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How Hate and Islamophobia Undermine America This Election Year

By Hassan Shibly, For The Huffington Post, On 09 March 2016, Read Original
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What does it say about our country when the debate for the highest office in the land becomes about whose genitals are larger, who can kill the most civilians and reinstate torture, and which religious minorities to persecute?

Not only do the presidential debates reflect on the poor quality of those we select as leaders, but their rhetoric often reflects a disregard for human life and is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the worst historical figures who have brought down democracies and enabled crimes against humanity.

They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. What scares me as an American of Syrian descent and Muslim faith is how normal and acceptable it has become to use the same rhetoric against the Muslim community today that's been used against the Jewish community before the holocaust and Japanese Americans before the internment camps.

Have we not learned what has happened in history when an entire group of people are categorized as a threat based on their race or religion?

Prior to the holocaust, the Nazi propaganda machine spoke about the "Jewish problem" and how allegedly the Jewish community was organized in a diabolical scheme for world domination, and that Jews were liars and could not be trusted or be loyal to the state. Those are verbatim the same arguments that we hear made against Muslims today and which far too many Americans find acceptable. It is the same hate with a new target.

In both cases, masses of otherwise reasonable people, were and are misled by leaders to demonize an entire group of people and portray them as a threat. The "threat" is fabricated using outright lies, half-truths, and double standards. What is scary is when otherwise normal people are willing to rally behind leaders who advocate for the curtailment of the civil rights of minorities, while other leaders remain silent.

In 1922, the New York Times profiled Hitler:




...Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line...

Likewise, we find today even moderate GOP leaders downplaying threats by candidates to ban Muslims or have them wear special ID cards. These are the same types of threats made by Hitler that were taken lightly.

One of my favorite passages of the Holy Quran is translated as:




The Quran warns that hatred of others can drive people to be unjust. We saw that in our own history as hatred allowed us to swerve from justice and incarcerate Japanese Americans in internment camps, post "Irish need not apply" and "Whites Only" signs.

Nothing is more destructive to justice than hatred. America prides itself as a champion of justice; therefore, we can say hatred is destructive to America.

And yet the presidential campaigns today seem to be rooted in hatred and arrogance.

When it comes to leadership, the Quran highlights how people are normally attracted to those with a noble disposition and scared off by those who are harsh and abrasive:




And yet the belligerence and rudeness of the candidates only seems to attract more voters today. This is reflective of a serious spiritual illness effecting our hearts as Americans, whereby many of us find ourselves attracted to so-called leaders who espouse disrespect and disregard for good character, human rights, diversity and the rule of law.

It is time we take a moment to reflect over what we have allowed ourselves to become and how we have allowed fear and hate to divide us and turn us against each other and support candidates whose positions are antithetical to our values as Americans and humans. Our enemies can never destroy us. We can only destroy ourselves when we allow fear and hate to turn us against each other and undermine the values and principles we hold so dear which make our nation so great.

Ultimately, Islamophobia makes us less safe and less free. It is a tool used to undermine civil rights at home and engage in increased conflict overseas. The University of Georgetown's Bridge Initiative has shown how Islamophobia is not the result of the bad acts of some Muslims, since virtually every faith group has some bad actors. Rather it is born out of politicians engaging in double standards and sharing selective facts, taken out of context, to dehumanize Muslims and galvanize support for Military action against Muslim majority counties.

This has led to a failed foreign policy that has destabilized the Middle East, such as the illegal invasion of Iraq, which led the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the birth of groups like ISIS and created millions of refugees fleeing persecution, war and destruction to seek freedom, justice and opportunity. This has further exasperated and reinforced Islamophobia at home, as we blame the conflicts we helped create on religion and culture, instead of our military mistakes in the region.

Facts are conveniently ignored by politicians and hate profiteers who use fear and hate to gain votes or make a few bucks at the expense of dividing our nation. By understanding how the tactics used today are no different than tactics used to promote unjust policies in the past, and also by studying history, we can avoid repeating the horrible mistakes of the past.

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