By Anthony J. Aschettino
There is not much time left; nobody really knows how much, but we feel that a number less than ten years is probably a good ballpark to go by. Ten years. That’s how long Americans have to decide the future of Islam in America. Ten years to decide what kind of a future society Americans want to build, and what sort of social atmosphere they want to exist for their children in the coming decades.
Of course we are not speaking to all Americans here; rather, we are speaking to “Americans™”. We are speaking to the conservative, right wing denizens of this country who are doing their best, and sadly succeeding in many respects, to drive a definitive wedge between America and Islam. Their constant demonizing of the religion is sowing the seeds of a future harvest that will see the crippling of the America that most ordinary people know and desire, and that grim visage will be an unalterable fact after a certain point. The event horizon is looming in the near distance, and the right wing in this country is hell-bent on diving head-first into it.
Islam in America is one of the great opportunities for the twenty-first century. There is a chance to develop a highly intellectual, moderate version of the religion that is bereft of many of the problems that plague the faith in other parts of the world. Islam in America is not driven by cultural realities as it is in the Arab Middle East, nor sectarian divides as it is elsewhere. With the exception of an extreme minority, present in every group, American Muslims are happy going about their daily lives without the pressures that exist on Muslims elsewhere in the world. Shia or Sunni, conservative or liberal, there is room in American Islam for all kinds of individuals. The very liberalism that has defined America since its inception is the fertile ground into which many immigrants have chosen to stake a claim, determined to avoid the very issues that drove them to come here in the first place.
Up until recently, there were no overt problems with this. Despite some cultural differences, American Muslims have mostly assimilated into the fabric of this society, and they have passed on their values and aspirations to the next generation of young Muslims. Not just the immigrant Muslims, but also those who have chosen to adopt Islam as a religion and way of life. If there was anywhere that Muslims could find acceptance and the ability to live according to their own desires, it was America.
That is all changing now. Conservative bloggers have spewed their hate-filled invectives against any Muslim group or project they come across. Media organizations such as Fox “News” (and we hesitate in the extreme to use that term in association with that company) are ever determined to misrepresent facts and continue to stoke the growing paranoia and distrust about Islam both at home and abroad. The “Tea Party” movement, a modern day pitiful amalgamated scion of all of those xenophobic organizations from years past, is marching arm-in-arm with conservative Christian groups in their efforts to make America one nation under a very specific god. The policies of fear and race-baiting have made a comeback to levels not seen since the 1950s, when the Red Scare and segregation were legitimate political tools used to cow progressive movements into submission.
Within ten years the current generation of young Muslims, those who are growing up and becoming socially and politically conscious at this very moment, will be adults. They will be deciding what kind of future they have in this country, and what kind of country it really is. As it stands now, we want them to look up to men such as Imam Rauf of Cordoba House fame. If the anti-Islam movement in this country continues its crusade, they will look up to men such as Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with that idea from the point of view of the anti-Muslim bigots; hate and fear always need a bogeyman, and communism has never really been the same as an enemy since the Soviet Union imploded. Despite all of the right wing’s purported hankering for a “moderate” Islam, what they really want is an Islam that fulfills their most violent fantasies. They want an Islam where bearded desert men wrapped in robes force their women to wear virtual tents in public. They want an excuse for their hatred, fuelled by the belief that Christ’s Second Coming is just around the corner.
On the other side of the coin are groups such as CAIR who love these events occurring just as much as the right loves committing them: such acts support their propaganda that “Islamophobia” is ever present and it drives Muslims into their arms when they purport to represent them. Such opportunistic and duplicitous groups are the Ying and Yang of an American problem; both sides are equally complicit in fostering societal paranoia.
Given the way things are moving, it will be depressing but not completely unexpected if the Know Nothing/ Tea Party ends up having their way. That way will manifest itself one day when one of those young men who convinced himself that there really was no place in America for Muslims decides to ignite a car-bomb in the Lincoln Tunnel or fire an RPG at a lumbering plane approaching Newark Airport from across the Turnpike. Sure, nobody can be “driven” to do anything; such talk is simply an excuse for the criminal according to the right. Yet they are desperately trying to ignite the fuse on a global conflagration that cannot be won through military means in the modern era; they are leading America down a path that will end with countless unnecessary deaths and the destruction of the very society to which they allege fealty.
At that time, albeit too late, we will all weep for the lives lost and we will all bemoan the fact that it has come to that, but there will be those of us who can still show our faces in the light of day. Conversely, there will be those, many of whom are alive today, to whom we will say when recounting the needless dead “J’Accuse! Their blood is on your hands.”