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Cover Story: The Fort Hood Massacre and Islamophobia - The African World - By Bill Fletcher, Jr. - Executive Editor

�I am not a racist, but I say send them all back to a Muslim country.�
-Kervin Bradford of the American Legion Post 573
in Killeen, Texas after the Fort Hood killings (quoted in
Washington Post, November 7, 2009)

When I heard news of the Fort Hood massacre I had an instantaneous thought and concern: �I hope that the murderer is neither Black nor an Arab nor Muslim.�

As I sat glued to my TV watching CNN and later NBC my fears materialized on the screen as, first, the name of the alleged murderer was printed - and it was Arabic - and later his identity was confirmed - of Jordanian / Palestinian origin. I then watched and listened as commentators, including political leaders, offered suggestions as to the motivation(s) of the alleged murderer that were grounded in nothing but suppositions.

In watching the immediate responses to the Fort Hood massacre I could not help but reflect on the responses to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In the worst officially recognized terrorist attack prior to 11 September 2001 in the USA, 168 people were killed. Yet, once it was discovered that a white American had carried out the attacks, there were no generalized sentiments about what to do with white men. There was no suggestion that the Oklahoma City bombing had anything to do with the ethnic or religious origin of the perpetrators. Ironically, there was a level of denial that approached excusing away the right-wing sentiments of the murderers, even going so far, in some cases, as to find justifications / explanations for the mass homicide.

Not so with the Fort Hood massacre. All that we KNOW at this moment is that there are allegations against Major Nidal Malik Hassan. We have been informed that he complained about being racially / religiously harassed after 11 September 2001 for being a Muslim. We have been informed that he disagreed with the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also been suggested that he feared being deployed to Iraq. Other than this, everything else is speculation.

The political Right is very good at a certain sort of suggestion. At this moment Major Hassan is being identified by the political Right as a jihadist and as a possible representative of some sort of �5th Column� within the US military. It is critical that people stop and ask themselves - and ask others � upon what, precisely, are such allegations based?

In periods of tragedy such as these following upon the murders at Fort Hood, the first impulse of the political Right and of many people not normally associated with the Right, is to fall prey to racist instincts, instincts that are fanned each and every day in the USA. The constant refusal of the political Right, and segments of the mainstream media, to distinguish right-wing political Islam from other currents in Islam; our generalized failure to even understand Islam (e.g., not understanding the multiple meanings behind the notion of �Jihad�); and an intolerance that seems rooted in Crusader thinking from the Middle Ages, makes it quite reasonable that Muslims around the world perceive the USA at war with Islam rather than at war with any small group of Muslim terrorists.

I must return to the Oklahoma City bombing. There was no �war against terrorism� following this horrific act. There was not even a rational educational campaign concerning the political Right, including but not limited to understanding the so-called militia movement and the crypto-fascist formations that exist here in the USA. If anything, the Right became defensive of the militia movement and some even came very close to defending murderer Timothy McVeigh as a good soldier gone bad. No other conclusions were entertained; indeed, few other conclusions were even permitted.

So, today, Arabs and Muslims around the USA are in fear of possible backlash or retaliations. Much like the aftermath of the Virginia Tech killings, where many in the Korean community feared that they would be scapegoated for the murders, Arabs and Muslims are on full alert. The fact that commentators are permitted to imply some sort of larger conspiracy or to conclude, without one piece of evidence, that Hassan was some sort of jihadist, points to the level of fear and irrationality that the political Right uses to drive a series of wedges in US society.

It is important to understand that Islamophobia is both rooted in the colonization carried out by Europe that took place in much of the Muslim world during the 19th and 20th centuries and the demonized efforts that were undertaken to offer resistance to this colonization by the native populations. While the political Right may point to the Crusades from the Middle Ages, the caricaturization of the Muslim world has been used since the 19th century to justify military operations against the Muslim world and the suppression of immigrant populations of the Muslim faith when they entered the global North (particularly Europe and North America).

The current round of Islamophobia fans the flames of quasi-racial and religious hatred and is being used by the political Right in order to focus the attention of largely the white American population who find themselves in a state of fear as their lives are collapsing. The insecurity that has resulted from the larger economic living standard decline since the mid 1970s, combined with the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack, provided a fertile ground for a population brought up on racial / religious suspicions and biases against Arabs and Muslims to find in them - Arabs and Muslims - the source of all evil and the source of all problems.

This is, therefore, not a moment for silence in the face of Islamophobia. Irrespective of the reasons that lay behind the Fort Hood massacre, the massacre should obviously be condemned as the hideous crime that it was. That said, it was apparently carried out by an individual who was deranged. His act in no way can or should reflect on the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in the USA, nor the more than a billion around the world. Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.



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November 12 , 2009
Issue 350

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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