In 2003, six months after US troops invaded Iraq, I met this young Afro American researcher in Chicago, while I was touring the United States under a State Department International Visitors’ Programme. He was Amir Nashid Alid Muhammad, who had just published a book titled ‘Muslims in America: Seven centuries of History (1312-2000)’.
His book says the first Muslims came to America 180 years before the European settlers came following Christopher Columbus’ voyage in 1492. They were explorers from Mali and other parts of West Africa. Abu Bakri, the brother of Mansa (Sultan) Musa of Mali, was one of the first to set sail to America from Africa.
Amir Muhammad is not the only person to say this. Ivan Van Sertima, in his books ‘They Came Before Columbus’ and ‘African Presence in Early America’ also confirms that Moors or Muslims arrived before Columbus.
The early Muslims in America, according to researchers, merged with the Native Americans, who were by and large monotheists. Most of these Muslims perished in the multitude of massacres the European settlers carried out in their greed for the gold and land that belonged to the Native Americans, who are even today misidentified as ‘Red Indian’ or worse still as savages in comic books and Hollywood films.
History researchers say Muslims came to America in four different waves – first as explorers, then fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, then during the early 19th century Barbary Coast wars (which were incidentally the first conflicts the newly independent United States waged against North African Muslim states) coinciding with the enslavement of Africans and, finally, by immigration which started in the 1870s.
Property-tycoon-turned-president Donald Trump would do well to read this rarely-spoken-about history before he further undermines America’s core values by another executive order. During the campaign, he had vowed to impose a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration into the United States. To deal with the so-called Islamic terrorism, he promoted a policy of eliminating the entire families of terrorists.
As concerned Americans continue their protests against Trump’s executive order prohibiting people from seven Muslims countries from entering the United States and subjecting Muslims from other countries to a tough vetting process, ‘Muslims Under Trump’s America’ is a dark chapter of the history of American Muslims. Throughout America’s history, the saga of Muslims was one of suppression and resilience, slavery and freedom, retreat and renaissance. Their history is part of America’s Black History, which is being observed this month – and, ironically, which Trump on Wednesday said he would promote.
The American Muslims’ predicament became worse after the 9/11 terror attacks. With fear gripping the Americans, President George W. Bush brought in draconian legislation such as the Patriot Act and tough security and surveillance measures which amounted to racial profiling and an invasion of privacy, while he launched a worldwide war to hunt down the terrorists. Apart from a few liberals and leftists, the Americans, by and large, felt these measures were necessary to ensure homeland security even though they ate into civil liberties.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the federation, said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” His advice was, however, lost on the American people in the post-9/11 period. Their timidity encouraged white supremacists to make a political comeback. Making the most of the fast-spreading Islamophobia, neocon ideologists executed their Project for New American Century (PNAC) which called for the US military dominance of the world, especially West Asia, to ensure the United States’ economic superiority.
As this global campaign for US military dominance continued under the pretext of a war on terror, with Islamic terrorists being generated in spy laboratories, the Muslims in the United States became a targeted community. Even during liberal Barack Obama’s administration, Muslims were regularly offloaded from civilian aircraft whenever a passenger raised the slightest doubt about them.
When Obama was president, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, a record 257 incidents of hate crimes against Muslims took place in the United States in 2015. Under Trump’s America, the attacks on Muslims have seen a sharp rise. Muslims, especially hijab wearers, face daily harassment. A mosque in Texas was set on fire last week.
What’s worse, Trump’s key national security advisors are apparent warmongers and see Islam as a violent ideology. His National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, has already put Iran on notice for carrying out a missile test. To deal with radical Islam, he promotes total war. Trump’s key strategic advisor Steve Bennon, now on the National Security Council, has said that Islam is “the most radical” religion in the world and the US is engaged in a civilisational struggle potentially leading to “a major shooting war in the Middle East again.”
Is the Trump-Flynn-Bennon combination trying to enact Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations? Neither Islam nor Christianity teaches adherents to fight the people of other faiths. Yet those who hijack the religion, giving a warped interpretation to the message of peace, commit horrendous crimes in its name. The so-called Islamic terrorist’s ideology has no place in Islam. The early caliphs slammed them as Khwarijs or the ones who live outside the fold of Islam.
Today, instead of a clash of civilisations, a clash within the civilization is taking place as far as Islam is concerned. The Sunnis and Shiites are at each other’s jugulars while hundreds, if not thousands of groups squabble with each other, sometimes by means of violence, over the ownership of Islam. The so-called radical Islamists, disproportionate to their horrors, are just a small minority within Islam. To deal with radical Islam, which is, to a large extent, a product of western intelligence outfits or geopolitical games, socio-economic measures, not wars, should be implemented. Taking education to places where ignorance prevails is one such measure. Creating economic opportunities and establishing a world order based on justice and peace are other measures.
War on terror is one thing, but war on Muslims is quite another thing and one that has no place in civilised society. It was indeed a defining moment when the United States Acting Attorney General Sally Yates stood up to Trump and advised her officials not to carry out what she interpreted as the President’s unlawful order to restrict Muslims from entering the US. She was fired, but she showed the way to resist. Resist Fascism in whatever form it appears. Resist now rather than after a Hitler is created. A warning has already come from a group of American psychotherapists. Calling themselves the Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, they warned: “As psychotherapists practising in the United States, we are alarmed by the rise of the ideology of Trumpism, which we see as a threat to the well-being of the people we care for and to American democracy itself…. We cannot remain silent as we witness the rise of an American form of fascism.”