Boston the US state, which boasts of dozens of world class academic institutions, is easily the lead educational global center. There is however an extremely disturbing report about its radio station WTKK-FM which a thoughtful reporter of Michael S. Rosenwald filed in the Boston Globe on April 27. Rosenwald was refused the transcript for Jay Severin’s program he hosted on April 22 by Sev! erin’s employers WTKK-FM. He got it from a radio monitoring service on April 26. Here is a portion of the conversation the Boston Globe reproduced:
Severin’s comment, "You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them," came at the end of a conversation with a caller named Chris from Rhode Island who suggested that the United States befriend Muslims in this country "to help us root out their leaders who aren’t really Muslims."
As part of his response, Severin said, "I believe that Muslims in this country are a fifth column. . . . The vast majority of Muslims in this country are very obviously loyal, not to the United States, but to their religion. And I’m worried that when the time comes for them to stand up and be counted, the reason they are here is to take over our culture and eventually take over our country."
He said: "My suspicion is that the majority of Muslims in the United States, who regard themselves as Muslims first and not as Americans really at all, see an American map one day where this is the United States of Islam, not the United States of America. I think it pays to harbor those suspicions."
Toward the end of the conversation, Severin asked, "Do you think we should befriend them?"
The caller said, "Well, I see Muslims in this country, they seem to like freedom."
"Would you answer my question?" Severin said. "Do you think we should befriend them?"
"I think we should . . ." the caller said before being interrupted.
"I’m going to try one more time," Severin said. "The host takes pains to phrase questions sometimes and in a fashion such, the appropriate reply is a yes or a no. This is a three-strike state; you’re about to get your third strike. Do you believe we should befriend them?"
"Yes," the caller said.
"I’ve got good news for you: We have," Severin replied. "Thanks for the call and that’s what I’m worried about."
Then, introducing another caller, Severin said: "I have an alternative viewpoint. It’s slightly different than yours. You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them."
On April 25 Severin apologized in his program ,after complaints began pouring in. He said: "To anyone who may have been offended by misunderstanding or misconstruing my remarks, I want you to know that I regret that. This is never my intention."
The Boston Globe tracked the story after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had launched a campaign that Severin be fired by the Boston radio station. There are no indications that at this point the radio station management is likely to fire him. Maybe with an influential paper like the Boston Globe now as their candid supporter, CAIR may succeed in getting Severin fired.
However Severin’s fanatical terrible comments about muslims and the subsequent action of protecting him point a deepening problem within the United States. That growing of intolerance at home while they aggressively preach “greater freedom and tolerance” in the Muslim world.
Radio is a powerful medium, influential and widely heard this medium is. The media today shoulders a particularly heavy responsibility in these times which are long on strife and intolerance and short on patience and constructive engagement with the ‘other.’ Engagement with the ‘other’ is a global need and not a special need of any one group, nation or religion. Security is indivisible. Common dialogue, goals and actions for global security are therefore every peoples’ need.
Popular electronic media especially has a central role to play in promoting global security through reasoned and fact-based discourse. Electronic media is in the business of influencing the hearts and minds of listeners. It is on the front line of establishing ‘facts’ and ‘truth’; of forming public perceptions. It is therefore shocking that the Boston radio station would want to continue with the program host Severin who had made dangerous and diabolical remarks about Muslims.
That the host chose to make such a comment is extremely unfortunate. These remarks are inciteful and the fact that they were made casually in a program make them even more dangerous as they reduce a criminal , divisive and dangerous mindset to a ‘normal casualness’ hence making it appear perfectly ‘casual’ and also within the realm of possibility and doability.
The management of the radio station should have removed the host immediately. Firing him alone would help deter others in public spaces from talking so irresponsibly. The right of the radio station to fire Severin would stand in any court of law , of national interest and above all in civilizational interest.
The Severin does not stand in isolation. It is symptomatic of a broader problem emerging in other sections of the US. More recently on April 24 the daily Oregonian reported that in Beaverton, a small town of Oregon state, the organizers of the annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast of Washington County voted to bar a local muslim leader from offering a prayer at the Breakfast. Shahriar Ahmed, president of the Bilal Mosque Association in Beaverton had to be de-invited.However protesting against this Beaverton’s mayor Rob Drake and Rabbi David Rosenberg decided to boycott the May 5 event.
On April 21 the Beaverton-Tigard Chapter of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship & Concerned Citizens met and voted 7-1 to bar Ahmad. In these times when the US preaches religious tolerance and freedom abroad at home the Board said that "The Muslims are not part of the Judeo-Christian tradition’. They objected “the Muslim praying to Allah rather than to God as Jews and Christians do.” Ahmed appreciated Drake’s stand but concluded about those who opposed his coming that,” These people are portraying American foreign policy to the Mi! ddle East-¦How can people of faith be so judgmental?"
Similarly according to the February 13 posting on the Worldnetdaily on February 9 a Republican Congressman Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., told radio talk host Sean Hannity in his interview, "I would say, you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists." He said. "Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don’t work, they don’t come forward, they don’t tell the police -¦ ." King was promoting his new novel, "Vale of Tears," which he described as a "half truth and half fiction" story about future terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists in Nassau County, N.Y.
In the interview with Hannity, King criticized a mosque in Westbury, N.Y., which he accused of failing to adequately condemn terrorism. Hannity asked King to confirm he was saying 85 percent of mosques in America are "ruled by the extremists." "Yes," he replied, "and I can get you the documentation on that from experts in the field. Talk to a Steve Emerson, talk! to a [Daniel] Pipes, talk to any of those. They will tell you. It’s a real issue -¦ . I’ll stand by that number of 85 percent. This is an enemy living amongst us."
King’s comments were criticized by the Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. He asked President Bush to "condemn this latest example of hate-filled language." No condemnation by the White House was reported.
Earlier in October 2003 a US three-star general William Boykin was criticized in sections of the US media for framing the war on terrorism in religious terms. As deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Boykin was involved in analyzing intelligence needed for the war on terrorism. His ‘crusading’ comments during several speeches at evangelical Christian churches were widely noticed. Boykin said the enemy in the war on terrorism was Satan, that God had put President George W. Bush in the White House and called one Muslim Somali warlord an idol-worshipper. He had said "I knew th! at my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
A former head of U.S. Army Special Forces who remains involved in the search for Osama bin Laden, had said in his June speech to a Christian prayer group that radical Muslims hate the United States "because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy named Satan."
Boykin’s religiosity compelled him to shown church groups photos he took of Mogadishu with black slashes in the sky which he says did not come from any defect in the camera or film. "Whether you understand it or not, it is a demonic spirit over the city of Mogadishu. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s not a fake, that’s not a farce," Boykin had said.
He talked of Judeo-Christian roots of America and the US being a Christian nation. Despite protests from secular and Muslim groups about the general’s crusading zeal and how he as a key intelligence man could let his religious beliefs undermine strict professionalism while implementing US anti-terrorism policy the Defense department did not publicly reprimand the general. No known action was taken against Boykin. T! he Pentagon took no exemplary action against Boykin. Secretary of Defense refused to comment publicly. Instead Pentagon only released an apology from Boykin. He defended his statement about US being a Christian nation. "My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable," Boykin’s statement said.
The CBSNews.com editorial director expressed fear that Boykin’s words “could cause political problems giving Muslims and Islamic countries free ammo for their jihads, rhetorical and real.” Dick Meyer wrote that ,”"We don’t want the words of an odd general -” words that contradict the president, U.S. policy and public sentiment -” to harm our cause abroad.”
These incidents of intolerance towards the Muslims in the US have been on the increase but there is also a flip side. A positive one. The media reporting such events, the dissenters distancing themselves from such growing intolerance and the political critics all indicate that fortunately no anti-Muslim consensus prevails within the US. Muslims have major Christian and Jewish allies protesting this anti-Muslim prop! aganda. Yet undoubtedly the most practically significant in terms of the depth and scale of impact would be the policy, decisions, actions and statements of State institutions and of an incumbent government. The government and the State institutions after all are the macro defining factors in promoting basic values, implementing law and fulfilling the Constitutional obligations of a State. Moreover the Muslim world, with which especially since 9/11 US government has sought to engage and ‘engineer’ , closely follows Washington behavior at home and abroad.
The actions in Washington carry more weight on such matters than steps taken or positions articulated by activists and peace-makers. Bush has taken some confidence-building measures for the Ameriacn muslism. The president has made a point of praising Islam as "a religion of peace." He has invited Muslim clerics to the White House for Ramadan dinners and has criticized evangelicals who called Islam a dangerous faith. Much more in substance in needed.
Washington needs to break out of the neo-conservative thought and action mode to fight this rising bigotry against the muslims. Freedom of speech must have limits. Judicial activism to deter this trend, the expansion of the Homeland Security ‘s mandate to roll-back anti-muslim practice and statements in public space and more vigorous censure by Washington against those who are undermining the rights ,including security of Muslim Americans is required.
The growing intolerance within the US must appear more prominently on the radar of US policy-makers who have been busy perpetually criticizing what is said and taught in Muslim mosques and madrassas. Also every statement of political parties, not those who like the Republicans ever end up winning elections or selections in Pakistan, is closely monitored and commented upon. Generous funding is available to study the! “fundamentalists” and “militant” organizations in Muslim countries.
Framing the problems of the Muslim world within ignorance, retrogression and anti-US framework, ignoring impact of its blindly-pro-Israeli policies and taking the problems of so-called “fundamentalism” and “militancy” to xenophobic levels, the United States has further exacerbated the socio-political problems in the Muslim world and also at home. It is time that the US government put some generous funding in the hands of competent multi-racial body of social scientists to study the linkage between the rising anti-Muslim attitudes within the US and the articulation of a security threat by sections of the United States officials, think-tanks and the media using religious terms like Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic extremism. The US gove! rnment must face up to the growing tolerance deficit its policies have yielded to undermine social harmony on the one hand and increase insecurity for the over 5 million Muslim Americans.