- Published on Friday, 07 September 2012 15:40
“Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down." Those were the nefarious words of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950 as he spoke to the Women's Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. He also claimed at that time to be in possession of a list of "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring" who were employed in the State Department. With just a few words, and after three unremarkable years in the Senate, McCarthy rose to national fame by asserting that the threat to America came not so much from communist forces outside of the country, but by agents already embedded within. Of course, in the end McCarthy was never able to prove any of his dramatic charges.
Today, a new generation of anti-Muslim, neo-McCarthyites is engaged in unfair and un-American activities against fellow Americans. Along the way, ordinary Muslim-Americans are being targeted by the hysteria, as are other groups, like Sikhs who have similar enough markers in the popular imagining of Muslims (brown skin, black hair, turbans, etc.).
The recent and persistent accusations of Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin and others of a “deep penetration”— as terrorist sympathizers — and agents of the Muslim Brotherhood is a part of this approach. It is a means of playing to the fears of ordinary Americans and an appealing to ignorance.
Of course, when Bachmann accuses Abedin of “infiltrating” the government, she not only advances McCarthyite fearmongering, but also helps to position her Republican Party, and with it, Mitt Romney, as a better alternative. That is, even if you aren’t a confirmed Republican, or if Romney is not your first choice, you have to admit that at least Republicans are better than the Democratic Party, infiltrated by Muslim agents (be they Obama or Abedin). Michael Tomasky, writing for The Daily Beast in April, boiled down Romney’s appeal to the far-right and message as “I’m white, and I’m not a socialist.” Bachmann and her like might add “not a Muslim” to that list.
In fact, Republican politicians and anti-Muslim activists routinely join attacks on President Obama by playing into the paranoia that he is a secret Muslim, abusing his presidency only to weaken America. Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says,“We may have a president who has some fundamentally anti-American ideas that may be rooted in a childhood” that was different from the experiences of most Americans, because unlike Obama, “our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.” Is it a wonder that today, at least one in five Americans and a whopping 31% of Republicans are wrongly convinced that Obama is in fact a Muslim, a number that has steadily increased since 2008?
Beyond this, Bachmann’s attack on Abedin—and its support by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich (along with Romney’s ultra-hawkish foreign policy adviser, John Bolton) — shows she is not alone amongst the Right. Of course, it should be noted that Bachmann and her cohort were slammed by a few important Republicans including Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senator John McCain—both men denouncing the overt racism and intolerance underlying such attitudes and accusations.
Similarly, in 1950, it was a Republican Senator, Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine), who voiced her "Declaration of Conscience”, a condemnation of McCarthyite smear tactics—with six other Republican Senators – Wayne Morse, Irving Ives, Charles W. Tobey, Edward John Thye, George Aiken, and Robert C. Hendrickson quickly following suit. In the end, Congress eventually had no recourse but to censure McCarthy as a result of his incessant attacks on innocent American citizens. As a matter of course, Representative Bachmann and others accountable for these demagogic, hateful, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations should be treated likewise—and for the good of the United States.
At first, the links between this McCarthyite fearmongering, the creation of an environment of Islamophobia, and the recent tragic deaths of six Sikhs in Milwaukee may not be obvious. But in fact, this tragedy sadly sheds light on the manner that deindividuation, essentialization, and ultimately dehumanization operates. Since the only link between the various individuals targeted by Bachmann and her cohort is religious (Islam), the only obvious conclusion is that Muslims are not to be trusted—they are “the other.”
This is just how essentialism works: First, you “other” someone by suggesting that they are somehow part of a collective people importantly different from the norm, that is you. Next, you deindividuate these persons by asserting that the crucial variable of these people, the principle feature of their identity that looms largest, what matters most to their identity is what you describe. In the case of Muslims, then, it matters not whether they are American, what their ethnicity is, their gender, their personality, their height, etc. What matters most is their religion or religious heritage. Of course, this is an error. Even ignoring the fact that Islam, like other religions and other abstractions, is open to much interpretation, identity-based behavior is hard to predict. So, you can be an atheist, a Jew, and an activist for Palestinian rights all at the same time.
But, once you’ve established this erroneous idea of defining and predicting identity-based behavior, then you assert that this core dimensional quality is bad, or at least not as good as your own. In this way, you can now allow or even justify violence against them. Data from the social sciences suggest that human beings have a disposition for violent aggression against “outsiders” and that this evocation is arguably a necessary condition for violent behavior towards groups of people.
The Sikhs were swept up in the essentialization of Muslims and “othered” along as a deindividuated and dehumanized enemy. The fact that perhaps they are being mistaken for Muslims is irrelevant. The Sikh community, just like the Muslim community, is not to blame for the criminal attacks on America.
It is true that only in a democracy like ours is there room for the kind of extremist and bigoted attacks towards those who may not look, act and think like the real or imagined ‘dominant cultural majority’. But, as a pluralistic and democratic nation, we have the right and perhaps obligation, to vote these bums out! The continued presence of Representative Bachmann and her ilk, advocating distrust and hate towards fellow Americans, while employed in the highest levels of government is dangerous for America's future and “the American Way.”Submitted to Aslan Media by Siamak Naficy