Will Muslim Americans be scapegoats in the 2004 presidential campaign?


New York Times writer Paul Krugman brings to our attention a disquieting possibility in an recent article in which he points out that presidential hopefuls and incumbents will find it difficult to avoid exploiting 9/11 to garner votes in the 2003-04 presidential campaign. Krugman sees the incumbent, George W. Bush as the number one abuser of 9/11 sympathies and public sensitivities thus far. He also seems to believe that Democrats running for office might employ similarly exploitive tactics, in an attempt to challenge the Republican hold on patriotism born of the 911 tragedy. Krugman suggests that Democrats could also use the war on terrorism and 9/11 as a way to get voters to support their unique war on terrorism strategy. Aside from the fact that it is morally reprehensible for influential and trusted people to exploit fears and apprehensions of the citizenry, hoping perhaps that in so doing they will garner votes, another problem, that is arguably both moral and legal, and almost surely to be created by 9/11 political exploitation, might be that candidates will scapegoat Muslim Americans, and as a result, chill organized Muslim activism and participation in our nation’s electoral process.

Muslims were scapegoated, and suffered immensely as a result of adverse public opinion, debatably unconstitutional anti-terrorism laws, and also from vigilante violence, and a series of Mosque burnings following the Oklahoma City bombing. Consequent to that tragic incident, we saw the passage of the Secret Evidence Act, and Omnibus Anti-terrorism legislation, which spawned the now controversial Patriot Act. Both the Secret Evidence Act and Omnibus Anti-terrorism legislation were used almost exclusively to arrest, detain without charge or bond, and to intimidate and silence peaceful opponents of the Israeli occupation in Palestine, and Muslim and Arab critics of US foreign policy in the Arab/Muslim world, and Arab and Muslim governments. Such legislation also served to frighten Muslims Americans, and kept them from making financial contributions to Muslim organizations in violation of their first amendment rights. Muslim Americans would not contribute fearing that they might later be charged with supporting terrorism. It seemed that almost every Muslim organization in existence at the time was accused at some point by either Steven Emerson or Daniel Pipes of being associated with or supporting international terrorists groups, and almost all have been raided by the FBI, had funds seized, and equipment confiscated. Following 9/11 even the private homes of organization heads were raided, and according to reports, many of their wives and children were handcuffed as agents rifled through their personal belongings. The mere accusation by one of these two against a Muslim organization could cause an organization to be closed, its property confiscated, its funds seized and its leaders indicted.

Secret Evidence laws prevent defendants from knowing who their accusers are, or even what evidence led to an arrest, meaning essentially, that defendants can not mount a self defense, even though they can be held without bond for any amount of time without even being charged for a crime. This turns our US prison system into holding pens for political prisoners, arrested and detained because of their political opinions and activism, which violates our Constitution, while also using American taxpayer money to silence US citizens, and prevent them from criticizing our own, or foreign governments, which violates our laws and principles.

Looking back over that dark period in our national history, it’s hard to ignore, or to downplay the very real possibility that the Clinton era Justice department knew that Muslims had not carried out the Oklahoma attack. The theory is that the government allowed Steven Emerson and his cronies to tar and feather US Muslims in that incident, to appease the US Zionist lobby, which feared that growing Muslim, political organization and activism would weaken their political punch, which is historically the strongest among US minority voting blocks. In return for Clinton administration indifference to abuses of Muslim civil rights, perhaps Democrats were promised the Jewish American vote in subsequent elections. Muslim scape-goating following the Oklahoma City bombing might have also provided a distraction for the media, who fed upon Muslim angst like sharks in a feeding frenzy. As the media kept the nation’s attention, and desires for vengeance focused squarely upon Muslims and Arabs, the Justice department carried out its investigation into that incident away from public scrutiny, and without media leaks of sensitive information.

Considering the theory, it seems plausible that 9/11 might be wrongfully used, as was the Oklahoma City bombing, to create another opportunity for Muslim scape-goating. To prevent such an anti-American situation from revisiting our country this campaign season, we, the American people, must simply refuse to allow the exploitation of our shared pain, and the trashing of our national values, our Constitution and our open political culture by politicians who will stoop to any level for a vote. That being said, Muslims also have a responsibility to keep the tone of critiques and criticism of candidates and policies from reaching threatening and intimidating levels, and creating fear and suspicions that set off the wrong alarms, or that incite or encourage violence. Angry and hateful, or threatening and intimidating activism will not serve the Muslim cause, which is to educate our government and fellow citizens as to the national challenges we face in the Arab and Muslim world, and also to join other Americans in efforts to make this union of united states a more perfect union, acting for the reasonable betterment of life for all peoples, both here and abroad.