On Being An American and a Muslim:
Dilemmas of Politics and Culture
By Ali A. Mazrui
American Islam: Between Ideology and Pragmatism
But there are also the political and ideological shifts in power in the Western world as a whole - between liberals and conservatives, between Tories and Socialists, between Democrats and Republicans. American Muslims have been sensitive to those shifts internationally. What does the end of the Cold War mean for the Muslim countries? In much of the Western world in recent times it is not simply a case of more conservative parties winning elections; the whole political system in France and Britain has been moving to the right. Muslims worldwide have wondered about the implications of all these developments and changes for Islam today.
American Muslim leaders follow global trends with mixed feelings. What used to be major socialist or internationalist parties have not only shrunk in support - they have also diluted their left-wing orientation. Communism is crippled. A party of the right may lose an election -as the Tory Party has done in Britain in the last General Election -- but it lost to a Labour Party which is a much more conservative force today than it was thirty or fifty years ago.
Indeed, the leader of the British Labour Party had already got the party to get rid of clause 4 in its constitution - a clause which had for so long committed the party to the socialist ambition of nationalizing the means of production, distribution and exchange. In France when the late socialist President Mitterand was ailing, so was his old style of socialism. The system had not only moved to the right - it had become a little more racist. There is also more Islamophobia in France today than there has been at any other time in the 20th century. The move to the right has coincided with greater anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments.
What about the United States? Is it simply a case of the Republicans winning control of the Congress? Or are all three branches of government moving to the right with only minor variations between the two parties? Was the Clinton style of "New Democrat" a reflection of the force of conservative influence? Is the U.S. system as a whole going conservative - and how is it going to affect Muslims? Is the shift short term or long-term?
In France the move to the right has triggered off some degree of xenophobia or hostility towards foreigners. French cultural xenophobia has included Islamophobia. In Germany xenophobia has included Turkophobia, or hostility towards the Turks - which in turn has included elements of Islamophobia. Turkish houses have been fire-bombed and Turks have died at the hands of German neo-Nazis. U.S. Muslims are bracing themselves for similar chauvinism against immigrants. After the Oklahoma City bombing, there were at least 227 hate crimes against Muslims, according to the Council for American Islamic Relations. Muslims braced themselves for more hate crimes after the atrocities against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
In the United States changes in regime between Republicans and Democrats has had historical paradoxes. In Middle Eastern politics Republican Administrations in the past have sometimes shown greater ability to stand up to Israel than have Democratic administrations. American Muslims have noted that.
In 1956 it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who insisted on a halt to the occupation of parts of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel - and compelled the Israelis to withdraw from the Sinai which they had occupied in the Suez War of 1956.
It was Republican President George Bush who put his foot down against the indirect use of American money on illegal Jewish settlements on Arab occupied lands. George Bush did lead Desert Storm against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991 - but perhaps no U.S. President (Republican or Democrat) would have permitted Iraq to annex Kuwait. What is more, a Democratic president might have authorized a march onto Baghdad.
On the other hand, it was a Democratic President Harry S. Truman who gave the U.S. green light in 1947 for the creation of the State of Israel - setting the stage for fifty years of Arab-Israeli wars, for Palestinian suffering and for mutual hatreds.
It was Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's administration which helped Israel (with logistical intelligence) win the June war of 1967 in six days which resulted in the occupation of Arab lands in Gaza, Sinai, Golan Heights, and the West Bank. It has been Democratic President Bill Clinton who came closer than any U.S. President towards giving silent legitimization to Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territories. Bill Clinton did once even consider recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A brief temptation. The Clinton Administration was for a while more militant in trying to isolate Iran internationally than previous U.S. administrations had been since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The election of Muhammad Khatami as President of Iran in 1997 began to tip the scale. Khatami was more liberal.
It was, on the other hand, Republican Richard Nixon who took a position sympathetic to Pakistan and against India in the Indo-Pakistani conflict in 1971 when Nixon was in power. Nixon was hated in India for it. What all this means is that in foreign policy, the Republicans have so far often been greater friends of the Muslim world than have Democrats.
But domestically the Democrats are the party of minorities and the secular state. And so although Muslims have not emerged very explicitly as a political minority, the party most likely to be sensitive to domestic diversity is the Democratic Party. If Muslims are discriminated against or harassed at home within the United States, the Democrats are more likely to come to the rescue than the Republicans.
In foreign policy, on the other hand, the Republicans so far have been greater friends of the Muslim world, than have the Democrats. The anti-terrorist legislation proposed and signed by the Clinton Administration was probably both a matter of domestic policy and foreign policy. The divide between Republicans and Democrats was therefore even.