By Hamid Dabashi
December 11, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “Al Jazeera” – On the same day that the depth of Donald Trump’s racist bigotry hit a new low bycalling for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States, another news item emerged that was overshadowed by the circus surrounding Trump: Candice Miller, a US Congresswoman, introduced a bill, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015.
If passed, the bill will suddenly cast US citizens of Arab, Iranian, and Muslim descent as second-class citizens in their own country – a “legislation that will effectively create two classes of Americans – Americans with Middle Eastern or Muslim background, and Americans without that background”.
“If you thought Donald Trump’s divisive, bigoted and blatantly racist rhetoric was just a reflection of the silliness we always face during primary campaigns”, as one observer rightly put it, “think again”.
As world attention is focused on Trump’s racist theatrics, the House of Representatives has just passed the bill with an overwhelming vote of 407-19.
In a country where US-Israeli dual citizens go and as mercenary soldiers fight to steal more of Palestine, and their New York Times columnist father publicly brags about that fact, if an American of Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, or Libyan origin as much as sets foot in his country of birth she or he is subject to systemic suspicion and discrimination.
These are not easy days for Muslims who live in the US and the horrid criminal acts in San Bernardino or Paris have very little to do with these developments.
They are just a subterfuge. People like Trump and his ilk did not have to wait for the San Bernardino or Paris attacks to occur for their hatred of Muslims or Arabs to surface. That surfacing is a sign of much deeper troubles.
Trump is a symptom not the disease. He is a decoy, a diversion so outrageous, so disgusting, that it overwhelms and hides the real disease.
Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US, or his earlier remark to single out and profile Muslims, or his fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson stating point blank that no Muslim should ever become president, are only the most obnoxious versions of a much more deeply rooted bigotry and racism against Muslims that has been dominant in the US for a very long time, but particularly since 9/11.
If you are distracted by the noxious symptom of Trump you will forget that the democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton only a few weeks agoprided herself to have the entire Iranian people as her enemy.
Today leading American liberals such as Michael Tomasky, taking their cues from like-minded Islamophobes gathered under the banner of “New Atheists,” unabashedly expose their racism and single out Muslim Americans and order them to prove their peaceful citizenship in the US by declaring to Muslim Americans that “the rights you have as Americans have to be earned, fought for”. Why? By what authority? Who died and made Michael Tomasky the judge and the jury of Muslim Americans peaceful citizenship?
To me this fundamental abrogation of human decency is worse than Trump’s vulgarity. It is a fundamental democratic principal that a citizen is innocent unless proved guilty, that a citizen is entitled to his and her inalienable rights, and need not “earn” it or “fight for it”.
But who has heard of Tomasky, busy as people are denouncing Donald Trump – and yet to me the roots of Trump are precisely in the pretty liberalism of Tomasky and his ilk.
The threat the Muslims face today in the US is not limited to fascist wannabes like Trump.
The challenge is much deeper and firmly rooted in the political culture of a country that began its history by the mass murder of Native Americans, continued by the systematic slavery of African Americans, and most recently with a stroke of a pen ordered the US population of Japanese descent incarcerated in concentration (internment) camps during World War II.
Today, US Muslims are in serious danger of the same interment camps to which Japanese Americans were subjected to under similar circumstances.
In every generation the task of fighting racism and bigotry shifts from one scapegoat minority to another.
Arabs, South Asians, Iranians are today in the noble company of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Asian Americans, fighting racism and discrimination by one brand of white supremacists or another.
Today, Muslims around the world face not one, but two, dangerous fronts: One internal, the other external.
Internally we are being eaten alive by a gang of murderous mercenary cannibals who have stolen the most sacrosanct insignia of who we are and what we believe in and call themselves “Islamic” one thing or another.
There is no battle more urgent and more noble than this moral and intellectual struggle against the criminal thugs who call themselves the Taliban or al-Qaeda one day, or ISIL and Boko Haram another.
Equally urgent is the external terror visited upon us as we are subject to incessant demonization by the ferocious Islamophobia of the conservative and liberal brands, aided and abetted systematically and financially by Zionist propaganda machinery that wishes to silence the legitimate, non-violent, and dignified critics of their colonial project in Palestine (now best represented in the BDS movement) by frightening us into complacency.
It is not accidental that we learn that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US “rests on research from the Center for Security Policy, a neo-con think-tank run by Frank Gaffney, who has a long history of pro-Israel advocacy and has been called ‘one of US’ most notorious Islamophobes: by the Southern Poverty Law Center”.
We will have to face these two fronts simultaneously, bravely, consistently and with quiet but determined dignity. Other Americans for generations have fought that battle and continue to do so.
It is now our turn to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The historic task of defending the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights is now squarely on our shoulders too.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
© 2015 Al-Jazeera English