Seeking to interview members of the community for his book, Bayoumi “was concerned about [appearing to be] a suspicious questioner” because, he explained, “it was around the time of the Times Square bomber.” Tapping into his inner conspiracy theorist, he then added, “. . . which was a fake, by the way.” He provided no evidence for this outlandish claim, nor did his audience request it.
Bayoumi brought up the Texas State Board of Education’s resolution last year curtailing pro-Islamic, anti-Christian bias in new social studies textbooks:
The Texas revolution [sic] is another attempt to create controversy where really there is none. It’s contrived to give the idea that Islam is on the ideological march in the country. It bears little relation to reality. Those who point this out are accused of political correctness, of being duped, liberal, ideological warriors of political correctness.
He scoffed at “allegations of Arab investors taking over the American [textbook] publishing industry,” while his audience tittered. They were only too happy to mock such notions, despite significant evidence of these worrisome trends.
Bayoumi moved on to another favorite target of the Islamophobia-phobes, Middle East forum director Daniel Pipes. Selectively quoting from Pipes’s article on Brooklyn’s controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy, “A Madrasa Grows in Brooklyn,” Bayoumi stated:
Daniel Pipes wrote that ‘Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.’
Predictably, he neglected to cite any of the examples that Pipes used to buttress this statement.
What is going on here? As soon as Muslims like myself are on the cusp of entering the mainstream fully, we are hit with a wave of opposition attempting to render us or our work invisible. . . . The trick is simply to attach the word ‘radical’ in front of a Muslim name, and, like a magician, make the actual person disappear in a cloud of suspicion.
Then he joked, “If you happen to be the president of the United States, ‘First Muslim’ will suffice,” to which the audience chuckled knowingly.
During the question and answer period, an audience member—perhaps referring, however inaccurately, to Pipes’s 2001 quote, “I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews”—asked:
Daniel Pipes says he fears Muslim expansion in America from the Jewish point of view. How much are these cultural wars intertwined with the fear among a segment of the pro-Israel, rightwing alliance of wanting to maintain a reflexive fear of Arabs and Muslims?
Bayoumi responded with a torrent of insults, buzz words, and generalizations:
There’s a nexus, and a major part is the Israel conflict. Pipes, David Horowitz—it all has to do with the production of Islamophobia. [It’s a] pro-Israel right wing attack; it’s a continuation of the rightwing, Christian attack on liberal education; a culture wars place where they’ve all arrived at that junction.
In response to an audience member’s question regarding the upcoming hearings on radical Islam in the U.S. convened by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY), Bayoumi concluded that, “It’s part of the paranoia of today.”
Expanding on this theme, he then read aloud an oft-repeated quote from Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, about the alleged paranoia and bigotry of the “modern right-wing,” which, he claimed, “you can hear in 2011.” Bayoumi has apparently bought into Hofstadter’s always dubious and now thoroughly discredited equation of conservatism with mental illness.
Moreover, chalking up the rational fears of the American public in a post-9/11 world to paranoia displays contempt and willful blindness. Such attitudes only allow apologists to delay indefinitely much-needed theological and cultural reforms within Muslim and Arab communities.
Bayoumi seems oblivious to the religious, economic, and cultural freedom that the U.S. offers. If America is such an intolerant, discriminatory country, why do countless Arabs and Muslims keep immigrating to its shores? According to statistics compiled by the Department of Homeland Security and the Census Bureau and cited by the New York Times, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent U.S. residents in 2005 than in any year in the previous two decades. In addition, a 2007 Pew survey found that Muslim Americans, including many Arabs, are equally, if not better, educated and more affluent than the national average.
Instead of proclaiming a culture of victimhood, Bayoumi might acknowledge this encouraging reality. He could start by turning his book into a series and titling a forthcoming volume, How Does It Feel to be a Fabulous Success? Being Young and Arab in America.
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at [email protected].
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