Jesus was a Palestinian and Why it Matters

Because of modern alarmist reactions to the word “Palestine,” many non-Arabs and non-Muslims take offense when it is argued that Jesus was a Palestinian (peace be upon him). Jesus’ ethnicity, skin color, and culture often accompany this conversation, but it is interesting how few people are willing to acknowledge the fact he was non-European.  A simple stroll down the Christmas aisle of your local shopping store will show you the dominant depiction of Jesus: a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, White man.

Islamophobia and anti-Arab propaganda have conditioned us to view Palestinians as nothing but heartless suicide bombers, “terrorists,” and “enemies of freedom/democracy.” Perpetual media vilification and demonization of Palestinians, in contrast to the glorification of Israel, obstructs us from seeing serious issues such as the Palestinian refugee crisis, the victims of Israel’s atrocious three-week assault on Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009 , the tens of thousands of homeless Palestinians, and many other struggles that are constantly addressed by human rights activists around the world. To speak from the perspective of the Palestinians, especially in casual non-Arab and non-Muslim settings, generates controversy because of the alignment between Palestinians and violent stereotypes. So, how could Jesus belong to a group of people that we’re taught to dehumanize?

When I’ve spoken to people about this, I’ve noticed the following responses: “No, Jesus was a Jew,” or “Jesus is not Muslim.” The mistake isn’t a surprise to me, but it certainly reveals how ignorant much of society still is. Being a Palestinian does not mean one is Muslim or vice versa. Prior to the brutal and unjust dispossession of indigenous Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel, the word “Palestine” was a geographic term applied to Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian Jews. Although most Palestinians are Muslim today, there is a significant Palestinian Christian minority who are often overlooked, especially by the mainstream western media.

The dominant narrative in the mainstream media not only distorts and misrepresents the Palestinian struggle as a religious conflict between “Muslims and Jews,” but consequentially pushes the lives of Palestinian Christians into “non-existence.”   That is, due to media reluctance of reporting the experiences and stories of Palestinian Christians, it isn’t a surprise when White Americans are astonished by the fact that Palestinian and Arab Christians do, in fact, exist.  One could argue that the very existence of Palestinian Christians is threatening, as it disrupts the sweeping and overly-simplistic “Muslims versus Jews” Zionist narrative. It is because recognizing the existence of Palestinian Christians opposing Israeli military occupation, as well as Jews who oppose the occupation, is to reveal more voices, perspectives, and complexities to a conflict that has been dominantly portrayed as “Palestinians hate Jews” or “Palestinians want to exterminate Jews.”

Yeshua (Jesus’ real Aramaic name) was born in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank and home to one of the world’s largest Palestinian Christian communities.   The Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world, marks the birthplace of Jesus and is sacred to both Christians and Muslims.  While tourists from the around the world visit the site, they are subject to Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.  The Israeli construction of the West Bank barrier also severely restricts travel for local Palestinians.  In April of 2010, Al-Jazeera English reported Israeli authorities barring Palestinian Christian from entering Jerusalem and visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre during Easter.  Yosef Zabaneh, a Palestinian Christian merchant in Ramallah, told IPS News: “The Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank doesn’t distinguish between us, but treats all Palestinians with contempt.”

Zabaneh’s comments allude to the persistent dehumanization of Palestinians, as well as the erasure of Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims.  By constantly casting Palestinians as the villains, even the term “Palestine” becomes “evil.”  There is refusal to recognize, for example, that the word “Palestine” was used as early as the 5th century BCE by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.  John Bimson, author of “The Compact Handbook of Old Testament Life,” acknowledges the objection to the use of “Palestine”:

The term ‘Palestine’ is derived from the Philistines. In the fifth century BC the Greek historian Herodotus seems to have used the term Palaistine Syria (= Philistine Syria) to refer to the whole region between Phoenicia and the Lebanon mountains in the north and Egypt in the south… Today the name “Palestine” has political overtones which many find objectionable, and for that reason some writers deliberately avoid using it. However, the alternatives are either too clumsy to be used repeatedly or else they are inaccurate when applied to certain periods, so “Palestine” remains a useful term…

Deliberately avoiding the use of the name “Palestine” not only misrepresents history, but also reinforces anti-Palestinian racism as acceptable.  When one examines the argument against Jesus being a Palestinian, one detects a remarkable amount of hostility aimed at both Palestinians and Muslims.  One cannot help but wonder, is there something threatening about identifying Jesus as a Palestinian?  Professor Jack D. Forbes writes about Jesus’ multi-cultural and multi-ethnic environment:

When the Romans came to dominate the area, they used the name Palestine. Thus, when Yehoshu’a [Jesus] was born, he was born a Palestinian as were all of the inhabitants of the region, Jews and non-Jews. He was also a Nazarene (being born in Nazareth) and a Galilean (born in the region of Galilee)… At the time of Yehoshu’a’s birth, Palestine was inhabited by Jews—descendants of Hebrews, Canaanites, and many other Semitic peoples—and also by Phoenicians, Syrians, Greeks, and even Arabs.

Despite these facts, there are those who use the color-blind argument: “It does not matter what Jesus’ ethnicity or skin color was. It does not matter what language he spoke. Jesus is for all people, whether you’re Black, White, Brown, Yellow, etc.” While this is a well-intentioned expression of inclusiveness and universalism, it misses the point.

When we see so many depictions of Jesus as a Euro-American White man, the ethnocentrism and race-bending needs to be called out.  In respect to language, for instance, Neil Douglas-Klotz, author of “The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus,” emphasizes on the importance of understanding that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not English, and that his words, as well as his worldview, must be understood in light of Middle Eastern language and spirituality.  Douglas-Klotz provides an interesting example which reminds me of the rich depth and meaning of Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi words, especially the word for “spirit”:

Whenever a saying of Jesus refers to spirit, we must remember that he would have used an Aramaic or Hebrew word. In both of these languages, the same word stands for spirit, breath, air, and wind.  So ‘Holy Spirit’ must also be ‘Holy Breath.’ The duality between spirit and body, which we often take for granted in our Western languages falls away.  If Jesus made the famous statement about speaking or sinning against the Holy Spirit (for instance, in Luke 12:10), then somehow the Middle Eastern concept of breath is also involved.

Certainly, no person is superior to another based on culture, language, or skin color, but to ignore the way Jesus’ Whiteness has been used to subjugate and discriminate against racial minorities in the West and many other countries is to overlook another important aspect of Jesus’ teachings: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Malcolm X wrote about White supremacists and slave-owners using Christianity to justify their “moral” and “racial superiority” over Blacks. In Malcolm’s own words, “The Holy Bible in the White man’s hands and its interpretations of it have been the greatest single ideological weapon for enslaving millions of non-white human beings.” Throughout history, whether it was in Jerusalem, Spain, India, Africa, or in the Americas, White so-called “Christians” cultivated a distorted interpretation of religion that was compatible with their racist, colonialist agenda (see my post on Christopher Columbus for more details).

In my discussions about Jesus being a person of color – a Palestinian – I encounter the argument that Jesus is depicted as Asian in Asian-majority countries, as Black in Black churches and homes, as Middle Eastern in Middle Eastern countries, etc.  While it is true that people of color portray Jesus as their own race, it is highly unlikely that these depictions will ever become the dominant, mainstream, and normalized image of Jesus. This speaks volumes about institutionalized white supremacy, as well as the way white supremacist ideologies operate as national and global systems of oppression.

And here we are in the 21st century where Islamophobia (also stemming from racism because the religion of Islam gets racialized) is on the rise; where people calling themselves “Christian” fear those who are darker skinned; where members of the KKK and anti-immigration movements behave as if Jesus was an intolerant White American racist who only spoke English despite being born in the Middle East! It is astonishing how so-called “Christians” like Ann Coulter call Muslims “rag-heads” when in actuality, Jesus himself would fit the profile of a “rag-head,” too. As would Moses, Joseph, Abraham, and the rest of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). As William Rivers Pitt writes:

The ugly truth which never even occurs to most Americans is that Jesus looked a lot more like an Iraqi, like an Afghani, like a Palestinian, like an Arab, than any of the paintings which grace the walls of American churches from sea to shining sea. This was an uncomfortable fact before September 11. After the attack, it became almost a moral imperative to put as much distance between Americans and people from the Middle East as possible. Now, to suggest that Jesus shared a genealogical heritage and physical similarity to the people sitting in dog cages down in Guantanamo is to dance along the edge of treason.

When refusing to affirm Jesus as a Palestinian Jew who spoke Aramaic — a Semitic language that is ancestral to Arabic and Hebrew — the West will continue to view Islam as a “foreign religion.” Hate crimes and discriminatory acts against Muslims, Arabs, and others who are perceived to be Muslim will persist.  They will still be treated as “cultural outsiders” and “threats” to the West.  Interesting enough, Christianity and Judaism are never considered “foreign religions,” despite having Middle Eastern origins, like Islam.  As Douglas-Klotz insists, affirming Jesus as a native Middle Eastern person “enables Christians to understand that the mind and message” of Jesus arises from “the same earth as have the traditions of their Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers.”

Jesus would not prefer one race or group of people over another.  I believe he would condemn today’s demonization and dehumanization of the Palestinian people, as well as the misrepresentations of him that fuel white supremacy. As a Muslim, I believe Jesus was a Prophet of God, and if I were to have any say about the Christmas spirit, it would be based on Jesus’ character: humility, compassion, and Love. A Love in which all people, regardless of ethnicity, race, culture, religion, gender, and sexual orientation are respected and appreciated.

And in that spirit, I wish you all a merry Christmas. Alaha Natarak (Aramaic: God be with you).

It’s Time to Get Real: Obama is Wrong

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve been cautiously optimistic about President Obama for a long time.  Like many, I was devastated by the Israeli attacks on Gaza last winter and I was also extremely disappointed with Obama for not holding the Israeli government accountable.  “He’s not the president yet,” many would say, including some Muslim friends of mine.  I wanted to believe they were right, so I kept my frustration sidelined.  I’ll wait and see what happens after his inauguration, I told myself.  After 8 years of war, profiling of Muslims and Arabs, and rising Islamophobia, who wouldn’t like to believe there is hope for our nation?

After Obama swore into office, I was pleased when I heard his proposal to shut down Guantanamo bay.  I admit it was nice to see an American president reaching out to Muslim-Americans, Muslim majority countries, giving a speech in Turkey, in Cairo, and addressing Iran, all whilst demonstrating an appreciative understanding of Islam.  He cited the Qur’an, the Persian poet Sa’di, and a Turkish proverb that says, “You cannot put out fire with flames.”  He revealed that he had Muslims in his family and then wished Muslims worldwide a blessed Ramadan.  Although I did not fully support Obama at this point since I was still skeptical and, at times, very critical (especially for not highlighting the war crimes in Gaza), I was privately hoping that my uncertainty was wrong.  Maybe this is for real, I thought.  Maybe real change is on the horizon.

But my hopes quickly changed when Obama ordered drone attacks in Pakistan.  As I wrote in my previous post, the senseless drone attacks during Obama’s first 99 days in office amounted to well over 150 deaths.   Drone attacks have continued to the current month of December, claiming the lives of many innocent civilians.  In fact, as Pakistani author and political commentator Tariq Ali points out, on the very day that an Iranian woman, Neda Soltani, was murdered during the election protests in Iran, a U.S. drone killed 60 people in Pakistan, mostly women and children.  The death of Soltani drew international attention and became an iconic image of resistance against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, while nothing was mentioned about Pakistan.

The loss of one human life is one too many, but based on this contrast of media attention, it reveals a remarkably cruel prejudice that, seemingly, victims in Muslim majority countries are only worth reporting when they are killed by their own people.  Informing people about American atrocities sends the “wrong message” about the Obama administration’s agenda.  Similar to how Bush convinced citizens to support his war in Iraq, Obama cannot win support for advancing his war in Afghanistan if Americans know that innocent people are being killed by U.S. attacks.

When Obama officially announced escalating American troops in Afghanistan, I could not, for the life of me, understand why some liberals, democrats, and my fellow Muslims were still supporting him.  If George W. Bush was giving the same speech and deploying another tide of soldiers into the region, all of us would be flipping out.  It’s different this time, though.  Obama is not Bush, and he has reached out to Muslims in a way that no other American president has.  The majority of Muslim-Americans voted for him and a lot even campaigned for his presidency.  Perhaps people don’t want to admit they’re wrong, or perhaps they don’t want to criticize his policies because, quite simply, they like him.  I know there are a lot of Muslims and non-Muslims alike who are just as conflicted as I was and want to believe Obama is doing the right thing

But let’s get real: his foreign policy is terribly flawed and only calling for disaster.  You don’t “sweet talk” other Muslim majority countries, cite Qur’anic verses, quote Persian poets and Turkish proverbs, and then advocate for war/military occupation in another Muslim majority country.  You don’t exclude the word “terrorism” in a speech addressed to Cairo, but then use it again in the U.S. to reinforce the alarmist and manipulative rhetoric that “terrorism” can only be carried out by militants or extremists who self-identify as Muslim.  This duplicity is designed to simultaneously win the allegiance of Muslims (especially in Arab countries) and many Republicans who want the President to show some backbone in the war against “Islamic terrorism.”

But what happened to our anti-war stance?  “You cannot put out fire with flames,” goes the Turkish proverb Obama cited, so how does increasing violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan result in peace?  What’s astonishing to me is how so many people (who identified as “anti-war”) are now advocating for war in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a disturbingly similar way supporters of the previous administration did!  Remember when you would argue with the pro-Bush crowd about Iraq and they would simply say, “Well, we’re protecting America from terrorists”?  The same argument is being made about Afghanistan by liberals, democrats, and Muslims alike.  It just shocks me at how oblivious many people are about this.

The sad part is that the “terrorism” argument is used as simplistic justification for their support of the Afghan war because, frankly, they tend to know very little to nothing about Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Let’s start off by saying the majority of Afghans and Pakistanis are anti-Taliban, anti-extremism, and anti-Western military occupation.  However, lies such as “Afghans/Pakistanis prefer the Taliban” are being perpetuated in a familiar alarmist fashion.  Where does this information come from and why is it being used to cover up real atrocities committed by the Obama administration?  Last week, about a hundred Afghans protested against Obama’s policies when U.S. special forces killed 12 people in the village.  In May of 2009, an American airstrike mistakenly attacked the village of Bala Baluk and killed over 147 people and resulted in even more anti-American sentiments from Afghan civilians.  How many more of these “mistakes” can the U.S. afford to make?  Why do we behave as if there won’t be any retaliation from the civilians, especially those who lost their family members and Loved ones?  Doesn’t common sense tell us that people don’t forget about these horrible war crimes?

Malalai Joya, an Afghan politician and activist who is often called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” is a vehemently outspoken critic of Afghan warlords and the presence of NATO troops in her country.  She highlights on the lies spread about Afghanistan, as well as the major flaws in Obama’s new strategy:

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990sThe fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the “democracy” backed by Nato troops.

Furthermore, she adds that Obama’s war in Afghanistan and expansion into Pakistan is simply adding more fuel to the fire and is no different from Bush’s policies.  Afghan victims of abuse and rape find no justice when the people in power are corrupt themselves, but don’t count on the Obama administration to acknowledge this problem.  After all, the Afghan government allows NATO troops to occupy the country and the U.S. wants to maintain that kind of alliance.

Despite this information, I’ve seen many, including fellow Muslims, speak so insensitively about Afghanistan and Pakistan, as if the people there are complicit and responsible for the turmoil they’re in!  This is insulting and essentially transforms the victim into the perpetrator.  Pakistan, for instance, is accused of being “the most dangerous country in the world,” which only creates the image of a nation rampant with terrorism.  However, very little is said that the majority of Pakistanis hate the Taliban.  Polls and surveys have consistently found that the majority of Pakistanis consider the U.S. the greatest threat to their country.  This statistic is rarely reported and no one seems to care.

Tariq Ali asserts another significant point:  The situation in Pakistan today is directly linked to the war in Afghanistan.  Speaking as a Pakistani, I don’t ever remember a time when my family was frightened about visiting Pakistan or worried about their Loved ones because of bomb blasts and attacks.  Even after 9/11, my family and I would visit Pakistan and did not have to worry about our safety in the way people do now.  I have relatives who were only five blocks away from a bomb blast in Lahore and I once stayed at the Marriott hotel that was bombed in Islamabad last September.  Many, including some of my Pakistani acquaintances, simply utter profanities about these extremists, which is perfectly appropriate, but I’ve noticed that people overlook the root cause of this problem.  After 9/11, Pakistan was forced into military cooperation, not only because Bush gave Pakistan the “you’re either with us or against us” ultimatum, but also because Richard Armitage, the former U.S. deputy secretary of state, threatened to “blow Pakistan back to the stone age.” No doubt the Pakistani military is not without blame, but its operations against the Taliban and other militant groups only make the Pakistani government look complicit with U.S. war crimes.  Similar to the Afghan government, the Pakistani government is reeking with corruption and its unpopular president, Asif Zardari, permits the U.S. drone attacks.  All of this is causing the war in Afghanistan to spill into Pakistan.

When we simply say “they’re terrorists,” we become desensitized to the deaths of Afghans and Pakistanis.  Associating the majority of Afghans and Pakistanis with the extremist groups or the corrupt officials in the government does a great injustice to their struggles.  In March, the Pakistani people marched in the streets and organized rallies in protest to the government’s sacking of their chief justice.  The government eventually caved in and conceded with the people’s demand to reinstate the chief justice.  This was a victory not only for the Pakistani people, but also for everyone who seeks social justice.  Yet why wasn’t this reported widely in the mainstream western media?  Perhaps because it is contradictory to the image that the media wants to promote, i.e. “the most dangerous country in the world” or a “boiling pot” of “terrorism.”

In several debates with fellow Muslims, I’ve been told that the Afghan and Pakistani people “aren’t taking a stand,” so Obama’s military intervention is “justified.”  Again, this does a great disservice to the efforts of Afghans and Pakistanis who are risking their lives in combating violent extremism.  But it does not help when you’re being attacked by both sides:  The Taliban on one hand, and the U.S. military occupation/drone attacks on the other.  If the people of America could not impeach a president for 8 years of his term, then how can we expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to easily overthrow their leaders?  And why do people expect a miraculous change from Obama’s surge?  Tariq Ali cites the previous head of CIA station in Kabul, Graham Fuller, who made the following points about the Afghan war:

1.  It is impossible to police the Afghan-Pakistan border because it extends over thousands of miles and consists of mountainous territory, which makes it impossible to even construct a wall.  I get the feeling that if we could ask Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan why they couldn’t conquer the region, they would say something about the mountains.

2.  People on either side of the border “often belong to the same tribes, often related, speak the same language, and inter-marriage is common.”  When people suffer on one side, allies from the other side cross the border to help out.

3.  “The presence of the U.S. is part of the problem, not the solution.”

Just by examining these points, one gets a glimpse of how complex the conflict is.  Too often, I’ve noticed that people speak about this war as if Afghans and Pakistanis are not suffering.  As Thomas Houlahan reports:  “Pakistan has lost more civilians in the war on terror than the United States; Pakistan has lost more troops killed in fighting insurgents than every foreign contingent in Afghanistan combined. These facts fly in the face of the misinformation bandied about that Pakistan is soft on terror.”

If people truly and genuinely care about the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, I believe they should listen to the citizens of those countries instead of arrogantly behaving as if they can speak for them or “know” what’s best for them.  There needs to be a better exit strategy and a stronger effort for diplomacy.  The Angus Reid Global Monitor found that 68% of Afghans think the government should hold talks with the Taliban.  If Obama supports diplomacy with Iraq, Iran, and Palestine, why isn’t the same policy extended in Afghanistan?

I can no longer hold back on my criticism of president Obama and, honestly, I am fed up with people making excuses for him.  Muslims worked so hard to campaign for him and a lot of us put so much faith in him, but we cannot overlook the fact that his policies are only going to tarnish relations with Muslim majority countries even further.  I will not be a fool anymore and listen to the false hope that “over time, Obama will change things” or “after he does such and such, he will take a stand for Palestine and Muslims.”  I do not understand how Obama can get away with advancing war while citing historical figures who symbolize non-violence and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Just like Iraq and Palestine, people do not like being occupied by a foreign invader.  Military intervention and more drone attacks will make matters worse, endanger the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims in many parts of the world, and it will create more enemies.  I don’t need a crystal ball to figure that out.  Recent history (i.e. the last 8 years) says it all.

The Fear of Minarets

The Swiss government’s ban on Mosque minarets says a lot to me.  Along with the propaganda campaign (pictured above), I feel there is no other way to put it:  this is Islamophobia — shameless, ugly, unapologetic, and in-your-face.  Either fear makes the imagination run wild or minarets are really missiles in disguise.

It is clear the Orientalist imagery in the posters intend to arouse fear that, somehow, Switzerland is not very far from becoming “Islamized,” a term which is equated with “Talibanization,” i.e. militants roaming the streets, women forced to wear burqas, and implementation of a radical ideology.  In respect to minarets, it apparently did not take a long time for the Swiss government to violate its so-called “policy of neutrality” and choose to jump on the Islamophobia bandwagon.  Out of the 150 Mosques in the country, only 4 actually have minarets and only 2 were planned for construction.  I guess some Jack Bauer-wannabe “saw it coming” – “it” being “Islamization” and, um, the “end of Western civilization” as we know it!  All because of 4 (potentially 6) minarets.

There is already a lot of commentary about this throughout the internet/blogosphere.  Many, if not all, of the commentators agree that this ban is fuelled by fear.  Tariq Ramadan elaborated in his article:

Swiss Muslims have their share of responsibility but one must add that the political parties, in Europe as in Switzerland have become cowed, and shy from any courageous policies towards religious and cultural pluralism. It is as if the populists set the tone and the rest follow. They fail to assert that Islam is by now a Swiss and a European religion and that Muslim citizens are largely “integrated”… We cannot blame the populists alone – it is a wider failure, a lack of courage, a terrible and narrow-minded lack of trust in their new Muslim citizens.

Ramadan makes a point that I always try to echo whenever I engage in inter-faith and/or intercultural dialogue.  Islam is a universal religion; it is a Swiss religion, a European religion, an American religion, and so on.  Muslims are not limited to their religious identity, no matter how important it is in their daily lives; they have multiple identities like everyone else.  I’ve stated this so many times on my blog and I apologize to my regular readers who may be tired of reading this but I am a Muslim, I am an American, I am a Pakistani, I am a South Asian, I am a writer, I am a son, I am a brother, and the list goes on!

In my opinion, this is a new concept that all Western societies, not just Switzerland, have a difficult time understanding.  President Obama talks and even stated that Islam is an American religion, but words alone cannot change the realities.  Even though I highly doubt the United States would ban the building of minarets, Islamophobia is very present and it is growing.  Racial profiling, which Obama promised to end, still occurs and anti-Muslim hate crimes still persist.  CAIR recently released its annual report on civil rights concerning Muslim-Americans and it revealed that Islamophobic incidents are on the rise. The ban on minarets in Switzerland may not exist in other non-Muslim majority countries, but I believe it is analogous to the wider problem of Islamophobia that Western nations face.

In the discussion taking place about this subject, I’ve noticed that some non-Muslims have tried to deflate the issue by pointing out that Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia would not allow the building of Churches.  My reaction is: why mention Saudi Arabia when this is about Switzerland?  Simply because we are Muslims?  Muslims cannot be Swiss, American, British, French, Canadian, or Danish?  When people draw such comparisons, it serves one purpose: to discredit and negate the experiences of those who are facing discrimination.  Put it like this:  If a Muslim gets beat up in America and reports it as a hate crime, imagine the police officer saying, “well, hey, Christians are discriminated against in Muslim countries, so sorry, I can’t do anything for you!”  That is essentially what those arguments say.

It all makes me question why fear of Islam and Muslims perpetuates.  I strongly believe much of it is rooted in racism and xenophobia.  A 2008 Gallup Poll survey revealed that Muslim-Americans are “the most racially diverse religious group in the United States,” with White-Americans making up 28%, African-Americans 35%, Asian-Americans 18%, and other races 18%.  However, Muslims are typically thought to be ethnically, racially, and culturally different than the dominant culture in Western societies. Christianity and Judaism, like Islam, both originated in the Middle-East, but they are generally not perceived as “foreign” or “alien” (even though Jesus and the other Prophets, peace be upon them all, were Middle-Easterners).  No one stigmatizes a White Christian because White Christians  “look like everyone else,” i.e. the dominant culture.  Muslims, on the other hand, tend to look “different” — they speak, dress, worship, and live “differently,” therefore fear and suspicion is “justified.”

Mosques?  Aren’t those things only found in the Middle-East?  Islam an American/European religion?  How can that be?  Isn’t Islam an Arab religion and aren’t Muslims anti-Western?  Such stereotypes exist in the minds of too many people, including professors, authors, business owners, store managers, politicians, and so on.  The more Muslims are treated like “cultural outsiders,” the more challenging it is to feel accepted.  Muslims are already integrated in Western societies, the problem is that we are not acknowledged, recognized, and in many cases, such as in Switzerland, we are not granted our religious rights.

Jonathan Freedland wrote a powerful commentary about the Swiss ban from a Jewish perspective.  He writes:

It’s a crude reaction but it’s the first one I had on hearing that the Swiss had voted to ban the building of minarets on mosques – the same reaction I have to the increasingly-frequent stories like it: how would I feel if this were not about them, but us? How, in other words, would I react if this latest attack were not on Muslims but on Jews?… With horror, of course… What passionate secularists and atheists need to understand is that what seems to outsiders like a religious affiliation is, for many millions, only partly about faith. It’s often partly, even largely, about identity. How can I be so sure that’s true of Muslims? Because I know it’s true of Jews.

Hatred, racism, and/or prejudice against an entire group of people is the most dangerous when it is acceptable.  The Islamophobic ads posted in the streets of Switzerland eerily recall days of Nazi propaganda used against Jews and the ban on minarets represents the complicity and fading consciousness of the government — and perhaps the world.