The curious case of the dancing Muslims

The curious case of the dancing Muslims

Tariq Al Maeena, Special to Gulf News,ThinkerMaybe what the insufferable and by now exceedingly tiresome Donald Trump had in mind was Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason detective series, when he recently evoked the case of the dancing Muslims, a tale that involved “thousands and thousands” of Arabs in the streets of Jersey City, New Jersey, wildly cheering on the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11. Or maybe the leading contender in the Republican presidential race was tapping into a not-so-dormant anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris had emboldened.

And make no mistake about it: Bigotry against people from the Middle East and South Asia is now rampant. In cities across the country in which “We the people …” was composed, Martin Luther King sought to articulate his dream, and Emma Lazarus invited “the huddled masses” to come ashore, Americans have come to define their view of the world in a miasma of lies and controlled hatreds, an ethos that threatens to falsify the entire world-image and reflex system of a whole generation.

Consider this: Ted Cruz, a Joe McCarthyist-type of Republican presidential aspirant, tells Americans, with a straight face and with no prevarication, that the US should accept only those Syrian refugees who happen to be Christian. Muslims need not apply. Ben Carson, another luminary in the race, a man who has clumsily told more whoppers than Pinocchio in his effort to further his presidential ambitions, has called these potential migrants — the 10,000 of them that the Obama administration intends to let in — “rabid dogs”. And Trump maliciously wants American Muslims to be registered in databases and mosques either put under surveillance or closed.

Governors of dozens of states have made it clear that Syrian refugees are not welcome where, with Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, a man who should be eating less lasagna and more salad, would not let even one “Syrian orphan” into his state.

The politics of hate extends to the street. Last week, as a case in point, in Fredricksburg, Virginia, 80km outside the nation’s capital, the Islamic Centre, which had been there for 27 years, held a public meeting to seek the town’s permission to expand its facility. One of the protesters who attended the meeting hollered at Samer Shalabi, the Muslim trustee of the centre: “Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult in this county. I will do everything in my power to make sure that that does not doesn’t happen, because you are terrorists. Everyone one of you are terrorists. Every Muslim is a terrorist”.

Shalabi, taken aback, sputtered: “How did you come up with that?”

The fact — the sad, paradoxical fact — is that a nativist sentiment has always existed in the United States. No ethnic community has escaped it. Arabs, and Muslim in general, are not being singled out for discrimination, for before them Jews and Poles, Greeks and Germans, Japanese and Italians, and Chinese people and people of colour, have all suffered discrimination upon first setting foot in the US.

Even the poor Irish, arriving steerage on rickety boats in the mid-1840s to escape the potato famine in their homeland — hungry, cold and destitute, with lice in their hair — found themselves at the bad end of the stick, for they were not only the “the other”, but also Catholic as well.

Jews, for example — yes, the very community without whose intellectual contribution American culture would today be impoverished, or certainly diminished — suffered discrimination even as late as the first half of the 20th century, when its members confronted prejudice in employment, given a quota on enrolment in colleges, prevented from buying some properties and even excluded from joining social clubs (to which one prominent American Jew, Groucho Marx, gave the pithy retort: “I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member”).

Catholic immigrants, whether German, Irish, Polish or Italian, had to contend with the Know Nothing Party, the sole raison d’etre of whose million members was to curb immigration and naturalisation of people who were “controlled by the Pope in Rome”. The Irish were told that they need not apply — for jobs or housing. The Japanese were interned during the Second World War. The Italians were stigmatised by ethnocentric stereotyping. And so it went with other minorities, many of whose descendants nevertheless went on to become supreme court justices, prominent filmmakers, astute social critics, best-seller writers, diplomats, rock-stars and — oh yes, the luck of the Irish — presidents.

Only in America! There, when immigrant and land unite, they regroup each other in a dynamic suggestion of new meanings and new relations. Arabs and Muslims are just the latest arrivals in this incredible nation of nations, and they must endure their baptism by fire.

The question is this: After their bumpy first generation ride, after they speak to and from America by working and voting their way to an equal slice of that American apple pie, will they then move on as other ethnic communities had done before them? One’s instinct calls for immediate assent. For coolness and finality of tone, America — all the Trumps, Carsons, Cruzes and other buffoons notwithstanding — at the end of the day never lets its citizens down.

– Tariq Al Maeena


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