of Obama's former coordinator, Mazen
In a Huffington Post piece, she demonstrates no concern about the
vilification enabled Asbahi's dismissal. Indeed, she fails to
mention it even once. Is this because Manji is too busy contributing
to the problem to pause and reflect? Or is it because this would
upset her core base - the neoconservatives who mount these smear
Whatever the case, Manji performs her predictable pre-programmed
attack routine, observing contemptuously, " Mazen Asbahi has just
resigned. I can't say I'm disheartened. He'd been embraced by groups
like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of
North America, renowned for their conservative politics
and `moderate' double-speak."
Writing a piece occasioned by attacks on one Muslim, Manji manages
to magnify the insult by attacking thousands of other Muslims.
According to her politics, anyone who does not dance to the
detonation of cluster bombs is already suspect. So her invective
aimed at groups representing thousands of American Muslims, which
she never bothers to back up with arguments, is understandable.
Not yet satisfied with herself, she goes on to pant about "most"
American Muslims being stuck in a 7th century - or perhaps 10th
century, depending on her mood - "time warp." Serving as 21st
century America's doctors, teachers, engineers, shopkeepers, and
plant workers, Muslims have been too busy to notice this worrisome
Concluding with a few shopworn words about "moral courage"
and "revolutionary ethos," Manji polishes off her attacks on the
community by invoking vague platitudes about Muslim "reform."
This is Manji's sole gimmick: disingenuous calls for Muslims to move
forward belied by support for those pulling America backward.
What does the liberal adulation of a professional Islamophobe - one
openly adored by neoconservatives, no less - say about the state of
American liberalism? Will liberals come to respect and support
genuine Muslim and Arab voices, like Zogby and countless
unrecognized figures? Or will they continue to lazily rely on self-
professed stand-ins like Irshad Manji?
If liberalism persists on its present path, it will not only
alienate a targeted community in America but pave the way for
Perfectly illustrating this point is The New York Times' fawning
characterization of Manji as "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare."
This is very far from the truth.
For years, many Muslim and non-Muslim voices have said bin Laden's
ideology is a freak phenomenon, fashioned in the ghoulish laboratory
of Cold War politics and fed on a steady diet of American Israeli
assaults in the Middle East. At odds with more than 1,300 years of
Muslim thought and history, these voices have insisted, bin Laden is
a perversion of genuine Islam.
But Manji argues the opposite: bin Laden is a genuine product of
Islam, which is itself perverted. Osama, we will recall, is for
Manji the new Muhammad.
In showering attention and accolades on Manji, many liberals thus
validate and promote the idea that extremist Islam is Islam itself.
Could bin Laden dream of a greater gift? Could the neoconservatives?
Perhaps liberals find Manji's message appealing because ascribing
extremism to some innate feature of Islam "disappears" from view the
consequences of American foreign policy. Invasion and occupation
disappear. Torture and abuse disappear. Corpses of slaughtered
civilians and carrions of neutralized nations disappear.
The desire to own a clear conscience, even one obtained through the
muddiest logic, should never be underestimated.
There may be other answers: a fear of questioning the dominant
narrative; of criticizing Israel; of discovering Islamic
perspectives; of engaging the Other, who is often harangued but
Whatever the reason, American liberals would do well to stop
glorifying anti-Muslim celebrities and start building relationships
with honest Arab and Muslim voices.
We are waiting.
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs about America and Islam at Crossing
the Crescent ( http://www.crossingthecrescent.com ) and writes about
American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine. Co-founder of Left
Hook, a youth journal that ran from Nov. 2003 to March 2006, he
works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence
agency in the NYC area.
He can be reached at: junaidalam1 AT gmail.com
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