Kentucky voices: Islamophobia manufactures threats without sound basis

The outbreak of rebellions across much of the Arab world from the self-immolation of Mohammad Bouazizi in Tunisia on Dec. 17 to the ongoing rebellions, with the likelihood they will continue into the summer and beyond, has coincided with more outbreaks of anti-Muslim xenophobia, hostility and bias.

One of the more telling episodes occurred in Murfreesboro, Tenn., against Muslims who are attempting to build an Islamic center, including a mosque, in that city. A judge ruled last week that protestors could not stop construction of the mosque.

The antagonisms raised from the conflict became the subjects of a March 27 CNN special report, "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door," which featured several people who made clear they were not just against Muslims — but Islam.

This is important because the U.S. government's position is that its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya, among other places, is not against Islam but rather radical Muslims.

This is a distinction that escapes many Muslims, whether in America or elsewhere, and many non-Muslims, as well.

What was startling in the CNN interviews, with both whites and blacks, is the belief that the Muslims of Murfreesboro did not adhere to the "American way of life." That demonstrated the inability of some to distinguish between "the American way of life" and religion. Implicit in their views is that one cannot be a Muslim and also lead an "American way of life." Of course, it is possible "American way of life" is a euphemism for their brand of Christianity.

The CNN special had been preceded one week by New York Rep. Peter King's congressional hearing, "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Most of the witnesses believed there were threats in this regard and advocated vigilance; other witnesses downplayed such threats. Indeed, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, gave solid testimony to the lack of radicalization among most American Muslims.

A week after King's hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin, minority whip of the Senate, held his own hearing. This hearing also largely concluded there was little radicalization among American Muslims that could not be addressed by various security agencies.

Unfortunately, little of the conclusions of the two hearings seem to have affected most Americans, especially conservative talk show hosts and some columnists such as Cal Thomas. If one listens to conservative radio, one could well come to the belief that Shari'a law is about to replace U.S. statutory and custom law.

Shari'a law in most Muslim countries refers to laws that deal with marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance, dowries and community behavior.

Some Muslim countries do not sanction Shari'a law. It is true the implementation of Shari'a law was expanded during the past 30 years in some Muslim countries, especially among the conservative segments of that society.

In some ways it represents a rejection of what they perceive as foreign domination, as well as a rejection of their own governments. Examples of what we now see in the "Arab Spring" of revolts.

But Shari'a law does not influence or affect laws concerning banking, finance, maritime, aeronautical, contract, business, intellectual property — laws that dominate the legal sectors of predominately Muslim countries.

So Murfreesboro residents and Thomas should rest easy.

What people should attempt to understand is why some American Muslims would feel empathy with fellow co-religionists in countries from which they emigrated as a result of U.S. invasions of Muslim countries and the resulting death and destruction.

They should know that, in Iraq over the past eight years, an estimated million people have died and some 5 million have been driven externally and internally into displacement.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is still unknown how many have been killed in combat or have died; but it is estimated to reach into the tens of thousands.

Both countries, especially Pakistan, have now been bombarded with U.S. drone attacks for more than four years. Recent reports place the figures of those killed by such attacks at over 1,000.

The American Muslim community is a diverse, energetic, well educated, diligent and tolerant community as witnessed by the hostility they are overcoming as they proceed in establishing their American way of life while maintaining their religion and cultural values.

Those values, in my experience, are very similar to American values. It is time non-Muslims show some understanding of their efforts.