Muslims and the US “melting pot” – by B.R. Gowani

The recent drama of the two groups (for and against the building of the mosque near the Ground Zero) further intensified when a gun-toting pastor threatened to burn the Qur’an. Although from a very small congregation, with the hungry news media help, he was able to create tension at an international scale.
Under pressure from the US government, the Pentagon, Republicans, and other Church people he backed off. It was too late for three people in Afghanistan who lost their lives among the many protestors. Also, in Kashmir, eighteen people were killed by the Indian Army where the people were protesting the Qur’an burning in the US (and atrocities against them by the Indian government). A Christian missionary school, the Tyndale-Biscoe and Mallinson School, was totally burned down by a Muslim mob in Kashmir. It is sad but this is how such religious issues usually end; even before a single copy of Qur’an had lost life, the cheapness of human life was obvious for all to see.
I would also like to address two points from Faisal Devji’s article, “The moderate Muslim’s fate” posted on Current Intelligence.
The first point is his observation that the US Muslims escaped “large scale violence against their persons or property” in the wake of 9/11 because of “remarkable tolerance” showed towards them. This may be true; however, one cannot ignore the anger and hatred within the US that manifests in severe actions outside the US to vent these feelings. I think the Muslims in the US would have suffered much more dire circumstances if there were:
· no wars against Afghanistan, (later) Iraq, and (still later) Pakistan (not to forget short term operations against Philippines and Somalia),
· no Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Base prison (excesses made public), and
· no extraordinary renditions of suspects to various countries.
This is true about any country. Look at what happens in other countries when you don’t have foreign outlets to calm your people down; they fight amongst themselves or release their anger at minorities or women.

Second point: The current anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, according to Devji, is not a new phenomenon but a normal ritual which every new ethnic group has to go through. This group is relieved when the next new batch of ethnic group becomes the fresh target. I concur: In the early 1800s a school text: “The Irish Heart” prepared by the Protestant Christians, stated the following regarding the new Irish immigrants who were mostly Catholic Christians:
“The emigration from Ireland to America of annually increasing numbers, extremely needy, and in many cases drunken and depraved, had become a subject for all our grave and fearful reflection.”
But later on the Irish merged into the white melting pot* very successfully. The 7th, 21st, and 35th US presidents were wholly Irish and many others had Irish ancestry.
However, when it comes to Muslims, things become a bit complex. Here it is not a question of a single nationality, such as Italians, or a single ethnic group, such as Scottish, but that of a religion, Islam, which has majority in about 50 countries. Making it still more difficult is the events of 2001. Bullies are never comfortable in being bullied; but when it is the Super Bully being bullied, it hurts like hell. Only four times in its entire history has the United States been attacked by outsiders: The 1812-1815 war in which Britain set fire to White House, Capitol, and other government buildings; Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s incursion in New Mexico in 1916; the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii; and the 2001 attack on World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon.
In 1812, the US was a new thirty six year old nation and was still expanding its territory by grabbing the Native Indians’ lands. The war with the mother country Britain (the then super power) was part of the ongoing conflict. Pancho Villa’s incursion from the neighboring Mexico into the US state was a minor border incident. The Japanese attack (not on the mainland US but) on the naval base at Pearl Harbor was the first ever attack on US soil. The very next day, December 8, 1941, the US entered the war and Japan paid a heavy price. In 1945, dozens of Japanese cities were fire bombed and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom bombed which resulted in Japan’s unconditional surrender.
A much more dramatic, devastatingly ego-shattering, and intensely confidence-rattling attack on the US (the first one on the mainland) occurred in the early clear sky morning on September 11, 2001. About 3000 people lost their lives in this terror incident. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instructed President George Bush: “You cannot come back here. The United States of America is under attack, you have to go to safety. We don’t know what is going on here.” The failing communication systems forced Bush to use an insecure phone line to talk to Washington, Rice said. Bush, who was in Florida, stayed on Air Force One, for a while and then was whisked off to a bunker in Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney along with others holed themselves in a subterranean bunker, beneath the White House known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Centre (PEOPS). Both these bunkers could withstand overhead nuclear explosions. The atmosphere in the Washington bunker was not conducive. “There were so many people in the bunker that the oxygen levels started dropping, and the secret service came in and said ‘we’ve got to get some people out of here.” “They literally went around telling people they weren’t essential and they had to leave.”
The hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 headed towards Washington DC and crashed in Pennsylvania when the passengers tried to overpower the hijackers. Rice again:
“As I’ve reflected now on what the passengers and crew of flight 93 did, first of all there’s a sense of personal gratitude that they may well have saved my life, me personally.
“I also think of what they did for the country because had another plane hit the White House or the capital I just don’t think we had much more capacity to absorb greater shock than we already had [emphasis mine].”
And this is one of the differences between the December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 attacks. The former was just on a navy fleet (with a tragic loss of over 2000 lives) whereas the latter not only shook and confused the Super Power, it forced its leaders underground, literally.
Another difference is that in 1941, the US was dealing with a state and so it was easy to target and overpower the opponent. (The US still has bases in Japan.) On the other hand, the people involved in the 2001 attacks were all non-state actors and had committed this act in the name of Islam.
Within a month, however, a revenge spree was unleashed on Afghanistan, as part of the Global War on Terror, despite the fact that none of the 19 hijackers were from that country. (15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 from United Arab Emirates, 1 from Lebanon, and 1 from Egypt.)
It seems that “no negotiations get the plotters dead or alive, and the unconditional surrender” are the critical words of the US diplomatic manual. A year and a half later, another war was unleashed in Iraq. Pakistan’s northern areas were bestowed the honor of being the third front. The wars are still continuing. And there is no end in sight. This is the main hurdle for the Muslims in becoming part of the melting pot. In the period preceding September 2001, Muslims could have hoped on being accepted as part of the melting pot, despite the Crusades and other wars of Christian/Muslim history.
The main psychological impact of the 9/11 attacks on the US ruling class was not the economic or human loss but the fact that a few Muslims could impose Shock and Awe on the US. (Later, the US used the words “Shock and Awe” when it waged war against Iraq, which was totally uninvolved in 9/11.) None of the victims of the US atrocities/wars: Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Filipinos, Haitians, and others have ever retaliated by attacking the US. This was a historical first and will take the US a long time to overcome it.
Devji expresses hope: “Ten years from now there are likely to be books written and television programs made about the shameful history of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, by which time Islam will have become naturalised within it precisely because of today’s debate.”
Although I have my doubts, I hope time proves him right.
B. R. Gowani can be reached at