Today the projection of Muslims in the United States is very negative but one of the reasons for this is that Muslims don’t assimilate in host societies when they emigrate.
These views were expressed by French journalist and scholar Slimane Zeghidour while addressing students and faculty of the Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE), University of Karachi, on Thursday morning.
“Today, we see a picture of the Muslims in the US media which is not at all flattering. They tar the Muslims and the Arabs with the same brush. We mustn’t forget that in the total Muslim world, the Arabs are a minority. Besides, many Arabs are not Muslims,” he said.
A hundred years ago, he said, the picture was so positive and romantic, because except for Turkey and Saudi Arabia, all Muslim population countries were governed by colonial powers.
The British ruled over 100 million Muslims. Another 12 million were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Then there were the Dutch who were ruling Indonesia and the French certain countries in Africa. Starting the decade of the 1940s, all these countries started becoming independent. Algeria, Qatar, and Dubai gained independence in the 60s, he said.
Starting the 1950s decade and the beginning of the Cold War, the US needed allies against communism. As such, the ties with the Muslim population were maintained at a very cordial level.
He said the Hollywood icon of the 40s and the 50s, Rudolf Valentino was always portrayed as a dashing, romantic Muslim hero. The iconic American rock-n-roll singer, the late Elvis Presley, was often depicted in Arab attire, he said.
Things, he said, began to change with the Iranian Revolution and then with the receding of the USSR into the background as, in the latter case, the US was not left with a perennial enemy for which she should have needed support.
Things began to change radically. Iranian Revolution was visibly anti-West. Thus, the collective stance in the US began to go against the Muslims. He showed slides of so many US-based publications with anti-Muslim cover stories and illustrations.
One of these was a cover of the US-based magazine, Time, with a cover depicting Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa all veiled up. Another Time end-of-year issue, depicted a Muslim woman in a typical attire with the caption, ‘The Protester’.
This wave of hatred was followed by violence and civil wars. Things then manifested themselves in the Taliban phenomenon and suppression of women in Afghanistan.
To a question as to why the same feeling didn’t exist towards the Jews, Zeghidour said that the Jews were Europeans. They spoke the same language, had the same culture, belonged to the same locale. So, it was very easy for them to integrate.
Muslims, he said, didn’t have the same level of homogeneity. Besides, there was class alienation among them which impeded integration.
After the Soviet collapse, he said, Muslims began to be seen as the enemies of the West. “Muslim clerics are very provincial. When they attack, they use religious arguments, not political ones. For instance, they attack Americans as Kafirs (infidels), not as exploiters,” he said.
Dubbing the animosity of the US towards the Muslims as highly exaggerated, he queried, “Who helped the Bosnians? The Americans.”
Later in an informal chat with newsmen, when the condition of the Muslims in the UK was pointed out to him, he counter-posed a question, “Why are only the Pakistani Muslims in the UK ‘discriminated’ against?”
After all, he said, there were Muslims in the UK from Bangladesh, from India, from so many African countries but they weren’t so affected. So why only the Pakistani Muslims, he queried, and said that self-introspection was highly called for.
When one of the newsmen pointed out an incident when couple of years ago, a group of Christian carolers went carol-singing in the Pakistani quarter of Birmingham, England, they were beaten black and blue by the residents, saying that their religious sentiments were hurt by the carolers, he narrated another incident in France when the Muslim clerics issued a ‘fatwa’ to the effect that wishing Merry Christmas was un-Islamic and that Muslims should refrain from it. He said that we mustn’t forget that the US and the UK had very strict anti-discrimination laws.
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