Friday, August 27, 2010

My appearance on Aljazeera regarding the Islamic Center in NYC

Arwa kindly translated my comments from Aljazeera this Tuesday:

Interviewer: Let me move to Professor As’ad Abu Khalil in San Francisco. As’ad, is this campaign the result of political maneuvering, the Republicans wanting to regain control of Congress, or the result of ignorance or deep-seated hostility to Islam and Muslims?
 Abu Khalil: The matter is much deeper than that. It transcends the ongoing discussion, beyond the Islamic center. It goes beyond the current administration. This is why I disagreed with you, brother Muhammad, when you expressed nostalgia for Bush, who had visited mosques once or twice. You should’ve added that he visited mosques while his bombs and missiles were falling on Muslims civilians’ heads, both moderate and extremist, in Afghanistan and Iraq.
 This is a multi-faceted issue. We should acknowledge that there is a system of contempt towards Islam in this country just as there was Nazi contempt for Jews. This exceeds the reactionary right-wing’s embrace of this hostility. Instead, this prejudice penetrates the essence of political and popular culture in this country.
 During the introduction we should have added that there are liberal voices like Howard Dean, who are among the most liberal personas in the Democratic Party, who opposed Muslims’ right to build this mosque. I believe there are several issues aside this Islamic center. The center’s imam, Abdul Rauf, bears responsibility for idiotic idea, which has fueled islamophobia on official and popular levels.
 However, Obama bears the brunt of responsibility before he was even sworn in as president because he failed to defend Muslims’ right to live as equal citizens in this country. He distanced himself from that entirely.
 Finally, I’d like to say in response to American politicians who talk to us on television screens and say to us in Arabic “assalamu alaikum” (peace be upon you) in broken Arabic, thinking that they’re fooling us. I tell the Arab audience that is listening that this is not part of a vibrant dialogue in a democratic society. Does Mr. Hussein dare claim that anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany used to be part of a vibrant dialogue?
 Interviewer: Thank you for the clarification, brother As’ad. I wasn’t being nostalgic to the Bush administration. Instead, I was referring to what someone wrote in the New York Times. Also, Imam Abdul Rauf is not with us, so we can’t call his idea idiotic. Khalil, Ron Paul said something to the effect of your ideas. He issued a strongly worded statement and accused his Republican colleagues of playing with fire and accused the Neocons of working to keep conflict with Muslims ignited. Do you believe there is in fact a conspiracy to keep America in an ongoing battle with the Muslim world?
 Abu Khalil: No, the matter is much deeper and complicated than that. I disagree with focusing on certain elements within the Republican Party. That’s because the current Democratic administration bears significant responsibility for failing to respond to islamophobia during the electoral campaign. It also distances itself from defending believers’ and non-believers’ constitutional rights as per the First Amendment. This week alone, President Obama issued a statement this week reminding the United States that he follows the Christian faith. This is proof that when he is called a Muslim, it’s an accusation, contrary to Mr. Hussein’s assertion that he is unaware of the extent of hostility towards Islam and Muslims in this country.
 Interviewer: Do you believe the current economic crisis plays a role in this?
 Abu Khalil: No doubt, difficult economic times propel people to scapegoat a certain group of people such as African-Americans or Mexicans, or Arab and Muslims these days. The American administration could’ve eviscerated this growing campaign from the American political system. But Barack Obama’s equivocation clearly indicated that no American politician can bear the political cost of supporting an American sub-community’s constitutional right. In addition, over 60% of the American people, who are not all Republican, oppose the idea of establishing the Islamic center in New York.
 Interviewer: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is thought to have pressured Obama to back out of his iftar dinner … Let us listen to the imam of this controversial center Mr. Abdul Rauf, leader of Cordoba, which title was changed after pressure.
 Abdul Rauf: The Cordoba initiative aims to improve relations between the Islamic nation and the West and non-Islamic religions. House of Cordoba’s projects started before 9/11, to be honest. I’ve been here in America for 45 years. I’ve noticed there is a need for a center, a cultural center, that provides an alternative curriculum to those commonly found in mosques. Here in America we need to establish a Muslim-American community. We know that its proximity to Ground Zero would make the location known. We expected that. But we didn’t expect the violence of the backlash. First of all, this is not a mosque. It’s a community center … generally speaking. Second, it’s not located at Ground Zero. Ground Zero is two blocks away. To call it the “Ground Zero Mosque” is inaccurate. There is much ignorance in the United States towards Islam. What is Islam? Who are Muslims? Does Islam promote tolerance? What happened was unislamic. Those are our goals, to explain to people what Islam is and who Muslims are.
 Interviewer: As’ad, this imam has been marketed, and now he’s doing a tour representing the Department of State to demonstrate Islam’s moderate, Sufi, peaceful side. Despite that, nobody from the government defended when he came under attack although it spends to improve the USA’s image in the Islamic world.
 Abu Khalil: I’m almost tempted to say [Abdul Rauf] deserves the vicious attack he’s facing for the reckless, thoughtless idea, which has led to the deterioration of Muslims’ status in this country. This is not to undermine …
 Interviewer (interrupting): Doesn’t he have the right to …
 Abu Khalil: Of course, of course …
 Interviewer: … to build the center? They own the building, so why not?
 Abu Khalil: I was going to discuss that in the rest of my sentence. This is not to undermine the right of any Muslim to establish a mosque anywhere in this country. However, considering the cultural climate, which has been hostile towards Muslims since 9/11, the Muslim and Arab community should have been consulted about this. In that clip, [Abdul Rauf] refers to improving relations with the West, Christians and Jews in this country. I ask him, did this lead to improvement of the relationship or deterioration?
 Second, he says the idea aimed for bringing religions together. The problem we face in this country is the public’s connection between terrorism and 9/11 and Muslims. This man came along and said “I’ll establish a mosque for you meters away from the World Trade Center,” as if to fuel islamophobia in this country. That’s what happened.
 Furthermore, I’ve lived in this country for about 30 years. I know every activist who works for Palestine. I’ve never heard of this man in my life. Also, the New York Times has mentioned that he considers himself a supporter of Israel.
 Interviewer: And they showed him no mercy despite that. He’s seized the attention of all media outlets … I’ll direct the last question to As’ad in San Francisco. As’ad, don’t you think the average American, notwithstanding his ignorance about Islam, may be willing to listen? History has shown that he has reconciled with African-Americans, Latinos and women. Do you think Muslims just need to explain their cause to find the greatest support in the average American citizen?
 Abu Khalil: I don’t think so. That’s an exaggeration about Americans. What the other guest said about a distinction between ignorance and hatred, is unsustainable because ignorance and hatred fuel each other. I am of the opinion that Americans on an individual level may be willing to listen. But not on a social level. Also, with regard to Americans’ reconciliation with various groups they had oppressed, and there have been many including women and others. But there is an arrogant aspect of American nationalism that refuses to acknowledge this country’s shameful history. In addition, Muslims are excluded from national reconciliation in this country.
 Interviewer: Thank you, As’ad. "