Islamophobia no longer works as political tool in US
Islamophobia, which was on the rise as a result of the 9/11 attacks in the US, no longer works as a political tool for American political figures to win elections, according to Wajahat Ali, a well-known playwright, attorney and activist in the US.
“In the latest elections in US, most of the Islamophobic political figures lost. It has been realized that using Islamophobia as a political tool does not make you win,” said Ali.
In an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Ali, who is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent, stated that there has been a decline in the influence of Islamophobia in the US in recent times as people have become more educated.
Islamophobia is associated with a lack of knowledge and having negative thoughts and fears about Islam and prejudices against it. According to Ali, Americans have finally realized that this type of fear, hatred and paranoia does not connect with American values, including diversity, inclusivity and pluralism.
Stating that Islamophobia has had a negative impact on people’s lives, Ali added that it also played on the ignorance and the sensitivity of the post-9/11 era.
The famous activist maintained that Islamophobia is not a Muslim issue but an American and a European issue. “It has become a national security issue. Extremists in the US feed the extremists in Muslim communities. But today, people are witnessing the poisonous fruits of Islamophobia. It took time for Americans to wake up, and they woke up. Americans say “Enough is enough!” said Ali, adding there has been a shift in the American perception towards Muslims. Maintaining that for many years the French community in the US has worked to promote Islamophobia, Ali said that this community aimed to exploit prejudices, fears and hysterias about Muslims in the US. Ali is also one of the authors of a report titled “Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” which was released in 2011 after six months of investigative research on how the Islamophobia network was funded by some foundations in the US.
Touching on the conditions of American Muslims in the US, Ali noted that there was a shift in American Muslims’ perceptions in the post 9/11 era.
“In pre-9/11, many American Muslims were very reactionary, defensive, culturally isolated and spectators instead of participants. 9/11 was a ‘wakeup’ call for the American Muslim community. The post-9/11 generation of the American Muslim community has realized that they have to be proactive, progressive, engaged and committed to dialogue,” said Ali, adding that a new type of American Muslim identity has emerged in the post-9/11 era.
Ali said that Muslims have a long journey ahead to correct the negative image of Islam, adding the most effective vehicle to change that negative perception was art instead of political speeches. Ali also stated that the burden of 9/11 on the Muslim community had lessened but that they still feel the negative repercussions from the incident and misperceptions caused by it, adding that more work should be done in order to overcome ignorance and misunderstandings. “American Muslims are moderate, educated, diverse and optimistic, but perceptions were negative towards them. There was a burden for the Muslims to carry,” said Ali.
Appreciating the election of Barack Obama as the US president, Ali stated that Obama has given the Muslim communities hope. “The election of Obama shows the shift in American consciousness,” said Ali.
The famous playwright also spoke to Sunday’s Zaman about his play “The Domestic Crusaders,” which is one the first plays published about Muslim Americans living in post 9-11 America. “Domestic Crusaders” is a story about a Pakistani-American Muslim family grappling with their own internal trials and tribulations, the changing dynamics of American society and a globalized, post-9/11 world. The plot revolves around three generations of the family. There are six characters: the grandfather, immigrant father, his wife and three children born in the US.
“The play has a universal story. My primary goal in the play was to entertain people but also to inform and educate them about Muslims. The play has fulfilled this goal. The reason why the play was successful is because the themes, such as the conflict of generations and racism, are universal,” said Ali.
Ali began writing the play in 2001 while studying at the University of California, Berkeley. The idea for the play came from Ali’s writing professor, who encouraged him to write a theatrical piece that shed light on the inner lives of American Muslims, an increasingly marginalized religious American community.
“First of all the aim of writing the play was to pass the class, but later I realized the importance of storytelling and producing new models of thinking,” said Ali, adding that his play served as a bridge between American Muslims and Americans.
Ali said his story was just one that was part of many other stories which American Muslims experience. “I wanted to write stories about cases that showcase bias wanted people to appreciate and value the richness of our tradition and to realize that our traditions are interconnected with Western values as well. Muslims sometimes forget about the richness and value of our traditions,” said Ali,
The play will be staged in London in the fall of 2013. It was staged in Canada in 2010 and was also showcased in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and Michigan.
Ali believes that the scars of 9/11 still exist in the global community. He added that following the incident, Muslims and Islam were under the spotlight of the mainstream media, which he described as ignorant and fearful of Islam.
Source: Sunday's Zaman