Attack on Libya: when Islamophobia collides with Negrophobia
Between the Lines
The decision to elevate the assault on Libya and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has some very chilling forecasts for normalizing relations with Muslims in America. Libya is involved in a civil war for which no vital American interests are at stake. Libya only controls 2 percent of the world’s oil, of which the United States is not highly invested. The destabilization of Libya now threatens the stabilization of the whole Middle East region. Yet the United States can’t resist invading another Muslim nation.
Interesting. Following the regime change in Egypt, conflict in Libya signals the changing of the guard of a new generation of Arab Muslims trying to sync themselves (not sink themselves) into an ever-changing world. There should be concern about what America’s role in the Middle East change will be and what the end game looks like. Is this another situation where America gets stuck in and can’t get out?
The rise of Islamophobia in America is evident as the United States is at war with three Islamic nations simultaneously. It is even more interesting how President Barack Obama has entered this fray with less than emphatic vigor, as if it is an obligatory responsibility for the United States to continue an antiquated role as “defenders of the Free World.”
It is not. Yet the pundits and experts have framed the president’s role as confusing and minimalist (or even manipulated). No one can agree on why the United States is even involved, only that it somehow had to be involved or America was abdicating responsibility to its Middle East allies.
America is currently suffering from acute Islamophobia. Has been since 9/11. It really turned acute when Obama became a presidential contender, but the heightened national debate around building an Islamic Cultural Center near the Twin Towers site gave cause for alarm and America’s Islamophobic symptoms grew. Let’s be clear about what Islamophia is. It’s an unfounded fear or contempt for Muslims, or anybody that fits the profile of a Muslim, including Arabs, sheiks, Indians and biracial Black people with Arab or Islamic names … even if they’re Christians.
While some people try to deny Islamophobia in America based on reported hate crimes that show many fewer than on Blacks or Jews (largely because of the belief that Muslims are militant or violent), the real phobia comes in the resistance to societal inclusion, where no one wants to be close to Muslims for fear that they might be living with a bomber or “terrorist,” as they’ve been framed.
CNN, which has been studying Black people and Black life for the past two years (White people had to reintroduce themselves to Black America, after the Obama election phenomenon), will air a special this weekend on America’s Islamophobia, called “Unwelcome: The Muslim Next Door.”
The increasing hostility toward Muslims and any attempts to show civility toward Muslims is an issue in our society. The commonality that Asians of the 20th century have with Muslims of the 21st century is that America tends to pick on the fringe elements in hopes of showing force and superiority, but ends up losing because of failure to acknowledge what the people of those countries really wanted wasn’t what America wanted.
A stalemate in Korea and a loss in Vietnam is the 20th-century legacy that was left of America’s wandering into regional conflicts. A stalemate in Afghanistan and a loss in Iraq should be a cause to pause on Libya. But President Obama, who I think understands the rationality of pausing in the region, had his hand forced by folk seeking to test his virility in the presidency.
For the past two years, there has been contempt for Obama which really came out in the healthcare debate, and showed more widespread Negrophobic behavior. And America’s relapse into Negrophobia began.
Negrophobia has been in America more than 200 years, starting in the northern states when they became “concerned” about sharing social spaces with free Blacks. And it increased as manumitted slaves and runaways found refuge in the North. Negrophobia actually drove Whites into the 19th-century Free Soil movement, which were “slavery free” territories where Blacks were excluded in pursuit of a strictly European existence called “White Man’s Country.”
The north-midwest and the northwest part of the country is still the Whitest part of the nation today, because of this pre-Civil War racial engagement. The election of Obama and the realization that it was hard to make Blacks invisible with a Black man in the White House (although they still try) has brought a return of Negrophobia (contempt for Blacks) to America. White anxiety, fear, suspicion and paranoia is at a 40-year high (since White flight of the 1970s).
Despite the racial animosities that exist around Obama’s presidency (refusal to acknowledge his statesman status, constant questioning anything he does), the biggest issue they have with him is his nationality and religious identity (while 20 percent of America thinks he’s wasn’t born in America, 14 percent still thinks he’s a closet Muslim). For two years, anti-Muslim sentiment (read “the Tea Party, the religious right, the Republican opposition imperative”) has called on Obama to renounce Islam, and “prove” he’s not a Muslim.
The first two wars, Obama didn’t start, and he’s been slow to finish, but this one is the “test” many have been waiting for. He was able to resist it during the Egypt revolution, because Egypt has always been an ally in the Middle East (North Africa). However, Libya just regained diplomatic recognition during the past few years; having been on our “enemies list” for allegedly having a role in the bombing of Pan-Am 103 in December of 1988.
Gaddafi has always denied it and paid a settlement, but has never been viewed in the best light by the American people. In fact, he has become the poster boy for Islamophobes, who point to him as the classic non-rational, extremist actor in the Muslim world leadership. But unlike Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and its allies just hadn’t had a reason to get at him before now. America getting in the middle of Libya’s protests is like calling the police for a school-yard brawl … while we have a cause for concern, it is a bit of an overkill.
But it’s also a chance for the nation to see how President Obama deals with a Muslim radical leader. So what that the Arab Union signed off on the attack; that’s equivalent to Clarence Thomas signing a petition to move you off his and his neighbor’s block. It’s not really germane to the issue. There is a sovereignty in place that America must respect (but doesn’t).
America can’t solve every nation’s conflicts. America’s Negrophobia pushed Obama to act out its Islamophobia. It’s an unavoidable collision course the president will have to navigate very delicately, lest he crashes and burns. We already have seen that he can’t be seen as “too Black.”
Now he has to be concerned about being “too pro-Islam.”
And of course, as the leader of our nation, he has to be “pro-American” at all times even when it’s wrong and irrational to be so.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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