Monday June 24, 2024

Countdown to Kristallnacht

By Akbar Ahmed
December 14, 2015

Part - I

It was a cold night in November 1938. Hard men with hatred in their hearts and bats in their hands set about smashing shops belonging to Jews. At the end of the night, some 267 synagogues were destroyed, the windows of 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were shattered and several Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. At least 91 Jews were killed in the mayhem. Up to 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Glass from smashed storefront windows lay strewn across the streets. That night of infamy is notorious in history as Kristallnacht – the ‘Night of Broken Glass’.

Kristallnacht was a turning point on the path to the concentration camps and the Holocaust, at the end of which six million Jews would be killed, creating what has been acknowledged as one of the most murderous episodes in history. Today, we appear to be heading that way again – this time with Muslims instead of Jews.

Kristallnacht was justified by the Nazis as a response to the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Jewish man. Similarly, much of the current level of Islamophobia appears justified to many Americans because of the terrible and tragic killings by Muslims in San Bernardino and Paris. The San Bernardino killings were particularly horrific because they were likely committed by an American-born citizen and his wife. It was a double betrayal – of their own Islamic faith, a religion of peace, and of their host country, which had accepted them and given them the American dream.

The classic pattern from the fascist playbook has been: first abuse and demonise the minority community, then isolate it, then suggest violence and finally encourage and indulge in violence. We may not have, thankfully, reached the last stage, but we certainly are into the second and perhaps moving to the third stage. Here’s why.

Donald Trump, the leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party, has been focused on projecting Muslims in an extremely negative manner, with each of his statements more extreme than the last. When a man at one of Trump’s speeches said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims ... When can we get rid of them?” Trump merely replied, “We’re going to be looking at that and many other things.” Last month, Trump said he was open to keeping a database of American Muslims or making them carry special ID cards that listed their religion.

He talked of shutting down American mosques because “bad things are happening”. He vowed, “We’re going to have to do things we never did before,” things “that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy”. A few days ago, he suddenly said that he would ban all Muslims from entering the United States – a statement that caused a furore both in the United States and abroad, with even the British prime minister, who would normally not comment on an American election, objecting to Trump.

Trump was exemplifying and enhancing the already existing Islamophobia in the US, which had been fed by well-known Islamophobic figures like Frank Gaffney. Yet Trump used Gaffney’s dubious research to justify his policy of banning all Muslims from the US. The poll Trump cited was published by the Centre for Security Policy, the think tank created by Gaffney, who is described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks US hate groups, as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes”. The SPLC notes that Centre for Security Policy reports serve “to reinforce Gaffney’s delusions” about a Muslim takeover of the United States.

The results of widespread American Islamophobia are tragic and apparent in the daily news. The list is long and I will only present some random examples from the past few weeks: Muslims have been physically attacked and abused with frightening frequency, even in schools and universities. A Moroccan taxi driver was asked by his passenger if he was a ‘Pakistani guy’ and then shot. Mosques have been attacked and fired on, as have Muslim homes. Mosques and families have received phone calls promising that Muslims, including children and old people, “will be killed”. Armed ‘militias’ with masks on their faces have turned up outside an Islamic centre. Heads of pigs have been thrown into mosques in defiance of the Muslim ritual prohibition of the animal. A disturbing amount of women and children live in abject fear and are reluctant to leave their homes. Recently, a man walked into a New York store and ferociously beat the Muslim owner, who had to be hospitalised, shouting, “I want to kill Muslims.”

To all this backlash the director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations commented, “The community is turning to us for protection, for safety, for guidance. We haven’t been sleeping.” He went on to draw a direct comparison between Trump and Hitler, adding, “I don’t say this lightly.”

To be continued

The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University.

Courtesy: The Huffington Post