The Lost Soul of the United States of America

by Maryam Sakeenah / September 9th, 2010

Hillary Clinton’s self-congratulation over American leaders’ unanimous
disapproval of the intended burning of Muslim religious texts misses
out the truth about American society and politics, and the crisis of
its fundamental values.

The mass furore over the construction of a Muslim community centre
blocks away from Ground Zero is symptomatic of a serious malaise.
Public sentiment often manifests in funny ways, but what is worrying is
that this has not very seriously bothered many of America’s stout
guardians of values, its face-saving rhetoricians.

Protestors against the construction are not terrified by the
prospect of bombs hidden away in the mosque’s secret chambers, but are
offended by the symbolism of it, and this sheer audacity of America’s
alienated Muslim minority.

The name ‘Ground Zero mosque’ is an inaccurate, exaggerated and
dramatic construct indicative of the desire by some elements to exploit
the widespread Islamophobia in the U.S in order to obstruct a venture
essentially courageous and needful.

I say ‘needful’ because of its true symbolism that has escaped many
who have been swept away by the tide of Islamophobia. If any community
has borne the brunt of what happened on 9/11, it is the Muslims. Not
only do they suffer America’s wars in tottering Afghanistan and
devastated Iraq, but also the assault on civil liberties jeopardizing
Muslim identity globally, Islamophobia in all its facets_
discrimination, racial profiling, stereotyping, bias and a sightless
demonization campaign. The construction of an Islamic Community Centre
could be America’s conciliatory overture to the marginalized Muslim
community, its initiative to start the healing process. The Centre
could function as a sacred space for a victimized community to work to
restore its true image and ethos, to highlight the role and
contribution of Islam in society, and to actively engage with the
American community. The United States, priding itself for its
liberalism, must yield that necessary sacred space.

President Obama’s outright support to the venture may help salvage
his personal image among the Muslims, but it offers little consolation
in the face of stark realities Muslims in America have to grapple with.
A recent opinion poll shows over 53% Americans hold Islam in a very
negative light_ and the government cannot shy away from responsibility
for having contributed substantially through its propaganda machinery
to rising anti-Islam sentiment in the U.S since 9/11. The American
public is almost exclusively informed on national and global issues by
influential media giants run by powerful lobbies. The indicators of
rising Islamophobia in the U.S speak loudly about the media’s
relentless campaign of dehumanizing and othering of the Muslim persona,
and its failure to justly differentiate between a religion followed by
billions and the actions of individuals in a particular context who
claim to belong to it.

Even more telling is General Petraeus’s take on the matter. In his
view, what makes the heinous task of burning scriptures worrying is its
consequences that may threaten the U.S military abroad. By this logic,
it is the consequences for men in uniform that render the act wrongful,
not the act in itself; not the hurt this barbarism will wreak on the
sentiments of billions of Muslims worldwide, not that this atrocity
flies in the face of the most basic values of human civilization and
violates the most fundamental rights of billions. Petraeus’s sentiment
was echoed in what White House representative Robert Gibbs said of the
matter: that ‘any type of activity that puts our troops in harms way
would be a concern to this administration.’ Again, the reprehensibility
of the act lies almost exclusively in the fact that it may endanger the
lives of American troops. The logic exposes the narrow, narcissistic,
nationalistic arrogance that puts the bloated Self over its perceived
Other; that makes some lives more valuable than others, ‘óur values’
more inviolable than ‘theirs’.

There has been great concern and speculation in the U.S media over
the death of an American soldier in the wake of an uprising in Southern
Afghanistan sparked by the news of the 9/11 burning plans. The General
shudders to think of what may happen if the images of burning sacred
books end up being ‘used’ by terrorists to ‘incite violence.’ He
forgets that it is not the ‘use’ of the resulting images that is the
trouble, but the act in itself. And any Muslim knowing this could
happen in the heart of the United States of America cannot but feel
confounded over the state of a nation that allows that to happen.

The United States must stop presenting its warmongering as a result
of misguided and ill-advised policies as if it were a clash between
‘our’ values and ‘theirs.’ It must get real and face the fact that it
is not hated for its values, but for the lack thereof.

Petraeus enlightens with an analogy that the proposed act is like
the Taliban’s, and that ‘The Taliban do the same (burn sacred
books?!).’ This sweeping statement again takes as given the myth that
the wars going on are about values, religions, scriptures and not
policies. The Taliban’s fight never has been about American, Western or
Christian values. The logic used here implies that if it was not for
images being used to threaten American interests, deranged fanatics
like Terry Jones may attack and insult what is most sacred to Muslim
sensibility, stab in the softest part, strike where it hurts most and
crush the very heart and soul of the world’s 3 billion Muslims! The
Taliban may be a reviled demon everybody loves to spit on. However, by
attempting to strike a comparison between this global enemy and the
despicable lunatic from Florida, Petraeus makes the contrast in their
respective moral standing only too obvious.

Because, for a Muslim who takes his religion seriously, it is
inconceivable to desecrate or even disparage any religious scripture or
symbol. It is a core Islamic belief to acknowledge the Divine origin of
all revealed religion. The Quran says: “Do not revile those who they
invoke apart from God.. .” (Surah Anaam, verse 108). Muslims_ or even
the Taliban for that matter_ cannot by any means respond to Jones’s
lunacy in equal measure for the demand their faith makes on them. The
universalism and pluralistic vision of Islam originating in its basic
texts revealed 1400 years ago sets a standard that secular, liberal
American society would take ages to reach. The fact that it can allow
sick-minded hate-mongers like Jones to not only exist in society but
actually propagate and promote their devilish cult with impunity while
conventional self-congratulatory lip-service to pacify a minority’s raw
sentiments goes on in the backdrop, ought to explode the bubble of what
the U.S ‘stands for’. It ought to lead to a serious rethink, for it is
about the very soul of America.

Sakeenah is a student of International Relations based in Pakistan. She
is also a high school teacher and freelance writer with a degree in
English Literature. She is interested in human rights advocacy and
voluntary social work and can be reached at: Read other articles by Maryam.

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