and Richard B. Muhammad -Final Call Staffers-
Nine years after 9/11 tragedy, America suffers from serious divisions, rhetoric is heating up. Where is the country headed?
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – A strong anti-Islam sentiment and national disunity on the nine-year anniversary of September 11, 2001 has many asking what happened to that sense of solidarity, the seductive dream of unity that engulfed many Americans immediately after the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon?
Rudolph Muhammad, a retired New York City emergency medical technician, remembers running across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying his gear after a plane had hit one of the towers that made up the 11-acre World Trade Center.
“I was assigned to the communication unit, but my training and instincts sent me running towards the burning tower,” Mr. Muhammad said. “I reported to a fire chief, who immediately put me to work.”
“Having the name Muhammad across my chest had been controversial before 9-11, but that day nobody cared; even the people who always had something negative to say–we all worked side-by-side to rescue people; and 18 hours later I walked back across the Brooklyn Bridge to my home,” he said.
On the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero, Stop the Islamization of America, Freedom Defense Initiative and Jihad Watch were tirelessly demonizing Muslims, said critics, blaming Islam for the 9-11 attacks and political and social problems in the United States.
The anti-Islam campaign added to divisions along political lines, racial lines and economic lines with many Americans fearful for the future. A country that at least symbolically stood united as buildings crumbled in New York has seen notions of national unity and good will fall dramatically.
Nine years ago, one president’s initial handling of a crisis won accolades, sympathy and perhaps increased national pride–today President Obama seems unable to do anything that will heal a deeply wounded country.
No act, whether political or symbolic, seems to be enough to blunt critics and cries of government overreach, oppressive taxes and federal tyranny.
“We should be concerned about that because we’ve gone through those upsurges in fanaticisms and insanity in this country and we’re not immune to it in the 21st century,” said Robert Starks, a political analyst and writer.
The bad economy, scapegoating of minorities, in particular racial and religious minorities, opens the door for worse times and increasing divisions in society, he continued.
“We should be doing everything we possibly can to cool the rhetoric and teach our children to be tolerant of each other understand each other (as individuals) and as a people,” said Prof. Starks, who teaches political sciences at Northeastern Illinois University and writes a weekly column for N’Digo, a weekly Chicago-based publication.
Prof. Starks credited the president with appealing to America’s better instincts and urged fellow Democrats and religious leaders to join Mr. Obama in “calling for calm and tolerance because I think he is doing all he can.”
“America is not as arrogant and not as clueless about what impact it was having on the rest of the world in 2000 and 2001, however America has still not stopped the arrogance.We have not learned humbleness.We have not learned that the world has to be dealt with as a mutually respectful entity,” argued Dr. David Horne, executive director of the California African American Political and Economic Institute.
“This is about winning the heart and soul of America by using the frantic ferocious fear of the transformation of America– an America that is becoming more inclusive,” observed Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century in New York.
Dr. Daniels called the debate over the mosque near Ground Zero, and plans by a pastor in Florida to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an, the Islamic book of scripture, part of a wave of covert racism in the country.
“A kind of yearning for the ‘good old days’ when America was perceived as a White Christian nation; and I underline the Christian part,” Dr. Daniels said.
Right-wingers leading the Islamophobia charge are saying, “Look at all these people of color coming into the U.S., bringing their religion. And after what these Muslims did to us on 9-11, we are not going to have them nearby any place as hallowed as ‘Ground Zero,’ ” he said.
Today’s anti-Islamic rhetoric is related to America’s feelings of manifest destiny to civilize the world and especially to bring Christianity to the world, said Dr. William Boone, of Clark Atlanta University’s political science dept.
“The fact that they put out that people who perpetrated the bombings were Muslims, then inside of the country, the run up to greatest economic disaster since the late 1920s, once again, you look to scapegoat someone, to blame, which is always easy to do. So you demonize people who are immigrants and especially those in this country who are Mexican and Latino as the cause of some problem that you have,” said Dr. Boone.
Years of scapegoating and resentment
There George W. Bush administration was able to demonize people, while telling Americans those darker people were responsible for jobs disappearing, changes in lifestyles and build up resentment, he said.
“We had more than a decade of these sorts of things occurring.Then the election of Barack Obama was more of a catalyst to bring people together. But the right- wing has played that out in terms of the Tea Party and its opposition and there are various strains, everything from skinheads to people who want smaller government,” Dr. Boone noted.
Gone is that transcendent feeling enjoyed by many with the election of President Obama less than two years ago. His January 2009 inauguration drew unprecedented numbers of people and hearty expressions of joy.
Today the president’s poll numbers are in the tank, some Democrats up for reelection don’t want him campaigning in their state and others are running away what should have been victories for his administration–passage of major health care reform and stopping an economy caught in economic freefall. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent and the Tea Party movement, mostly angry Whites decrying the size of government, has many incumbent politicians, especially at the federal level, looking over their shoulders and seeking common ground–and political support.
But the Tea Party movement may not be as grassroots as it seems.
“They have big budgets which are funded by corporate billionaires such as the Koch Brothers (David and Charles),” said Sara Flounders of the International Action Center. Forbes Magazine says Koch Industries is among the largest private companies in America, worth $35 billion, which puts them just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
New Yorker magazine in a feature on David Koch, 70, and brother Charles, 74, revealed their ownership of oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control of some 4,000 miles of pipeline. The billionaire brothers also own manufacturing companies–including Brawny Towels, Dixie Cups, Georgia Pacific Lumber and Stairmaster Carpet.
The article also quoted Amherst Political Economic Research Institute that showed Koch industries as one of the top ten air polluters in the U.S.
Lawrence Hamm, of the Newark-based Peoples Organization for Progress, says the Kochs “are part of the worldwide strategy of imperialist domination; controlling the resources such as oil and natural gas.”
“These are the same elements that funded the reaction against Affirmative Action,” Mr. Hamm said. David Koch responded angrily to the New Yorker article, denying any connection to the Tea Party.
Nasty politics and November elections
Dr. David Bositis, of the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said the current climate involves two things: the economy and upcoming November elections. The pot shots about Mr. Obama’s citizenship and secret Muslim identity are noisy distractions but the economy is the dominant issue for voters, he continued.
The vast majority of tea Partiers are GOP trying to win political power and aren’t concerned in the short term about whether economy recovers no matter how much the people are suffering, Dr. Bositis said,
The language has gotten cruder but the Republicans are a Southern party, a region with generally crude politics, he continued. Most Tea Partiers are Republicans and anyone who is unlike them is considered the enemy, Dr. Bositis said. But the minority population in the country is growing so in the end, these divisive politics will hurt the GOP, he predicted.
Bringing guns to anti-Obama rallies borders on threatening behavior, but the Secret Service should be protecting the president and “to have people like that running around shooting their mouths off about negative things and ranting and raving it diminishes how other people in the world view the country. Is the country going to fall apart? No, I don’t think it is,” Dr. Bositis concluded.
“At this moment in history I don’t see very much different than any other moment in history under White supremacy, as it relates to people of African descent; it is becoming more camouflaged in terms of how our issues are swept under the rug in an effort to present false projection of what is going in on America,” commented Dr. Conrad Worrill, of the Jacob Caruthers Center for Inner City Studies in Chicago. “What no one really wants to say is that the attacks on the president of the United States are driven by racism, its clear that they have been working overtime with the help of even our own people to make sure he is not re-elected.”
But while Dr. Bositis argues that the underlying problem is a nasty sort of politics, others see more insidious problems. Junious Stanton, a Philadelphia-based columnist and Internet radio talk show host, told The Final Call, powerful right- wing figures use mainstream media to spread disinformation that “obscures the facts and stokes the fires of intolerance and bigotry. Getting us hyped up on bogus issues keeps us distracted from real issues that impact us like the economy, the failing infrastructure, the Gulf crisis, government corruption and malfeasance, and the steady slide towards Fascism,” he said in an e-mail.
And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s insistence that the anti-mosque fervor is political and will disappear after the Nov. 2 national elections also has doubters.
“After Nov. 2 this racism will still be around, that is why we must organize against it,” said Ms. Flounders, of the International Action Center.
“No, I think Mayor Bloomberg is wrong, and can you imagine if the right-wing wins on Nov. 2, they’ll be more gung-ho,” said Jeff Siddiqui, of the American Muslims of Puget Sound in Washington state. “Look, the leadership of this Islamophobia, people such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have fashioned their political careers and livelihoods on fanning the fires of hate,” Mr. Siddiqui said.
“I’m not afraid to say that I don’t think this new right-wing movement of Muslim-bashing is going away, and that includes the Tea Party and the other racist’s entities,” added Mr. Hamm.
Where is Black America’s organized response?
Dr. Daniels told The Final Call that he has two concerns: one is that the U.S. has used up all of its international goodwill that was evident immediately after 9-11. The talk of burning Qur’ans didn’t help and neither has years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and strong support for Israel.
“We understand the pretense of the issue of Islam today, but it is really about us (Blacks), who will become the scapegoats in this country. We are here to remind people that it is about the Black condition,” said Roger Wareham, of the Brooklyn-based December 12th Movement.
Everyone in America appears to be somewhat organized to protect their interests, except Blacks, said Dr. Worrill, a longtime leader in the Black nationalist movement. The group that has the most at stake is the least organized and the Tea Party movement is filling a vacuum in leadership, he argued.
“I see the country in a battle over what set of White folk will be running the country. It’s an internal battle. So they are having their battle and we seem not to be able to understand that we need serious unity in our community to address our own issues. We’re joining in with the very forces that want to oppress us and keep us oppressed instead of coming together,” Dr. Worrill said.
Dr. Horne agreed. “Where this is headed?That’s a good question.We can’t be sure where it’s heading.We can only be sure that as African Americans, we are not ready to fully take care of ourselves or fully take care of our interests, wherever it’s going, and that’s our dilemma.Whatever White people do really should not be the focus.It really should be what are we going to do and we’re not prepared,” he said.
(Charlene Muhammad contributed to this report.)