THERE is hardly a dull moment in US politics. It’s like a carousel constantly going around and presenting myriad spectacles to the viewers from different angles.
However, it borders on theatrics when the political stage moves to the US Congress. The maiden act of the congressional theatrics, in modern times, was the Water Gate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon in disgrace. In recent memory the saga of Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes and philandering in the White House dazzled America and the world with its Hollywood-like titillating minutiae described in details in congress that otherwise should’ve been censored with better discretion.
But no congressional drama has so enthralled America and the world as the 1950s McCarthy witch-hunt. That’s until last week when the US House of Representatives became the stage for the first ‘big-game’ hunting in America since the McCarthy era. While McCarthy went after the real and presumed communists, the ‘villains’ this time around, are the impugned Muslims of America.
The special hearings focused on the place and role of Muslims in America opened formally on March 10 under the aegis of Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the Republican Peter King, representing Long Island in the congress. However, the intended hearings by a man known for his Muslim-baiting since the cataclysmic events of 9/11 had been making the headlines in America long before the curtain was formally raised on this congressional drama in full glare of television cameras.
Peter King, of deep Jewish predilections, has carved out a name for himself as an unrelenting crusader of American freedoms that he believes are in danger of being assaulted by Muslim Americans, whose numbers are on the rise but whose loyalties to their adopted country, in King’s mega-perception, have a big question mark hung over them.
But King never questioned the loyalties of Irish Americans, a decade or two ago, when they were sponsoring with deep pockets the ‘cause’ of IRA, a terrorist organisation to the British and large swathes of Americans. King was an exuberant promoter of IRA and raised millions in funds for that terrorist outfit.
Now, still in the glow of 9/11, King has a special bone of contention against Islamic mosques, the graph of which has also been on a steady climb across the US mainland as Muslim population keeps increasing and making its presence felt. King believes that most of these mosques, if not all, are breeding grounds for extremism among the Muslim youths, in particular, though he has failed to cite any specific instances or statistics to back up his claim.
American Muslims lament a subtle irony in King’s tirade against Muslims’ places of worship. They point out to historical evidence, from pre-nine-eleven memory, when the present day crusader lampooning Muslims to make his headlines, used to go around Long Island’s mosques and Islamic centres with a begging bowl to plead for Muslim votes.
For the sake of form, King still pays lip service to the majority of Muslim Americans being decent people loyal to America — a line he rhetorically gushed out in his opening remarks at the hearings’ inaugural. And yet he has singled out their places of worship as ‘dangerous’ or potentially dangerous hatcheries of extremists and terrorists who could re-enact another 9/11 or even more serious and deadly crimes.
Mosques are disquieting and disturbing to King, as much as they are to the European xenophobes and Islamophobes, such as those in Switzerland, who approved a ban on mosques having minarets in a nation-wide referendum last year.
But for King, targeting mosques is a convenient foil for him to have an alibi to hold Muslims of America publicly accountable for their presumed crimes, even those not yet committed. He thinks that as chair of the Homeland Security Committee he has all the reason and legitimacy to hold the most propagated and controversial public hearings in recent history of US.
The obvious question being raised by the pundit and the layman alike is why the Muslims of America are being put under the microscope, once again, in the 10th year since 9/11 turned the world upside down? The Muslims have paid a stiff price collectively within the US for the crimes of a handful of hot-heads and extremists in their ranks.
In US, in particular, the Muslims, of whatever provenance, have been put on the mat, dusted and thrashed, repeatedly, and the heat has never quite being taken off them. But a congressional hearing, with so much élan and exuberance, is a different ball-game altogether. It takes the controversy of Muslims being of suspected attachment to the US to an entirely different level.
The ‘commies’ may have had the thread of Communist international running through them but it was a tenuous bond, and they didn’t belong to a religious community. Muslims have a distinct identity. They are a global community; they have a unique characteristic.
And yet they aren’t monolith; never have been. Why then lump them together? Why bring them to the bar of public scrutiny and make a spectacle of it?
The reasons for lampooning Muslims at this juncture have provenance both in US domestic politics as well as developments impinging on US role as a global power.
King has been galvanised into action at this particular juncture largely for the sake of Israel’s security, which the votaries of Israel in US congress and administration think is slipping into uncharted waters because of Arab uprisings from Libya to Bahrain and Yemen. In what’s without doubt a period of flux and uncertainty for US foreign policy in the context of ME, these American partisans of Israel — many of them leading lights of the Zionist lobby in the US — deem it their bounded ‘duty’ to keep their powder dry and make sure that Obama doesn’t lean in any direction in the unfolding scenario that casts a shadow on unquestioning commitment of US to Israel at all costs.
President Obama is also being brought under the heat, indirectly, to pre-empt any initiative on his part that may be unacceptable to ‘friends of Israel’ in the US in the larger context of America’s equation — or lack of it — with the Muslim world.
A relentless, snide and dirty campaign has already been on the air waves and in other means of mass communication controlled by the ultra-conservative and ultra-right pressure groups, pouring scorn on Obama’s faith and decrying him for being a closet-Muslim with an anti-Christian agenda. Some of the rabid hot-heads on the lunatic fringe of these Obama-baiters have even called him an ant-Christ.
Peter King’s provocative daring to put the faith of 1.5 billion Muslims in the dock fits squarely into this pattern to kill two birds with one stone, literally. With the next presidential campaign now barely twelve months away the conservatives would welcome nothing better than tie Obama’s hands and pre-empt any major initiative, vis-à-vis the Muslim world or play a pro-active role in the Arab camp where turbulence is certain to dislodge many of US puppets and surrogates.
So no wonder that to the likes of Peter King it is open season to indulge to their heart’s content in their desire to push the American Muslims, in particular, against the wall.
But the American Muslims are intelligent enough to see through King’s dirty game.
To their credit, they have so far refused to be dragged into spasms of emotional outrage. Their response, streamlined by Muslim advocacy groups — which have come in for special tirade by King — has been calculated, cool and logically calibrated.
This scribe visited Washington on the heels of the congressional hearings and talked to many a representative from Muslim advocacy groups, such as the American Muslim Alliance that represents a clutch of Muslim advocacy bodies.
The line of resistance formulated by Muslim advocacy groups is rational and intellectually articulated. And that’s the only way to call the bluff of this rabidly anti-Muslim henchman of Jewish lobbies.
They are questioning, for instance, the constitutional basis of King’s Machiavellian move. They think the whole exercise is in violation of the US secularism and, especially, the American Constitution’s First Amendment that draws a line under any religious role for the establishment, of which congress is but only the law-making arm.
But King seems bent upon carving out a role of intrusive engagement for congress in religion and abuse his privileged position to inquest a divine religion in the manner Christian clergy oppressed and persecuted Muslims and Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages.
King’s malintent was obvious in more ways than one.
In his week-long congressional inquest, King didn’t invite any scholars of Islam to take him on the accusation that 80 per cent of mosques in the US are under extremist influence. He didn’t even invite anyone from the US agencies, such as FBI, CIA or even Homeland Security, to provide any inside information or expert opinion on the fundamental premise of the King inquisition.
The only witnesses entertained were parents or relatives of some of the young Muslims accused of becoming extremist because of their alleged brain-washing at some Islamic centres or mosques. Obviously, these witnesses had been carefully coached and tutored to buttress King’s argument that mosques have become conduits of extremism among American Muslims.
It seems, however, that King’s disingenuous campaign to put Islam and its followers under an intense microscope has failed to take off. Even the news media, with its known anti-Muslim proclivity and Islamophobia hasn’t quite welcomed King’s cavalier probe into American Muslims. The Washington Post, with its track record of Muslim phobia to speak for itself, ran down the King congressional show as ‘theatrical’ and uninspiring. The media pundits showed no enthusiasm either to buy King’s infatuation with Muslim-baiting and denounced it as ill-timed and unproductive. Many expressed fear that a Muslim backlash against the inquest could end up unleashing the very extremism King regards as his obligation to forestall.
It’s still too early to say how the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle King has set out to fashion would fall and what pattern of response from the American Muslim community would emerge as a consequence. But it’s heartening to note that Muslim advocacy groups are united in their determination not to let their case go unheard. They also know that this is one battle they will have to wage all by themselves.
By Karamatullah K. Ghori: THERE is hardly a dull moment in US politics. It’s like a carousel constantly going around and presenting… Read more »
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