The Deep Roots of Xenophobia in US Hist0ry

Part II of “The Implications of American Islamophobia”


Michael Moore’s passionately felt response permits us to grapple with some of the questions that are central to the question of Islamophobia:  what defines an ‘American’, the nature of the American past, the essential characteristics of America as an immigrant society, and the conception of the sacred that undergirds what purports to be a secular society.  Some might ask why the United States is being described here as a society that “purports” to be secular, considering that the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution, and that the first Amendment states clearly that the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  But neither the “establishment clause” nor the “free exercise clause” have ever prevented any American president from making a show of his Christian faith, nor have the constitutional provisions or considerations of morality constrained those American politicians who in recent works have been heard arguing that only “Christian refugees” among the Syrians would be admitted into the US.  According to Ted Cruz, “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror”, and consequently Syrian Christians might be allowed in even as the idea of “tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees” being permitted entry into the US is nothing short of “lunacy”.  If one should be inclined to dismiss his views as those befitting a man who temperamentally is a fascist, it is well to remember that the so-called “moderate” Republican candidate, Jeb Bush, whose family for at least two generations has been coddling the orthodox Saudi royal house, in an interview a few days after the Paris attacks gave it as his opinion that the US “should focus [its] efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered.”  One might additionally cite hundreds of instances of the profoundly Christian foundations of the American political establishment.


Before moving to explore the ramifications of the question, ‘To whom does America belong’, it is well to recognize, as Moore’s brief recounting of the American past tacitly does so, both that Islamophobia has deep roots in American history and that Trump is at best an egregious example of a disease that is pervasive across all ranks of the Republican party and indeed in large sectors of American civil society.   Among Republican Presidential candidates, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who led the pack before he was dislodged by Trump, has said that a Muslim should not be permitted to occupy the White House, and he expressed a widespread concern that the election of a Muslim to the Presidency would lead to the sovereignty of Sharia and the abrogation of the US constitution.  Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has advocated racial profiling; when asked if he had any particular groups in mind, he unhesitatingly said:  “Obviously Muslims would be someone you’d be looking at, absolutely.”  Mike Huckabee has shed all decorum in speaking of Muslims:  in a speech delivered in 2013, he asked “why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called holiest days.”  One could go on in this vein, ad infinitum; but what remains unsaid thus far is the fact that no candidate appears to be any worse off as a consequence of their naked embrace of bigotry and ethnocentrism.  Indeed, as a poll conducted on 22-23 September 2015 established [], 57% of all Americans, and an overwhelming 83% of Republicans, agreed with Carson that a Muslim ought not to be put “in charge of this nation”; only 27% of Americans expressed disapproval with this view.


Secondly, it would be disingenuous to suppose that the call to ban Muslims is un-American or a fundamental departure from the entire course of American history.  Most Americans, even those who are educated, are aware of only one major precedent for which they believe the country has atoned enough.  By Executive Order 9066, the removal of over 110,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them US citizens, to various concentration camps—or, in the more anodyne language of the apologists, “relocation centers”—was effected after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor.  The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, offered an apology and financial remuneration to 100,000 people of Japanese descent for their unlawful incarceration.  Many Americans see this repentance as more characteristic of the spirit of the country, and some are bold enough to ask how and why the US seems to have so quickly relapsed to an earlier age, unmindful of the drone-like insistence on ‘never again’.  But even the more liberal narratives have little if any room for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the 1917 Immigration Act, repealed only in 1952, which prevented large classes of “aliens” from entering the US, among them “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, beggars, criminals, polygamists, anarchists, and prostitutes”; it also defined an “Asiatic Barred Zone”. Thus all Asians, except for Filipinos, were shut out from the US; they were also given the none-too-subtle message that they were no different from imbeciles, criminals, and anarchists—in a word, “undesirables”, one and all.

(to be continued)



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