There’s an interesting and rather illuminating thought experiment you can perform when listening to media figures and politicians discuss Muslims. Take the recent interview on Fox News of the author Reza Aslan, where the host interrogated him at length about his religious background, at one point accusing him of having “gone on several programmes while never disclosing [he is] a Muslim”.
Or take New Atheist ideologue Sam Harris, who has said “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”, as well as his counterpart Richard Dawkins who has become famous for asking incisive questions like “Who the hell do these Muslims think they are”?
This is all above-board language in today’s popular discourse. But as a simple test try replacing the word “Muslim” with “Jew”; or “Muslim” with “Black” in each of these quotes and see how it sounds in your head. Most likely, it sounds significantly less comfortable, normal, and acceptable than it did just a moment ago.
Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine how Harris, Dawkins, or the Fox News host who questioned Aslan about his faith could continue as public figures were they to make the same types comments about any minority group other than Muslims. They would’ve in all likelihood won broad, well-justified, condemnation and even been drummed out of the public sphere for their frank bigotry.
Perhaps they’d have been taken up as martyrs by the fringe-right where such xenophobic language about Jews and Blacks is still commonplace. Instead they’ve so far been permitted to continue spreading hatred against one of the few minority communities it is still acceptable to negatively generalise, degrade and menace.
Murtaza Hussain in Al Jazeera, 12 August 2013