I saw a rather interesting BBC Three documentary called United States Of Hate: Muslims Under Attack. This one-off one hour documentary, hosted by award-winning director and producer Steph Atkinson, was first shown on the BBC in May 2016. It examines America’s recent upsurge in Islamophobia, with Atkinson meeting Texan anti-Islam groups, law abiding American Muslims, and an extremist Muslim (just to keep the balance).
Atkinson asks how America got here, and if the fears (real and imaginary) between these groups are justified. For example, in Irving, Texas, the city’s growing Muslim community is under fire from right-wing hate groups who seek to marginalise and intimidate them. Atkinson meets two such groups – Bomb Islam and BAIR (Bureau for American Islamic Relations) – two of the most extreme anti-Muslim groups in America, both believing all Muslims are potential terrorists.
Like most anti-Islam hate groups BAIR members are mainly middle aged ex-military white Christian men, with intimidating nicknames such as Big Daddy Infidel. Atkinson tries to figure out why they hate the way they do. At one point, when speaking about one particular BAIR member, Atkinson suggests that his ‘feelings about Muslims seems to be a weird mix of hate and envy.’
Incidentally Irving, Texas is the town where 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a clock to school that teachers believed was a bomb. This incident alone speaks volumes about the local population.
In a recent interview Atkinson made a curious point about weapons being the main difference between hate groups in the States and those here in Britain:
It’s the big difference between the English Defence League and someone like BAIR. They’ve got guns. And when they’re telling you these extreme things, like the guy that told me he’d rather spend time with cannibals than he would with Muslims, they’re telling them to you and they’ve got an M16 in their hands! It adds a whole new layer of risk to things. – Steph Atkinson
Atkinson also meets Muslims living and working in Texas who speak of their experiences when hate is at an all-time high. One such Muslim, Imam Omar Suleiman, is interviewed extensively as he tries to explain how he feels about the protests outside his own mosque in Texas, as well as the serious attempts he makes trying to de-radicalise Muslims, all on top of the day to day Islamophobia he has to face.
This documentary was the first time I came across Suleiman, but I saw him again at the recent memorial service for the five Dallas police officers shot and killed on duty. He was seated right behind First Lady Michelle Obama.
The documentary is well worth a view. Below are some quotes from it, as well as some of my thoughts on all of this craziness…
I found that the most interesting dialogue in the entire documentary was the following short, succinct, and entirely true change:
Steph Atkinson: Where has this come from? How have we got here?
Imam Omar Suleiman: With a very systematic dehumanisation of 1.8 billion people. That’s how we got here. Through media, through the movies, through our reckless politicians. Sadly, it is where we’re at.
At one point Atkinson asks: ‘What I want to know is when does one person’s freedom become another person’s blasphemy?’
He then speaks to Dorrie O’Brien, an avid hater of all things Muslim, in regards to her openly drawing the Prophet Muhammad. When asked if she realises how offensive this could be to Muslims, her cool and calculated response is: ‘I think it is really just too bad if you’re offended.’
This reminded me of a famous Ricky Gervais quote, used liberally by atheists:
Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right. – Ricky Gervais
That may be so, but should there not also be a responsibility on those trying to offend to perhaps not incite hatred purely for their own amusement or their own political ideologies?
Another brilliant piece of dialogue comes from Suleiman advising the congregation of his mosque on how to deal with the haters:
Imam Omar Suleiman: When we see people that are yelling and screaming, when we see people that hate our guts, whether they’re holding up signs and telling you to go back home or whether they’re just people that are giving you, you know, nasty stares in public, whatever it may be, it allows us to not hate them, it allows us to actually want good for them, it allows us to be able to go to them and to try to win over their hearts. They’re not in a position where their minds can absorb anything. They’ve been too blocked by the hate.
I recently came across the following movie quote:
When you don’t know someone, they’re more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But when you know them, this limits them. – from the movie Sing Street (2016)
This quote seems poignantly related to groups like BAIR and their view of Muslims. Since they do not personally know anyone who is a Muslim, they feel they can make Muslims anything they want them to be, in this case the bad guys, the scapegoats, the source of all that ails them. However, once you know a Muslim personally, then your opinions of them becomes somewhat limited by this real encounter. This is something Suleiman refers to:
Imam Omar Suleiman: There is no doubt in my mind, the more Americans that encounter Muslims at a human level, the more this bigotry is going to disappear, because statistic after statistic has shown that Americans that have actually sat with Muslims and known them on a human level are very unlikely to hold these types of views about Muslims and things of that sort. So it’s a united fight. We have to come together to fight against all forms of violence, and we have to form alliances, like-minded people that want to see a world of peace.
Then we see Atkinson arrange a meeting between Franklin Redmond, an avid BAIR member, and Suleiman, which results in the following stimulating exchange:
Franklin Redmond: Are you willing to acknowledge that there is a problem in the Muslim world, groups like ISIS and ISIL, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram – there’s hundreds of them, there’s hundreds of them. But one thing that’s in common with every single one of them is that they are Islamic, in some way, shape or form. It is an underlying evil to the Islamic faith, characteristic of what I would attribute to people who worship Satan.
Imam Omar Suleiman: Do I believe that there are radical groups that are using the religion and that are doing terrible things in the name of it? Yes. But the greatest victims of these groups are Muslim. You might be surprised to hear this, but I am actually on ISIS’s hit list, all right? I have actually been targeted by them, and at the same time I’m being told by other people that you’re not doing enough to fight Islamic radicalism. I’m like, “Look, I’m actually putting my life on the line.” And when I take my daughter to a mosque, my six-year-old daughter to a mosque, and she sees people holding guns and she comes home and she says, “Baba, why do they want to kill us? Why do they hate us?” I mean, to me, that is extremism. If you knew that the environment that you helped created led someone to actually pull a trigger on one of those Muslim kids, an innocent Muslim, would you be able to sleep at night knowing that you could have possibly fuelled that? That that environment you created could have, could have, led to that Islamophobia which has claimed the lives of innocent people?
In the final scene of the documentary, Suleiman makes a point about being wary of what ISIS are really trying to do:
Steph Atkinson: Omar isn’t prepared for his community to accept responsibility for any terrorist attack. He has his own thoughts on where blame lies.
Imam Omar Suleiman: I would say a group like BAIR would have more to do with a violent incident taking place in the world than I do, because I’m actually trying to stop that cycle. They’re feeding that cycle, they’re feeding that carnage, they’re feeding that nonsense, they’re feeding that clash of civilisations, they’re giving ISIS the world that they want. ISIS wants this world to be Islam versus the West. They’re giving them that world. They’re letting them know that…It’s just like a video game. ISIS is player one and they just needed someone to press and be player two. Islamophobes are creating more Islamic terrorism.
Islamophobes like those in this documentary should be aware of this fact: if you get rid of all Muslims, you do not automatically get rid of all the problems you associate with Muslims. Those problems will still be prevalent in your new utopian non-Islamic society. Issues such as rape, child abuse, benefit fraud, extremism, racism, and other such ills that you lay solely on the shoulders of Islam, these will all still be there once you are Muslim free. Who then do you blame? Where then does your glare of hatred fall? The blacks? The Jews? Foreigners? The Hindus? The Sikhs? The atheists? The LGBT community?
I recently read that certain armed right-wing Christian militias in America, similar to BAIR, dip their bullets in pigs blood. Why? The thinking behind this is that when the Muslamics finally invade, led by Obama probably, the Christians will victoriously shoot the Muslim medieval zealots, and the pigs blood will ensure that they are sent straight to hell. This is a genuine belief amongst some militia members. Even Trump suggestively spoke about this at one of his rallies.
Do these militias think Muslims are like vampires? Some form of the undead that can only be killed by pigs blood? What if the pigs blood doesn’t work? What will you do next? Will you throw garlic naan at us? Sprinkle church holy water on us? All in the hope of watching us melt away whilst screaming ‘Aaah! It burns! it burns!’
Muslims and anti-Muslim hate groups have a common enemy. In my mind our real enemy is atheism. Whilst anti-Islamic hate groups are busy ridding their homelands of mosques, minarets, and Muslims, what they fail to realise is that soon they will be left with a non-spiritual country, an America that is a Godless nation. This is because atheism is fast filling the cracks and divisions that exist between religions and within religions. Whilst you are busy getting rid of us Muslims, the atheists are busy getting rid of you Christians. The younger generation primarily see atheism, not Christianity, as the alternative to Islam.
Surely anti-Islam groups who truly hate ISIS would do some research and find out who ISIS hate, and then take these people as their friends. After all, is not my enemies enemy my friend? Unfortunately for groups like BAIR, ISIS hate most Muslims across the world, especially those in the decadent West. They hate Muslims who are Shia, liberal, progressive, gay, democratic, and the rest. So would it not make sense for an anti-Islam group to befriend these Muslims?
Also, would you not want to have principles that are the complete polar opposite to those of ISIS? ISIS are undemocratic, divisive, racist, and so forth. Shouldn’t you, as a group that declares it’s open hatred and outrage of ISIS, be the total opposite of this? Shouldn’t you be democratic, inclusive, etc, instead of the way you currently are?
Finally, know that the paths of love and hate have only one thing in common: each road is never-ending. You can carry on going. No matter how much you hate, you can always hate some more. Likewise, no matter how much you love, you can always love that wee bit more. This is a point touched upon in the aforementioned interview with Atkinson:
Last year, Donald Trump announced a policy which would require Muslims and refugees to wear badges on their outer garments at all times – something that comes uncomfortably close to the most famous persecution of a group of people in living memory. Steph actually spoke to a ‘very upset’ Jewish journalist who compared the situation to Germany in 1936. ‘He felt there was lots of echoes of the Nazi Party and what happened to Jewish people at the time. And that’s the real fear of it – where does this Islamophobia end?’ Chances are, nowhere good. – from an article by Jess Commons