Why I Fight Islamophobia?

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Published by CJ Werleman Independent, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project that seeks to expose and end Western injustices against Muslims. Please SUPPORT his fight against injustice by clicking here.

“You’re not a Muslim, so why do you care about anti-Muslim discrimination?” is a question I’m asked dozens of times, daily. So here it goes:

As a kid I would devour any book or film on the Second World War, but particularly anything related to the Nazi Holocaust. No matter how much I tried, I could never comprehend how one of the most educated and modern civilizations could be so easily led to carry out one of the world’s worst genocides.

“The gas chambers were located next door to the world’s most advanced universities,” observes the prolific religious historian Karen Armstrong, a statement of fact that serves as a reminder that neither education nor modernity is an inoculation against backwards barbarity.

A question I would often ask myself is what would have I done were I non-Jewish citizen of Germany in the 1930s as my countrymen, neighbours, friends, and family were being swept up in the tide of raging anti-Semitism?

It’s never an easy question to answer as it can sometimes bring into view the limits of your own moral bravery. I mean, would I have protested against the Nazi state’s mistreatment of Jews only until such time my own life was threatened for doing so? That I’ve never been able to answer that question with absolute certainty is something that has troubled me since forever.

While a great many non-Jewish Germans protested against the Nazi Party’s anti-Semitic discourse and laws in the mid 1930s, the voices of descent became few and far between once the mass extermination of Jews began in the early 1940s. For this reason, individuals such as Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who is credited with saving the lives of 1,300 Jews, set the bar for those who question whether they’re willing to risk everything to defend the most vulnerable.

Here in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world, we find ourselves in very much the same place as Germany was a mere decade before the Nazi led mass killing began.

All genocides begin first with words, the violence comes later. It took the Nazis almost 10 years of portraying Jews and Judaism as hostile to Western or German values, and as a demographic threat writ large before the mainstream population was pacified into coopting the slaughter.

While the mass killing or internment of Muslims remains outside our collective imagination, for now, we are beyond the stage of mere words. For the past 15 years (since 9/11) crass portrayals and negative generalizations of Islam have dominated terrorism discourse.

This discourse has resulted in measures that make Muslims the referent object of domestic security policy. This discourse pivots Muslims as a risk that must be mitigated. This discourse has made Muslims the most distrusted minority in many Western states, and subsequently this discourse is resulting in an alarming increase in violence against Muslims.

A July 2017 Pew survey reveals 48 percent of Muslims report experiencing at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months. While the FBI reports an 89 percent surge hate crimes against Muslims in the past year.

In other words, violence against Muslims has now caught up to the negative discourse against Muslims.

Moreover, the Western world is regressing towards the same kind of hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant fervor that seduced much of Europe in the 1930s. Trump rode to the White House on the back of nativist appeals and anti-Muslim hate. Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders nearly achieved same in France and The Netherlands, respectively; likewise Pauline Hanson’s popularity grows in Australia; while political parties across Europe have made anti-immigrant policies the cornerstone of their respective platforms.

Chris Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, observes that when states are on the verge of war or even self-destruction, they subvert culture in exchange for nationalistic window dressing. “National symbols — flags, patriotic songs, sentimental dedications — invade and take over cultural spaces. Art becomes infected with platitudes of patriotism.”

Across the world, political entrepenuers exalt the flag while demonizing Muslims as a threat to it.

If I do nothing to defend the rights of Muslims today, it means I certainly would’ve done nothing to defend the rights of European Jews in the 1930s.

I defend the rights of Muslims because wherever you find Muslims, you find them oppressed, vilified, occupied, and bombed. In fact, Muslims are the among the most persecuted people on earth, and represent a great portion of the world’s stateless people — from Palestine to Kashmir; from Myanmar to Kurdish populated territories.

I defend the rights of Muslims because draconian counterterrorism measures implemented to monitor and harass Muslim communities are repressive measures that will also be used by the state against me.

I defend Muslims because I, too, once succumb to the seduction of Islamophobia upon witnessing the aftermath of an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in 2005. Thus I aim to steer others away from the path I mistakenly once took.

For now it takes no amount of moral bravery to defend the rights of Muslims for the lives of those who do so are not directly threatened (although I have posted received death threats on my social media platforms from time-to-time).

But in fighting anti-Muslim discrimination today, hopefully there will never come a tomorrow when Nazi-era like realities call upon me to test the limits of my own moral bravery.

Please support CJ Werleman’s fight against anti-Muslim discrimination:

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Columnist for Middle East Eye. Host of Channel The Rage. Activist against Islamophobia. Read more about CJ here: www.patreon.com/cjwerleman

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