Unlearning America’s Phobias Without Sacrificing Security
By Anthony Chen
The post-9/11 era changed America’s perception of Muslims. The once peaceful religion of worship has become synonymous to radical groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Even former President Barack Obama, America’s greatest hope for change, steered away from the “M” word during his 2008 campaign because it was politically damaging to his image. The first Black Presidential Candidate in American history, whose battled racism fiercely, had succumbed to a simple accusation for what Americans saw as taboo. This was an early indication of the threatening label branded on Muslims.
The United States alone has poured trillions of dollars into and deployed more than 1.6 million soldiers to the front lines of the “war on terror” to combat the spread of extremist ideologies. A sense of Islamophobia has also spread through European countries, due to numerous terrorist attacks in Manchester, Paris, and Barcelona this year. There is a constant reminder of who the enemy is, – Muslims. All this brings us to the context of war.
War is absolute. That means it requires the effort of every member to be involved. This idea of “us” verses “them” is the exact mentality that the U.S. had during the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II when they were viewed as security threats. Unfortunately, our world is much more complicated today than that of our history. The enemies of America can no longer be identified with a flag or a uniform; instead, by religion and language. Therefore, anyone in America who speaks Arabic, is Middle Eastern, or follows Islam is suspected to be an Islamic terrorist.
Liberal Americans today are hypersensitive to certain discriminatory phrases, labels, and responses they do not agree with. Our millennials resort to “safe spaces” to protect their emotions and blindly accuse their leaders simply because they dislike them. People refuse to find a neutral point to compromise on these means so their opinions and thoughts are usually one sided.
As vocalized by “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, President Donald Trump’s has displayed double standards with his responses to recent vehicle attacks, the first in Charlottesville committed by a Neo-Nazi and the more recent in lower Manhattan by a Muslim man. Before we get into America’s prejudice of Muslims, we must try to understand the mindset of our current President. Trump is first and foremost a nationalist, which means he is a flag-waving patriot who consumes McDonalds on daily basis, just because it is American. This sort of mentality excludes his efforts to promote foreign relations or to accept polices such as immigration and rather focus on the domestic challenges at hand.
Noah mentioned that Trump claimed more information was needed after the attack in Charlottesville before a conclusion was drawn and released to the public. He resorted to the same basic accusation of racial profiling because the driver of the vehicle, James Fields Jr., was White and not Arab. However, Noah did accurately label it as an act of terror. Fields was known to be obsessed with Nazi ideology and his actions definitely made a statement on behalf of White supremacists. This was a form of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, White supremacy has deep roots in American history and that makes it a lesser tier compared to threats from abroad.
The textbook definition of terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. With this information in mind, we are now able to differentiate terrorism from violent crimes.
Stephen Paddock, more famously known as the Vegas Gunman, killed 58 people and injured hundreds more at a country music festival. He previously had a mental disorder that indicated a narcissistic personality as well as depression. As a result, his mental instability led to the tragic shootings in Las Vegas. Devin Kelley, the recent Church shooter in Texas, had similar symptoms with a history of violence and a record for sexual assault. Kelley killed 26 people before an armed Samaritan shot him to death.
So what is the common factor? In both cases, the perpetrators were White, but had no link to White supremacists or any other violent group with an intention to make a political statement. Therefore, we can safely label these cases as violent crimes and not terrorism.
As for the lower Manhattan attack, there is no doubt that it was an act of terror. Sayfullo Saipov was an immigrant from Uzbekistan who had been radicalized domestically. Saipov was known by his peers to be a family man with a wife and 3 children and drove for Uber, with no prior acts of violence. The vehicle attack was conducted a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, killing 8 people in the process. Saipov left a note near his rental truck confirming his affiliation with ISIS. In addition, more than 90 videos and 3800 images relating to ISIS (beheadings, shootings, bomb-making instructions and images of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad) was seized from his phone. The fact of the matter is, Saipov is Muslim and a terrorist. That is a fact, not discriminatory. Therefore, Saipov is another case that will contribute to America’s fear of Muslims.
Although this sort of prejudice may seem unjust, it is human nature for people to feel the need to blame others for their adversities. As long as the war on terror continues, this phenomenon will not disappear any time soon. White men do not get a pass on the crimes they commit; they just have less time on television. Domestic crimes differ from terrorist attacks that were meant to cripple our way of life. Muslims will always be discriminated against because America cannot tell its enemies from foes.
Political leaders and the media will always politicize this issue more than others, thus adding fuel to the fire. We cannot blame them just as we cannot blame the innocent American citizens that are Muslims. Islamophobia is not a personal vendetta; it is something inevitable that people need to live with, and in the process overcome their sense of victim-hood. After all, we all need to make sacrifices in exchange for our security.