The US Heritage Foundation has organized a series of gatherings to draw attention to the Benghazi controversy. A week or so ago this however this turned into taunting of a Muslim woman with a headscarf. According to the Washington Post:
The session, as usual, quickly moved beyond the specifics of the assaults that left four Americans dead to accusations about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the Obama administration, President Obama funding jihadists in their quest to destroy the United States, Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton attempting to impose Sharia blasphemy laws on Americans and Al Jazeera America being an organ of “enemy propaganda.”
Then Saba Ahmed, an American University law student, stood in the back of the room and asked a question in a soft voice. “We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam,” she told them. “We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.”
Panelist Brigitte Gabriel founder of a group called ACT! for America pounced. She said “180 million to 300 million” Muslims are “dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.” She told Ahmed that the “peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and she drew a Hitler comparison: “Most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result, 60 million died.”
“Are you an American?” Gabriel demanded of Ahmed, after accusing her of taking “the limelight” and before informing her that her “political correctness” belongs “in the garbage.”
“Where are the others speaking out?” Ahmed was asked. This drew an extended standing ovation from the nearly 150 people in the room, complete with cheers.
The panel’s moderator, conservative radio host Chris Plante, grinned and joined in the assault. “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he demanded of Ahmed.
“Yeah,” audience members taunted, “yeah.”
Ahmed answered quietly, as before. “I guess it’s me right now,” she said.
But it was Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian by birth, who was most vitriolic when Ahmed asked her question. Gabriel dismissed as “irrelevant” the “2.3 million Arab Muslims living in the United States [when] it took 19 hijackers — 19 radicals — to bring America down.” She mocked Ahmed’s “point about peaceful, moderate Muslims” by making quotation marks with her fingers when she said the word peaceful.The young woman responded calmly to the taunts of the panelists and the crowd. “As a peaceful American Muslim,” she told them, “I would like to think I’m not that irrelevant.”
The controversy continued on a talkshow of Sean Hannity. Hannity repeatedly pressed Ahmed to specifically condemn the laws that oppress women and gay people with punishment. Brigitte Gabriel was on Hannity too and accused Ahmed of distracting the panel with an irrelevant question. Ahmed talked about herself and how no one’s forcing her to wear her head scarf, but Hannity confronted her about women elsewhere being forced to do so.
The debate continued on CNN’s Reliable sources where Linda Sarsour (national advocacy director of national network of Arab-American communites) challenged Brigitte Gabriel’s bigotry in an item that also focussed on the role of the media in producing and reproducing Islamophobia. In this tv program we see, again, the distinction between moderate (or liberal) and radical Islam/Muslims and the question where are the moderate Muslims is asked again. We have seen this in the Netherlands as well as I have explained earlier.
This is always a dangerous thing as it enhances the us vs. them rhetoric and turns Muslims into terrorists by association or lack of visible disassociation. For the pro radical activists these calls are again a sign of the hypocrisy of democrats as they accuse them of never having condemned violence against Muslims by regimes that are supported by the West.
The calls for public disassociation are part of what I have called the regime of surveillance whereby Muslims are encouraged to enact the accepted and expected models of the Dutch secular liberal citizen. Taken together we can regard the public debates on Islam, the policies regarding Muslims, integration and security politics (often leading to more debate and policies) as a surveillance of the everyday lives of Muslims. The debates about (radical) Islam and the counter-radicalization policies have influenced Muslims’ lives severely. In the Netherlands, several studies have explored how particular debates on Islam trickle down into the daily lives of people in a variety of ways ranging from people’s experiences in schools, workplaces and, of course, their media-consumption at different levels in society. This begs the question if we need to take security measures in order to prevent terrorism whose security are we talking about?
As Sarsour also points out, there have been numerous people condemning the recent atrocities; the question therefore is not where are they but why are they not listened to? The example of Ahmed above shows why: because they are distrusted. As soon as people who condemn the violence speak out they are interrogated if they condemn this and that, and in the case of women with headscarves their headscarf is challenged as a sign of radicalism. Therefore calls for moderate Islam/Muslims are not to be seen as a desperate attempt to hear a moderate voice but to actually silence those voices.