You are hereArab American Institute: Op-Ed: Islamophobia Can Create Radicalization

Arab American Institute: Op-Ed: Islamophobia Can Create Radicalization


March 7, 2011- Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States of America than Anwar al Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

On one level, al Awlaqi, from his cave hide-out in Yemen, can only prey off of alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the "Autobiography" or learned the lessons of Malcolm's ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self-assured and assertive - all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, al Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited - a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.  
    
Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America's unique democracy, it would simultaneously rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalization.

I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British, or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to the "migrants" - a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent, living in her country, regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the "number of immigrants" who won seats - without noting that many of those "immigrants" were third generation citizens.  

America has prided itself on being different. Being "American" is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define "America.”  Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed - the idea of "America" itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures. 

Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative, as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history - they are learning "their host's" history. In the U.S., from the outset, we are taught that this is "our new story" - that it includes all of us and has included us all, from the beginning.

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