Middle East Times: Freedom is not spelled 'feardom'

Is it possible for Muslim Americans to criticize our administration’s neoconservative foreign policies, our government’s complicit role in Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, or our domestic breaches of civil liberties, and not be branded as “apologists for terror?”

That was the key question at the heart of last March’s controversy in our nation’s capital, pitting the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) against some in the GOP, or Republican Party – a question every columnist and talk-show pundit commenting on the spat was careful to pass over.

Since 9/11, anti-Muslim hysteria has evolved from a collective knee-jerk reaction to a premeditated and coordinated cottage industry, patronized by an agenda-driven elite seeking political – sometimes financial – gain.

In the resulting hostile climate, “suspicion” of Muslims – as opposed to evidence of our wrongdoing – is apparently cause enough to demand that we be stripped of our right to speak freely on our nation’s beacon of democracy and pluralism, Capitol Hill.

Such was the demand made of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by members of the Republican Party after it was “revealed” CAIR would host an educational panel on the findings of a poll on international public opinion conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) for the British Broadcasting Corporation, to be delivered by the Washington, DC PIPA director, who is also a professor at the University of Maryland.

Sound the alarm.

While there has been a lot of media buzz about the controversy since, one obvious question has yet to be asked: just what is an “apologist for terror?”

This loaded designation, leveled at CAIR by some in the GOP at the behest of no more than an amateur blogger from Florida, is designed to withstand quantification or any form of objective assessment, and, thus, be beyond contention.

If CAIR’s consistent condemnations of acts of terrorism and coordination of a national fatwa (decree) against all forms of terrorism and religious extremism are not enough to debunk such a subjective designation, then what is? Is endorsing the hawkish policies of the present administration or the oppressive treatment of the Palestinians by the state of Israel the only option for political redemption?

Besides the ethical concerns that such a malign-and-marginalize political tactic raises, I am deeply concerned about the spirit of lawlessness it simultaneously seems to sanction.

It used to be that objective standards – otherwise known as “the laws of the land” – were trusted to separate “the good” from “the bad” (more technically classified as “legal” and “illegal”).

Within the realm of civilized, pluralistic democracies – where CAIR fits comfortably – there ought to be respect for alternative viewpoints that challenge dominant ideologies via the spoken and written word. The added hope is, of course, that the challenger will not suffer vindictive retribution in the form of smear campaigns, “suspicion” not withstanding.

Uncensored, free debate should be honored as the sacred cornerstone of a healthy democracy; in other words, it should not be repressed, muffled, and ultimately replaced with a classification system that permits some to speak and orders others to shut up.

Beating a law-abiding, law-promoting Muslim American organization with the “terror” stick, simply because it questions certain foreign and domestic policies, is an affront to the very foundations of US democracy and an insult to all Americans. What kind of impact does such suppression have on the “hearts and minds” of this country’s Muslim youth? Independent research has shown that ostracizing minorities from the political process is a contributing factor toward extremism – the same extremism we are spending billions on to fight.

The moment we allow our common fears to overpower our common sense and our common law, is the same instant in which terrorism wins. Our laws – not our whims and suspicions – must be the ultimate arbitrator in the social contract also known as the United States of America. A self-respecting democracy entrusts professional investigating agencies, well-trained law enforcement, and impartial and open courts of law to ascertain who is an actual danger to society.

At what point did the Republican Party decide to relegate the sacred responsibility of government to self-serving bloggers?

Indeed, the ease with which an amateur blogger from Florida, armed with little more than a keyboard and a narrow political agenda could single-handedly shape the discourse on US Muslims and their organizations, both in the halls of Congress and on the pages of mainstream newspapers, is an indication of the pitiful stage that Islamophobia has reached in America.

It is shameful that some in the GOP seek to exploit the apparent susceptibility of many of our fellow citizens to believe anything negative about Muslims and their representative organizations in order to score a political point against a rival party.

It is high time the polarizing tactics of fear-mongering and identity politics are erased from our political handbooks.

Now, more than ever, Americans need to converse; voices need to be free to speak and free to be heard. Since the GOP regularly uses “freedom” as a buzzword, I am inclined to remind them that freedom is not spelled “feardom.”

Copyright © 2007, Middle East Times