The noose is being tightened around Muslims in the United States and Europe as fright and anxiety over the cruelties of the ISIS terrorists grows worldwide.
It was reported on December 23, 2015 that a British Imam’s 10-year U.S. business visa was revoked while he was nearly ready to board a flight departing the London Heathrow Airport for New York. Ajmal Masroor had gone through all the security checks and even had his boarding pass confirmed, but was stopped by a U.S. embassy employee at the gate, who told him that he was not allowed to fly to America. The U.S. Embassy in London didn’t give him any further explanation as to why he was barred from boarding, and simply advised him to apply for a new U.S. visa. In a similar incident on December 15, an extended family of 10 British Muslims was denied boarding a plane that was bound for Los Angeles from the Gatwick Airport in London.
Several American and European Muslims have complained in recent weeks, especially following the Paris attacks of mid-November 2015, that they were subject to undue inspections, interrogation, and “additional screening” while traveling at the airports in the United States and EU countries. They believe they’re being targeted because of their religion and paying the price for the crimes they’ve not committed.
The ceaseless campaign of mass killing by ISIS (or Daesh) and the panic they’re spreading in the Middle East and beyond is taking a toll on the Muslims globally, and non-violent, peaceful Muslims are constantly demanded to condemn the atrocities of this cult and clarify that they despise what ISIS is doing to the innocent civilians under an Islamic banner.
An American journalist believes it’s unsettling for the Muslims to feel compelled that they need to repeatedly denounce ISIS, while they actually have nothing to do with the criminal practices of this sect.
“I am sure it is tiring and unsettling for Muslims, or anyone else, to feel they have to speak out against or distance themselves from heinous acts and crimes committed by people of the same faith—or who claim to be of the same faith,” said Jon Letman.
“Does an African American have to apologize for every bad thing done by another African American? Do all American Christians need to apologize and distance themselves every time another American Christian does something like shoot people in a public place, attack a house of worship, or commit violence using a weapon?” he noted.
Jon Letman is a prolific American journalist based in the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His writings have appeared on international publications including Al Jazeera English, The Huffington Post, The Hawaiian Independent, Civil Beat News, Truthout, Inter Press Service and Christian Science Monitor.
In the following interview with Mr. Letman, we discussed the rise of Islamophobic sentiments in the West in the aftermath of Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings, the unchecked growth of ISIS terrorists, and the perception of the American public of the Muslims living in their proximity. Jon Letman also expanded on his viewpoints pertaining to the role of corporate media in exaggerating the fear of Muslims. He says the U.S. media play on an agenda of fear-mongering, which results in the unwarranted vilification of Muslims.
Q: Muslims worldwide have come under fire following the deadly Paris attacks on November 13 and 14 as the whole scenario gave the impression that they were “Islamist terrorists” who perpetrated the shooting spree and exploded the bombs in the French capital and its Saint-Denis suburb. Is the Western public drawing any distinction between those extremists who carry out such attacks—and continue to wreak havoc on Syria and Iraq—and the peaceful majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with the aggressive conduct of these people?
A: Yes, I believe that intelligent people around the world can clearly see that violent extremists and terrorists are not acting on behalf of all Muslims. Unfortunately, there are too many people who don’t make this distinction and who are easily manipulated by forces that lead them to lash out at not only Muslims or Arabs, but anyone who seems to be Middle Eastern. It’s irrational, but it’s a serious and growing problem.
Q: In his address to the nation on December 6 following the San Bernardino massacre, President Obama made it clear that he believes ISIS doesn’t represent Islam, and there are millions of Muslims who are an integral part of the American society. This understanding, however, is not echoed in the statements made by the presidential hopefuls, and we constantly receive fiercely Islamophobic signals from major Republican contenders as Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, especially on the immigration issue. Does this mean that the American Muslims will have more difficult times under Obama’s successor? Is the next U.S. President going to take a hard-line approach towards the Muslims and immigrants coming to the States?
A: Despite his foreign policy which has been harmful to people throughout the Middle East, President Obama, at least in his rhetoric, sounds reasonable and measured and has, in many circumstances, reached out to Muslims around the world. The current Republican presidential candidates, on the other hand, are doing their best to stoke fear of Muslims by an American public that, in issues related to the Middle East, are at best poorly and under-informed, and at worst are outright clueless. Having any one of the current GOP candidates in the White House would most likely be very bad for U.S. relations with other Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. Clearly, some candidates are more extreme and unrealistic than others. Obviously Trump is the loudest and the most destructive, but the others are scarcely any better.
If Hillary Clinton becomes the next U.S. president, the situation might be a little better—maybe. In my view, she’s a hawk and, with regards to Iran in particular, has been very bellicose. She doesn’t offer a lot of hope for better relations except to say that she isn’t Trump. Senator Bernie Sanders would probably be the best option available.
Q: Some major U.S. politicians and public figures are saying that the Muslims on the whole harbor resentments against the Western values of democracy, liberty and plurality, and that’s why they cannot be fully assimilated into the American society. Is it really the case that the Muslims hate the United States and wish to do harm to it?
A: Do Muslims hate the U.S. and wish it harm? I think the answer would be apparent if you talk to the many Muslims in the U.S. who live and work in this country and who raise their families and contribute to society the same as people of other religion.
Q: How do you see the role the corporate media are playing in giving coverage to the ISIS atrocities and analyzing it? Is the media narrative on ISIS breeding discrimination against the Muslims?
A: If your primary or only news source is the corporate U.S. media, you’re going to be getting a lot of bad information, a lot of skewered views, and you will be missing a lot because of what they don’t include and don’t report. From what I see, there is a long-established tradition of playing on fear and ignorance, which end up being the primary narrative for American media consumers. It’s not just fear of Islam, it’s fear of immigrants, fear of non-white, non-Christian people, fear of Latinos, fear of black Americans, fear of Russians, fear of North Koreans, fear of homosexuals, fear of you-name-it.
The American media thrives on fanning the fires of fear. What could be more frightening than angry jihadists committing atrocities and threatening to bring violence and death to the West? Unfortunately, instead of explaining current politics in a way that fosters a better, well-rounded understanding, much of the corporate media I see in the US just plays up the fear but fails to increase real understanding or present the facts in their broader current and historical context.
Q: How long is the fight against ISIS going to take? It’s been a corrosive process. President Obama has affirmed that the United States won’t send ground troops to Iraq and Syria, because it’s what the ISIS terrorists want in order to protract the conflict. The drone attacks and airstrikes have been apparently inefficient and couldn’t draw an end to the reign of ISIS. At the same time, there are still governments in our region that support ISIS both financially and militarily. That said, is it conceivable that ISIS would be rooted out in the near future?
A: I can only offer my opinion as a casual observer. Honestly, I have no idea how long this struggle will continue but I am not very optimistic, especially if the U.S., its allies and other countries like Russia continue to use their militaries as the primary tool to counter or react to ISIS and other extremist groups. It took a long time for things to get this bad and I don’t see things improving any time soon, especially when a big military power like the U.S. seems intent on selling massive amounts of weapons to the Middle East and is willing to drop more bombs, use more drones and even send more soldiers. Will ISIS be rooted out in the near future? I don’t hold a lot of hope for that.
Q: What should the American and European Muslims do in order to correct the distorted, biased portrayal of Islam being fed to the broader public in the West these days? Is it that they should continuously speak out against every act of terrorism carried out under the guise of Islam in order to distance themselves from the atrocities associated with their faith? What’s the responsibility of the media, academics, and politicians?
A: The situation for American Muslims and European Muslims, from what I know, is pretty different. It seems the average Muslim American has assimilated into mainstream American culture to a greater degree than in countries like France and Belgium. Perhaps American and British Muslims’ situation is closer—honestly, I don’t know.
As for what Muslims should do to correct distorted and biased portrayals in the media? That’s difficult, and again, based on my own personal experience and where I live, I am not the person to ask. Speaking in general terms, I suppose the best thing anyone can do in this type of situation is to be true to themselves—be honest and upfront and in doing so, people around them will hopefully see the true nature of individuals.
I am sure it is tiring and unsettling for Muslims, or anyone else, to feel they have to speak out against or distance themselves from heinous acts and crimes committed by people of the same faith—or who claim to be of the same faith. Does an African American have to apologize for every bad thing done by another African American? Do all American Christians need to apologize and distance themselves every time another American Christian does something like shoot people in a public place, attack a house of worship or commit violence using a weapon?
The responsibility of the media, academics and politicians is huge. Each of them, in their own way, needs to ask questions that will encourage the public to think clearly and rationally about what is happening in their own country and around the world. The media is not doing its job when it stokes fears or repeats half-truths and lies without correcting or challenging them. Academics need to challenge people to dig deeper and understand more. Politicians also need to play a central, leading role in encouraging a thoughtful, well-informed narrative that is based on the truth and not on falsehood and fantasy. Politicians should also have the courage, integrity and moral fortitude to admit and acknowledge when their government is wrong and when their own country has made mistakes.
In the case of American politicians, for those who continue to play the “American Exceptionalism” game, they should stop. They are presenting a very self-serving, bigoted lie which supposes that the United States is so special, so unique and so important, that we can play by different rules from the rest of the world. American politicians who repeat lines like “the United States is the greatest country the world has ever known,” etc., are simply propping up a narrative that is untrue and unhelpful. Many Americans can see through this false narrative of the U.S. being an “exceptional nation,” but many others cannot. The end result is that far too many Americans believe they are somehow special, better than people in other places. When this sense of self-importance is developed, it makes it much easier to perpetuate fear, hatred and mistrust of other people. It’s the last thing the world needs today.
This interview was originally published at Truth NGO and has been used here with permission.
Follow John Letman on Twitter @jonletman.