Monday, 18 July 2011

Combatting Muslim Stereotyping Through Video

By Richard Edmondson

My Fellow American (MFA) is an online film and social media project dedicated to conveying the truth that Muslims are not our enemies, that in reality in many cases they are “our fellow Americans.” The group has produced a worthy three-minute video that features a number of American Muslims in various walks of life, all going about their jobs as doctors, firefighters, etc. What makes it interesting, however, is not so much what we see in the video, but what we hear, for none of the Muslims pictured actually speak.

Instead, the audio track serves up the voices of some of the most twisted and diseased minds in America, some of whom you will easily recognize, for they have high-profile platforms in the media…and not all of them work for Rupert Murdoch, either. That the words we hear conflict with the images on the screen goes perhaps without saying. What you will get is just a small, two-minute-forty-nine-second fusillade of the steady gush of Islamophobic hatred that goes rippling across the U.S. media on a daily basis. The video is entitled “My Fellow American” and can be viewed at the My Fellow American website, or also at YouTube, but I would recommend a visit to the former, as there is much else you can peruse including stories about friendships that have developed between Muslims and other American citizens, some of whom are Jewish. Many of the Jews can’t seem to resist germinating forth the standard “Oh by the way I’m Jewish” gasconade into their remarks, but (sigh) I guess we’ve all kind of grown more or less accustomed to that by now.

MFA seems to be targeting its appeals to the center-right of the political spectrum, and maybe that’s true of Muslim-American advocacy organizations in general. I don’t know. But you almost have to ask: what other choice is there? If your goal is to “change the narrative—from Muslims as the other, to Muslims as our fellow Americans”—then making your pitch to the political center would almost have to be the priority by default. And so we read the following on the MFA website:

Most Americans have never met an American Muslim. Many only know Muslims through the way they are portrayed in the media. American Muslims are so often vilified as “the other” that it is possible not to recognize that most were born in the U.S. Or that those who immigrated here came seeking the same freedoms and opportunities that have always attracted people to America.

I’m not sure how many “freedoms” could really be said to remain in a country whose leaders condone torture and grant themselves greater surveillance and incarceration powers seemingly with each new law they pass. But certainly it’s true that a good many in the U.S. mainstream continue believing in the idea of American freedom, and still retain cherished values of equality, freedom of religion, and such. And if your goal is to challenge growing anti-Muslim sentiments this is probably where the battle has to be fought.

But challenging ingrained prejudices and hatreds is not easy, and to say that MFA’s struggle is an uphill one would probably be an understatement. Available for viewing at YouTube are a total of 50 videos (at present) uploaded by the anti-Muslim hate group Act! for America which, earlier this year, launched its own cable TV show. One voice you won’t hear on the MFA soundtrack—but which probably deserves to be there—is that of Hanan Qahwaji, alias Brigitte Gabriel, the founder and president of Act! for America. A Lebanese ‘Christian’ who immigrated, first to Israel then later to America, Gabriel has gained considerable prominence in recent years expounding upon the dangers of “Islamic evil,” and today she is marketed as a leading expert on terrorism. Expert or not, however, her statements at times veer in what appear to be contradictory directions. In this video you can watch her taking pains, somewhat defensively, to assure CNN she distinguishes between “radical” and “moderate” Muslims, while in a separate video, here, she asserts, “There is no difference between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims.”

Gabriel has also formed common cause with Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who earlier this year made American Muslims the subject of congressional hearings. The King-Gabriel alliance is the focus of an article entitled When Hanan Met Peter, written by Franklin Lamb, an American who has lived many years in Lebanon, who describes Gabriel/Qahwaji as being remembered with “contempt” by her former countrymen and women, some of whom, he says, recall her appearances on Israeli TV during the July 2006 war when she was seen “urging Israel to keep bombing Lebanon.”

Regardless how Gabriel may be viewed in her former homeland, in the U.S., the didactic poisons being pedaled by she and others of her like are getting imbibed in vast quantities by willing Americans. This was illustrated all too well by an article on the Nashville chapter of Act! for America that was published a week ago in The Tennessean. According to the newspaper, the local group has become “a potent political force in Nashville” with members who “see themselves as warriors in a clash between Western civilization and Islam.” Perhaps most pertinently for the rest of us, it isn’t only Muslims per se regarded now as enemies. Non-Muslims who don’t share the biased Act! for America view of Islam are also looked upon as enemies as well—or more specifically, as they term it, “near enemies.”

“The near enemy is the apologist for Islam, who, I have found, doesn’t know anything about Islam,” said Bill French, who on July 5 hosted a workshop entitled “Persuading the Near Enemy.”

The Tennessean article was the subject of a post at the blog Kenny’s Sideshow, where blog author Kenny commented on the unusually high number of reader comments posted on the piece (more than 350 at the time), observing, “I don’t know whether to be amused or sickened by many of the responses…” As of today, the comments, many of them, of course, made most likely by those who’ve never even met a Muslim, total 561— with the remarks of one “T6850” perhaps being typical: “What else do the true citizens of the United States need to know about these killers. (sic) Their goal in life is to kill as many of us as they can before they die too.”

How, we might wonder, is it possible to make such statements when all the numerous occupations, bombing campaigns, clandestine wars, drone attacks, etc. going on in the world today are being waged against—rather than by—Muslim countries, and with all too often Muslim civilians as the fatalities? Perhaps the answer can be found in George Orwell. The truest sign of servitude, the truest hallmark of slavery, Orwell said, is to hate someone for no other reason than because you are told to. That a video such as that produced by MFA is so direly needed—needed because so many Americans have been brainwashed into hating those whom they have been told to hate, becoming in the process captives essentially, surging with emotions felt for no other reason than they have been told to feel them—is perhaps the saddest possible commentary on American society. The voices overdubbed onto this video are telling people to hate Muslims, and a good many Americans, numbering at least in the hundreds of thousands, possibly even the millions, are obeying.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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