Al Jazeera wanted an update, ten years after Rageh Omaar’s film “Islam In America” first broadcast, so it asked Rula Jebreal to comment on the state of Islam in America today. Jebreal describes herself as a “Palestinian.” But to her great good fortune, she grew up in Israel, as an Israeli citizen, with all the mental freedom and opportunities that meant, instead of under the stifling and misogynistic Palestine Authority. Here is how she answered:
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REWIND spoke with Rula Jebreal, professor of international relations at the University of Miami, about the shape of Islam in America 10 years since the film was first aired, and how things have changed for Muslims living in the US.
Rula Jebreal is now a “professor of international relations” at the University of Miami. She also appears to have held the same position at the American University in Rome. How did that happen? Her only degree is in physiotherapy. She has published two short novels. She has written no books on any aspect of international relations. She has written no serious articles for any of the academic journals. She has been a small-bore journalist, pontificating almost exclusively about the Middle East, that is, about Israel and the “Palestinians.” For an example of her objectivity, go here. She appeared on the first episodes of an Italian political talk show, AnnoZero, in 2006, but then disappeared from the show, either having been fired or quit. In Italy, her good looks were recognized as her main credentials, which have proven indispensable for her subsequent rise. As one Italian said: “una bella donna ma giornalista mediocre.” (“A good looker, but a lousy journalist.”) She left Italy for America, where she was for two years a commentator on MSNBC, but her contract was not renewed. Apparently good looks can take you only so far. She later went into a rage on camera, because she had been begun to be described as a “Palestinian journalist” by MSNBC. When it was pointed out that that was exactly how she described herself online, she had no reply.
She has had a number of husbands and affairs. There was the Italian artist. There was the Italian nobleman. The last two listed on her dance-card have been the most piquant of partners. She had a “relationship” from 2007 to 2011 with the artist Julian Schnabel, and then a marriage to Arthur Altschul, Jr. (related to the Lehman family) from 2013 to 2016. Both men are Jewish, and both are very rich. Rula Jebreal may remind some of Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, a character who, as one critic described her, “is the most unscrupulous, devious, ruthless, selfish creature that ever leapt from the page.” But that’s just his opinion.
Back to Rula:
“A lot of things have changed. There has been a major shift in Islamophobia and attacks against Muslims, especially in 2015 and 2016. It is not a coincidence that the FBI report about Islamophobic hate crimes skyrocketed in those years, far more than in 2001 after 9/11,” Jebreal says.
Are all attacks on Muslims necessarily “islamophobic’’ — that is, based on an irrational fear of Islam? Is it possible that, given the increase in the number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — more than 32,500 such attacks have been recorded since 9/11 — this might cause more people to fear Muslims? And in 2015 and 2016 there were hundreds of Islamic terror attacks around the world. Among them were three in Europe that were especially deadly, at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, and in the middle of Brussels. In the United States, there were dozens of attacks in 2015 and 2016, including the most deadly ones at San Bernardino, Chattanooga, and Orlando. Wouldn’t that make many people rationally fearful? Wouldn’t it be irrational not to feel any fear of Muslim terrorism?
And what is the nature of those “attacks against Muslims” Jebreal alludes to? In most cases, those so-called “attacks” have been nothing more than harassment, involving no violence (by definition, a “hate crime” must include violence) — an unkind word or look on a playground or at a checkout counter, perhaps rising to the level of tugging on a hijab. All such acts are deplorable, but they are not the wave of terror that Jebreal’s rhetoric suggests (“hate crimes skyrocketed”). Robert Spencer reports that he has often clicked on various links that supposedly led to news about “hate crimes” against Muslims, only to find that in most cases the were simple crimes — e.g.,robbery — having nothing to do with any anti-Islam impulse. “And she may need to be reminded that as always, the number of hate crimes against Jews is two to three times the number against Muslims (in 2016, there were 684 antisemitic hate crimes and 307 anti-Muslim “incidents” — a word chosen deliberately, I think, by the government to disguise the fact that many of the latter were not “hate crimes,” but merely harassment). Furthermore, Robert Spencer has long been collecting evidence of all the charges by Muslims of “hate crimes” that never actually occured, or where the “victim” turned out to have been the perpetrator.
Immediately after the election, President Trump [travel] banned six Muslim countries … it looked like the religious persecution of one group based on the actions of individuals in Pakistan or Afghanistan … he then went on to attack [London’s] first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, immediately in the aftermath of a terror attack in London, singling him out because he’s Muslim and he’s brown, because he has the platform.
The travel ban was not directed against all Muslims. It did not constitute, pace Rula Jebreal, “religious persecution.” The ban was directed originally at only six countries, which meant that 51 of the 57 predominantly Muslim countries that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation remained unaffected. The six countries Trump cited were Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. All of these countries have connections to terrorist groups. Most have terrorist groups active on their soil; in some cases the governments of these states lend significant support to terrorist groups elsewhere. In Syria, both ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, which is the local affiliate of Al-Qaeda, have been fighting those they consider to be insufficiently Islamic, including Assad’s Alawites and the Kurds. Iran has been supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon with weapons, money, men, and training. In Yemen, ISIS has been enough of a worry that the American military felt it necessary to attack its fighters there, but the main problem remains Al-Qaeda, which the Americans keep pummeling from the air, though so far without any significant change in the threat level. In Somalia, the terrorists of Al-Shabaab have pledged their allegiance to Al-Qaeda. In the Sudan, ISIS has successfully been spreading its message and recruiting students, including many from the medical faculty in Khartoum. Many of the ISIS fighters who fled Syria and Iraq have now regrouped in Libya. It made sense to impose a travel ban on people from these six countries, all of them with such active terrorist connections — a matter of national security that Rula Jebreal refuses to recognize. If the American government wanted to engage in “religious persecution” of Muslims, why wouldn’t it have banned Muslim travelers from many more countries than just those six?
“We are a minority [in the US]. We are under-represented in the political arena and in the media. When you go to the Holocaust museum, it is clear and written in the walls: the Holocaust did not start with a killing. It started with violent words, it started with politicians dividing people with “them versus us”. It started with demonising an entire group of people and criminalising them. That paved the way to the killing and the gas chambers.”
No doubt Rula Jebreal bitterly deplores the fact that Muslims still are a tiny minority — that is, 1% of the American population — which is just too bad. But how does she know Muslims are “under-represented” in the political arena and in the media? Would a Muslim representation in both of 1% be exactly the correct “representation”? Would Jebreal be scandalized if Muslims constituted 2% of those in the media, and non-Muslims then claimed that something should be done to correct that “over-representation”? Are there to be quotas, so that every group is represented, in every possible field, by its precise percentage of the population? Muslims make up only 0.3 percent of the American military; should we be outraged that they are so palpably “under-represented”?
Does Rula Jebreal have any data to suggest that Muslims do not constitute at least 1% of the members of the media and of the “political arena”? Who makes up the “media”? Is it just those who write for newspapers? Those on TV and radio? Does it include the writers of articles online? The writers of 460 million blogs? Trying to decide if Muslims — or members of any other groups — are properly represented “in the media” becomes an impossible task. And who do we count as being members of the “political arena”? Is it limited to the members of the Executive branch? And all the members of Congress? And the members of 50 state assemblies? And the state governors? And all the judges in federal and state courts? Who is to decide?
Her unseemly allusion to the Holocaust Museum is meant to suggest, without quite saying it, that Muslims “are the new Jews.” And that they have suffered in the same way — being the object of “violent words,” and of “politicians dividing” Muslims and non-Muslims. In this regard, one would like to ask Rula Jebreal what she thinks of the Qur’anic command to Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as friends. And what does she make of the doctrine of Al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ (Arabic: الولاء والبراء ) which is an Arabic term in Islam, meaning “loyalty and disavowal”? It signifies loving and hating for the sake of Allah. Al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ is referred to as holding fast to all that is pleasing to Allah, and withdrawing from and opposing all that is displeasing to Allah; namely the Kuffar. Oh, and just one final question for Rula Jebreal: what does she think we non-Muslims should make of the Qur’anic verses that describe Muslims as “the best of peoples” (3:110) and non-Muslims as the “most vile of creatures” (98:6)?
As for Jebreal’s remark about the “demonizing” of people that leads to ‘the gas chambers,” this appropriation of Jewish suffering for the purposes of suggesting that Muslims could be in danger of the same fate is indecent, and simply disgusts. Has Jebreal no shame? What “demonizing” of Muslims goes on today, when all over the Western world political and religious leaders, including the Pope, and most of the media, have done their best to convince us that Islam is a “peaceful” and “tolerant” religion, that “authentic Islam has nothing to do with violence” and that there is “no such thing as ‘Islamic’ terrorism”? There are so few violent attacks on Muslims — far fewer than those against Jews — that they have taken to manufacturing false ones, a practice to which Robert Spencer has repeatedly drawn attention.
Finally, Jebreal claims that “America today is fighting a monster: white supremacy, the pure race. In the name of the pure race, every minority is the enemy.”
Again, Jebreal is ignoring American reality. There are not millions of KKK members marching down our streets, our media — radio, television, newspapers — are not broadcasting the messages of white supremacists, but denouncing them. When a few dozen white supremacists showed up to march in Charlottesville (along with other rightist groups, including antisemites, about whom Rula Jebreal is silent), they were met by many hundreds of opponents. This is not to deny that white supremacists exist, but they are an insignificant threat everywhere except in the fund-raising appeals of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the hysterical claims of Rula Jebreal. The population of the United States is approximately 330 million. In 2016, white supremacists killed 7 people, in 2017 a total of 18. White supremacy is deplorable, but it is not a “monster” to which America is in any danger of succumbing.
Finally, when Rula Jebreal writes that “In the name of the pure race, every minority is the enemy,” surely she is projecting. What she ought to have written is this:
“In the name of the perfect faith, everyone else is the enemy.”
Isn’t that the essence of Islam?
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