Human Rights

Under Guise of "War on Terror," Assault on American Muslims Still in Full Swing

The civil liberties of American Muslims are regularly assaulted and the religious rights of faithful peoples are casually trampled.

Relatively unseen, unknown, and definitely unabated, the assault on U.S. Muslims continues under the government’s “war on terror” and the political right’s war on Islam. The outcomes of both are unconscionable as the civil liberties of American Muslims are assaulted and the religious rights of faithful peoples are trampled.

For a nation rooted in the principle of religious liberty, the smothering arc of religious intolerance has been long and despicable. From the western frontier to the New Frontier Christians themselves have fought and refought theological and cultural battles for dominance in the uniquely American religious marketplace. The toughest of those fights were instigated and waged by Protestants against Catholics—with anti-Catholicism an ideological bedrock stretching from “proper” Protestants to the Ku Klux Klan. As recently as 1960 the anti-Catholic mantra played a role in the Presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic ever elected to the office.

To this day the notion prevails that the U.S. was established as a “Christian nation,” precipitating the harsh and ever-present fog of anti-Semitism and—now—the assault on Muslims. While constituting less than one percent of the U.S. population, Muslims are the focus of extensive FBI surveillance and monitoring in communities across the country. The Somali community in Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example, has been subjected to deep scrutiny for months, following the return of some of its youth to repel the Ethiopian occupation of their homeland. After the U.S. tied their recruitment to an alleged al-Queda-linked group, problems began. Somalis are now routinely stopped on the streets, in airports and schools, and not even mosques and “home visits” are out of bounds. A cloud of suspicion hangs over the community and, according to one leader, the government “has created more fear than it has solved the problem.”

Last week four Members of Congress—three of them members of the anti-immigrant House Immigration Reform Caucus—joined the chorus to expose the supposed “dangers” of Islam and U.S. Islamic organizations. Touting a new publication by white nationalist and ardent Islamophobe, Dave Gaubatz, the Members dutifully called for an investigation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for “infiltrating” (with intern “spies”) Congressional judiciary, homeland security, and intelligence committees. Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina—whose anti-Islamic “Wake Up America” agenda called for an investigation of CAIR in 2008—wrote the foreword to “Muslim Mafia.” Ironically, the book is based largely on documents taken from CAIR by co-author Chris Gaubatz, who himself infiltrated the organization by way of an internship. On his “Society of Americans for National Existence” website (ironically, SANE) the elder Gaubatz asserts that “America was the handiwork of faithful Christians, mostly men, and almost entirely white,” revealing his nationalistic core and ignoring the religious freedom that the founders (some of whom were Deists, not Christians) guaranteed in the Constitution.

The assault on U.S. Muslims, and on Islam and Islamic organizations, is an affront to all Americans, and an attack on civil and religious liberties. It’s difficult enough for Christians in American to thwart the notion that this is not “their nation.” It’s even more difficult to recognize the swell of a new wave of uncivil liberties unleashed on citizens, refugees, and immigrants whose faithfulness is feared, mocked, and scorned, and linked wrongly and incessantly to “terror.” The assault must cease.

Rev. David Ostendorf is a United Church of Christ Minister currently serving as Executive Director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community.
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