Monday, September 5, 2011

My Fellow American

I never liked the expression. In the last decade, too many bad news had been announced with "my fellow Americans". George W. Bush addressed an Atlanta crowd in Nov 9 2001, telling them that he was proud of Americans, because "our people have responded with fierce determination". And then, quoting the last words of one passenger of the 9/11 flight that went down in Pennsylvania, he went on saying: "my fellow Americans, let's roll". We all know what was to follow: the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq and 100'000s of lives rolled over by the American "bring to justice" machinery.


The United States of America used to celebrate themselves as being the melting pot of the world, where people from all nations, of all colors and religions gather to pursue a common goal, the American dream of living free and becoming rich. 


The American dream for all colors? I went back to the notes I had taken while traveling in the United States many years ago. On November 20 1996 I wrote in my diary: "Set it off", a movie that we watch tonight in Houston, is setting off some thoughts regarding the racial integration in the USA. The movie well worth watching is made by a black director, with black actors, for a black audience. As with Spike Lee movies, we are the only white people in the theater. White Americans don't show interest in black topics. What, according to Hollywood, should be of interest for an African American moviegoer is made clear by the previews running before the main feature: more movies with black actors and stupid action flicks with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Meaningful movies, addressing both African Americans and Whites, are rarely produced, maybe because there is no market for them. We would have heard of "Set it off" much earlier had we read "Ebony", the magazine for African Americans. Publications such as USA Today only reported on the movie when it made good revenues at the ticket booths. The white majority and the black minority of the American people live under an unwritten apartheid law. They hold a distance towards each other and mingle only occasionally. One year after the verdict, the USA are still split by the question, is O.J. Simpson guilty or not? America is the United States, but they are a divided nation.


welcome to America: Gainesville, Florida


The American dream for all religions? Not if you are part of a non-Protestant minority. Catholics had a hard time being accepted in the new world. In the 18th and 19th century, Catholics were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priest could be arrested. As a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s. Catholics were always suspected of not being true and loyal citizens of a republic, because they were seen as having a transnational identity, following in first priority orders from the Pope in Rome.


The American dream just a MYTH?


Yesterday's Catholics are today's Muslims. Prior to September 11 2001, Muslims were quite invisible in the United States. Two airplanes bringing the World Trade Center down on this day have changed everything. While according to a Pew study from 2007, four out of five Muslims are happy with their lives in the US, a September 2010 Washington Post - ABC News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam, a significant rise from 39 percent in October of 2002. Another recent Pew Research Center poll reveals that more than 50 percent of American Muslims believe the US government's anti-terrorism policies have singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoringSince Barack Obama was elected, hate crimes against Muslims have increased. Islamophobia has become an accepted tool of political propaganda, to boost a conservative right wing agenda and to discredit the administration in Washington. The stupid assertion that president Obama is a Muslim is only the tip of the iceberg of this nasty campaign. And if he was? 


As with Catholics 200 years ago, an old argument is raised anew: that Islam is not a religion but a political system. And that the Pope, the Ayatollah in Rome, has been replaced by the book of all wisdom, the Quran. But just as Christian democrats and Angela Merkel govern Germany, I can't see any reason why Muslim democrats could run France, the UK or the US. Having made the transition from a military junta to Erdogan and his AKP, democratically elected to lead the country, Turkey is doing better than ever.


Four weeks ago, I was contacted by Elizabeth Potter of Unity Productions Foundation. She had read my post about Anders Behring Breivik and his Oslo carnage (Oslo Is Not OK) and wanted me to tell about a film and media project in the United States devoted to recognize that Muslims are our neighbors. I'm glad to share the short film - entitled "my fellow American" - UPF produced with you, my esteemed reader of this blog. It's a message of tolerance, as Elizabeth told me, although I'd rather like to call it a message of embrace, because the word tolerance always leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as if it was saying, I tolerate it but basically I disapprove of it. So let us embrace the idea that we are different people from different cultural and religious backgrounds - if we are religious at all! - aiming for the same goal: to make our world a better world, in peace and in unity. 


a message of tolerance and embrace: "my fellow American"


"Our shock attacks are theater, and theater is always performed for an audience" one was to read in Anders Breivik's internet manifest. My fellow Readers: don't give hate a chance, don't let the Breiviks of this world have their audience. 


For the first time this summer, Interlaken, one of the premier tourism destinations in Switzerland, organized "Halal Barbeque Cruises" on Lake Brienz, serving only halal products on board. The cruises were a smashing success with Muslim and non-Muslim tourists alike. Quod erat demonstrandum: when business interests are at play, adjusting to Islamic rules is easily done.


For more information about Islamophobia in the United States: read "Fear, Inc. - the Roots of the Islamphobia Network in America" published by the Center for American Progress.