Discussions and debate about Islam are all over America. Islam is not only a central issue in the presidential race, it is also the subject of endless discussions within the mainstream media, the educational establishment, and, of course, the Internet.
Debates rage over such issues as: Are all Muslims dangerous or just radical Muslims? Is America in danger of replacing its judicial system with Sharia law? How and why do people get self-radicalized? Is reading the Koran dangerous? Should all Muslims be banned from the United States or just some of them? Can Muslim-Americans be counted on to be loyal to the United States? Should Homeland Security agents monitor the activities of Muslim-Americans? Is the United States in danger of becoming part of the worldwide quest among Muslims to establish a worldwide caliphate?
Indeed, I am increasingly encountering people in their early 20s, who, having grown up and gone to public schools under the “war on terrorism,” are now dedicating their careers to trying to figure out what to do about people who become “self-radicalized” or to some other aspect of homeland security and the “war on terrorism.”
Let’s face it: Islam has become America’s national obsession.
What’s interesting though is that no one ever asks when this obsession began. Maybe figuring out that will enable us to see why Americans have become so obsessed with this particular issue.
Let’s start with 1989. We know that prior to that year, there was no preoccupation with Islam at all among the American people.
How do we know that? Because from 1945 to 1989, the national obsession was with communists and communism. No one talked about Islam, except perhaps some college professors who were teaching some sort of comparative religion class. No one was talking about how the Muslims were coming to get us. Or about how they were hell-bent to establish a worldwide caliphate. Or about how Sharia law was creeping into America’s judicial system. Or about how Muslim-Americans were Fifth Columnists.
No, there was none of that. It was all about communists and communism. In fact, to get a sense of what life was like during the Cold War, just substitute all the things that are said today about the dangers of terrorists, terrorism, Muslims, and Islam and change those terms to communists and communism.
The communists were coming to get us, the U.S. national-security state maintained for some 45 years. Americans were as scared of communists and communism as they are today of terrorists, terrorism, Muslim, and Islam. Oh, to be sure, there were variations of communists, just like there are variations of terrorists and Muslims.
There was the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, Cuba, North Vietnam, Chile, and more. But what mattered, the national-security state drummed into the heads of the American people, was that it was all part of the worldwide communist conspiracy, which threatened, they said, to engulf the world, just as the Muslims are supposedly doing today with the plans for worldwide caliphate.
Most Americans were deathly afraid, just as they are today. So afraid that they eagerly sent hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, many of which had been forced to serve in the military, to Vietnam to fight the communists over there before they could come over here and conquer the nation, much like those U.S. troops who been sent to the Middle East and Afghanistan to kill the terrorists before they come here to kill us.
Violent regime-change operations, mostly secret, were initiated by the U.S. national-security state to oust democratically elected presidents who were orienting toward communist beliefs. Iran, Chile, Guatemala, and Cuba come to mind. In fact, one of the reasons why the U.S. national-security state installed brutal military dictatorships to replace democratically elected presidents was the conviction that military men could be counted on to cleanse the society of the communist and socialist ideas that where threatening to infect everyone’s minds.
Chile comes to mind, where national-security state forces of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had been installed into power as a result of a U.S. regime-change operation, rounded up, tortured, raped, or killed some 50,000 people who were suspected of orienting toward communism or socialism, all the while receiving the full support of the U.S. national-security state, which was, at the same time, being defeated by the communists in Vietnam.
One of the few people who challenged the legitimacy of the obsession with communists and communism was President John F. Kennedy. That’s what his famous Peace Speech at American University was all about—an attempt to bring an end to the Cold War, which, of course, might have caused people to then question the necessity of continuing the existence of the national-security state apparatus that was the driving force for making communists and communism America’s national obsession.
With Kennedy’s assassination, bringing an end to the national obsession with communists and communism would be delayed. The Cold War, along with the national obsession with communists and communism, would continue until 1989. That was the year that the Soviet Union dismantled, Germany was unified, and the Soviets ended their 45-year control over Eastern Europe.
What happened then? Some right-wing Americans were unable to let go of their obsession. For years, they were convinced that the it was all part of a sinister conspiracy by which the Soviets, Chinese, and other Reds were lulling America into a false sense of security so that the commies could suddenly attack and take over the reins of the federal government. But for most Americans, that 45-year obsession with Reds came to an end. Through it all there had been no concern about Islam, Muslims, the Koran, Sharia law, or the worldwide quest for a caliphate.In fact, it was the exact opposite. When the U.S. national-security state began partnering with extremist Muslims in Afghanistan, when it was the Soviet Union that was doing the occupying, Americans cheered. As one high U.S. official said, why should we care about helping out some extremist Muslims (who included Osama bin Laden) when the real problem is communists and communism?
Alas, America’s obsession-free life didn’t last long. That’s because of President George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf intervention in 1990, whose aim was to oust Iraqi military forces from Kuwait. Suddenly Americans had a new national obsession, one that would last more than 10 years. That national obsession became Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq, who ironically had been America’s partner and ally just a few years before.
For some 11 years, the national cry became, “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam! We have to get Saddam! He’s going to attack America with WMDs!” In fact, I recall one FFF supporter, who was oriented toward conservatism, who became so exasperated with this 11-year “crisis” that he called me and exclaimed, “We have to go in and invade now! We need to oust him from power now! We need to get this thing over with!”
There was never any concern about Muslims, Islam, the Koran, or the caliphate during that 11 year period. It was all about Saddam. If we didn’t do something about Saddam — i.e., oust him for power, America would soon be the victim of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons or nuclear weapons.
Then, 9/11 in 2001 hit. That was the demarcation point for a new national obsession, one that revolved around terrorists and terrorism. Interestingly enough though, in the early post-9/11 years the obsession was still not about Muslims, the Koran, Islam, or the caliphate. It was all about the terrorists and terrorism.
We were told that the terrorists hated us for our freedom and values and that the war on terrorism would last much longer than the Cold War. It was essentially going to be a perpetual war, U.S national-security state officials maintained. For years after 2001, thee discussion and debates revolve around the terrorists and terrorism, which, needless to say, was cited for the justification for keeping the old Cold War era national security establishment in existence.
In fact, all the things they used to say about the communists and, for that matter, about Saddam, they said about the terrorists. They were coming to get us. We had to go kill them in Afghanistan and Iraq before they could come get us (like we had to go to Vietnam to kill communists before they came here and killed us). Regime change remained the order of the day, not out of a concern for communists, but instead out of a concern for terrorists. Same with assassination, which had been a core weapon of the U.S. national-security establishment during the Cold War.
It wasn’t until people in the Middle East began retaliating on an increasing basis for all the death and destruction that the U.S. national-security state was wreaking in the Middle East and Afghanistan that the national obsession gradually evolved from terrorists and terrorism to Muslims, Islam, the Koran, and the caliphate.
There was a simple reason for that: The hundreds of thousands of people that the U.S. national-security state was killing in the Middle East and Afghanistan since 1990, including the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who were killed by the sanctions on Iraq before 9/11, were predominantly Muslims. So, it wasn’t surprising that when people began retaliating for all the death and destruction that the U.S. death machine was wreaking over there were Muslims as well.
And that’s what then incited America to shift the national obsession to Muslims, Islam, the Koran, and the caliphate. Once the obsession took hold, it made it much more difficult for people to see that the entire problem is rooted not in Muslims, Islam, and the Koran, but rather in the death and destruction that the U.S. national-security state has been wreaking over there for some 25 years, which has then produced the thirst for revenge in the form of horrific terrorist attacks.
Once Americans are able to recognize the roots of their obsession, however, maybe they’ll figure out the correct solution to getting rid of it.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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