Dubai Ports Fallout: Islamophobia on the rise

Parvez Ahmed
Monday, March 13, 2006

The recent hysteria surrounding the approval of a
Dubai firm to manage parts of several American ports
demonstrates how fear of Islam, or "Islamophobia," can
overpower rational discourse and harm our nation's
true interests.

What would normally have been a routine business deal
with a stable ally turned into a political fiasco that
sent a "no Arabs or Muslims need apply" message to our
partners in the Middle East and beyond.

Indications of how politicians from both major parties
were able to exploit the Dubai ports deal appear in
two new polls on attitudes toward Islam. These
troubling poll results should serve as a wake-up call
for all Americans who value our nation's traditions of
religious tolerance and who seek to improve our
sagging image in the Muslim world.

The polls, one by the Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR) and the other by the Washington Post
and ABC News, indicate that almost half of Americans
have a negative perception of Islam and that 1 in 4 of
those surveyed consistently believe such stereotypes
as: "Muslims value life less than other people," and
"The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred." The
Washington Post-ABC poll found that one-fourth of
Americans "admitted to harboring prejudice toward
Muslims," which, experts said, is "fueled in part by
political statements and media reports that focus
almost solely on the actions of Muslim extremists."

CAIR's survey also showed that the majority of
Americans have little or no knowledge of Islam.

A majority of the respondents in CAIR's survey said
they would change their views about Islam and Muslims
if they perceived that Muslims condemned terrorism
more strongly, showed more concern for issues
important to ordinary Americans, worked to improve the
status of women, and worked to improve the image of
America in the Muslim world.

The results of both polls suggest that education is
the key to decreasing anti-Muslim prejudice and that
Muslims must do a better job of letting fellow
Americans know what is being done to address their

CAIR and other American Muslim groups have repeatedly
condemned terrorism of any kind. The "Not in the Name
of Islam" public service announcement campaign, a
fatwa against terrorism, and an online petition drive
rejecting violence in the name of Islam are but a few

Efforts are under way to increase the participation of
Muslim women in American mosques. CAIR helped
distribute a brochure, called "Women Friendly Mosques
and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our
Heritage," to mosques throughout the United States.

American Muslims have also worked to help build
bridges of understanding between the United States and
the Islamic world. American Muslim leaders recently
took part in diplomatic initiatives during
controversies stemming from the rioting in suburbs of
Paris and the worldwide reaction to publications of
cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. A CAIR initiative,
called "Explore the Life of Muhammad," offers free
DVDs or books about Islam's prophet to Americans of
all faiths.

In the past, educational and cultural exchanges
promoting mutual understanding between the West and
the Islamic world were viewed as a kind of frill, a
nice undertaking if the resources were available.
Today, such efforts ought to be viewed as long-term
investments vital to the national security interests
of the United States.

Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism or other forms of
bigotry, should be of concern to all Americans. It was
Islamophobia that prompted 44 percent of Americans
surveyed in a 2004 Cornell University study to believe
that some curtailment of American Muslim civil
liberties may be necessary.

There is a silver lining to all this bad news. Those
Americans who had a chance to meet with or interact
with Muslims often tend to have more enlightened
attitudes. Surveys repeatedly show that people who
feel they do understand Islam are much more likely to
view it positively.

Our nation's experiences since the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks, coupled with recent research,
should spur American religious and political leaders
to make fighting Islamophobia a top priority.
Otherwise, we risk becoming stuck in a
self-perpetuating cycle of mutual mistrust and

The best way to fight anti-Muslim prejudice and to
prevent an often-predicted "clash of civilizations" is
for people of goodwill in this country and around the
world to open their houses of worship, homes and
hearts to each other.

As the Quran, Islam's revealed text, states: "O
mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male
and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so
that you may come to know one another." (Quran, 49:13)

Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is board chairman of the Council
on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's
largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group


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