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Domestic Dimension of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Domestic Dimension of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.

For decades pro-Israeli lobbyists have operated under the assumption that Islam and Israel are locked up in a zero-sum-game. They see the growth of Islam and growth of Islamic consciousness as a threat to the very existence of Israel. Based on this operating premise, pro-Israeli forces have sought to undermine the spread of Islam in the US and stem the increasing political significance of Muslim organizations.

It is easy to understand the fears of the friends of Israel. In order to sustain Israel’s military advantage over Arabs, they have to sustain the asymmetrical balance of power between American Jewish lobby and the American Muslim lobby.

In the post Sept. 11th politics, this domestic and not so visible dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict has become more and more hectic. While pro-Israeli Jewish organizations are flooding American media with information allegedly linking Muslim organizations with terrorists (often the tips come in the form of oral and written records of careless statements by Muslim leaders), Muslim organizations and activists are working feverishly to argue that terrorism is a consequence of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians and US foreign policy in the Middle East. Some Muslims have even tried to plant the idea that Israelis may have committed the attacks of 911.

This Muslim-Jewish byplay is not good for the social health of America and already long-standing Muslim-Jewish dialogues have suffered because of this rise in Muslim-Jewish tension. While Muslims definitely share responsibility for this state of affairs, a disproportionate amount of attacks are coming from the Jewish side. American Muslims are already besieged by the administration’s treatment of American Muslims as suspects and the additional attacks from their cousins (Jews and Muslims are biblical cousins from the two sons of Prophet Abraham) are making things worse.

Perhaps the Bush administration already senses this as can be seen by Mrs. Cheney’s comments at the Anti-defamation League dinner in Chicago (Nov 12). She said, “Muslims should not be blamed "for the actions of a fanatic few." President Bush himself has condemned anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic xenophobia. The attacks on Islam however have continued and it seems that there is a method behind this madness. The attacks seem to be systematic and at many levels.

1. The first major strike was launched by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which published a study estimating American Muslim population to about 2.6 million. The general opinion is that there are between 6-7 million Muslims in America. AJC is concerned that over estimation of Muslim population is making American politicians and American media more sensitive to American Muslim concerns. The study is actually not even a real survey but a review article that merely studies other estimates and then advances its own guestimate.

The timing of the report, after Sept. 11th, when the American Muslim community was already battered verbally and even in some cases physically by rising anti-Muslim sentiment, is indicative of the strategic animus behind the study.

Imagine any other religious community, Catholics, Baptists, or Muslims conducting a survey of how many Jews really live in America. This would be immediately construed as anti-Semitic and there would be a huge uproar against such bigotry. But AJC has suffered no backlash from anyone in the media or the government.

2. Then there are attacks against American Muslim organizations and their leaders. Prominent spokespersons are Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, an openly pro-Israeli think tank and Steve Emerson a documentarian of Muslim organizations; who have been trying to paint prominent Muslim organizations as terrorist organizations and Muslim leaders as sympathizers and supporters of terrorism. The objective is clear. By labeling prominent Muslim organizations as “connected with terror” and Muslim leaders as supportive of terrorism, Pipes et al are trying to disarm the community in its struggle against Islamophoebia. By undermining Muslim organizations, they also hope to reduce Muslim access to the Congress and the White House.

In spite of several articles in the media and accusations on TV against American Muslim organizations and American Muslim leaders by Pipes and Emerson, and repeated investigations by the FBI, none has been indicted or arrested. American Muslim leaders and organizations’ only failing is that they have not fully learned to play “American political games” skillfully. Sometimes their naivete and even sincerity leads them to make strategic errors as they seek to balance their loyalties to America and to Muslims worldwide. Riding two horses is never too easy and sometimes, Muslim leaders do look ungainly. But that does not make them terrorists or traitors. If it is ok to be loyal to America and Israel, then it is ok to be loyal to America and the Ummah. Only American Muslims have to learn to be so with as much skill and finesse as displayed by pro-Israeli lobbies.

3. The most sophisticated version of the attack on Islam is the attempt to besmirch the reputation of prominent American scholars of Islam and the Middle East who advance different analysis of Islam and Islamic resurgence from that maintained by Israel. A recent book, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America authored by an Israeli scholar, Martin Kramer, and published after Sept. 11th by a pro-Israel think tank, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, criticizes the entire academy. Interestingly this book is just an expanded version of an article written by (no prizes for guessing) Daniel Pipes and De Atkine, Middle Eastern Studies: What went Wrong? in the Winter 1995-1996 issue of Academic Questions.

All these attacks by the Israeli lobby are designed to undermine and even rollback the growing influence of American Muslims.

But this is not the time for political intramurals.

I call upon American leaders, American media, American Muslims and Jews, and all other Americans to rise above sectarian and special interests in order to help America recover from the aftermath of Sept. 11, and devote their energies to guarantee American security, protect American freedoms, and revive American economy. Once we have the boat on an even keel, we can return to partisanship and bickering, after all they are also a quintessential part of the American way.

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- Dr. Muqtedar Khan is the Director of International Studies at Adrian College in Michigan. He is also the Vice President of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and is on the board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

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