Muslims and Arabs: Free speech and the question of violence


Free speech and expression is the foundation of a free and democratic society, but they have been the first victim in the post 9/11 period. Immediately after 9/11, Arabs, and Muslims were required to condemn over and over the terrorist attacks as if they had anything themselves to do with it. Furthermore, being immigrants’ communities they were forced into a mode of assimilation motivated by self-protection due to verbal and physical attacks; rather than a normative process of adjustment influenced by time in the country, jobs, education, marriage, family and economic conditions. For Arabs, and Muslims the ability to speak freely in the context of the American society has been greatly limited and their freedom of expression is only theory. Can an Arab, Muslim or Asian speak freely about US war on terrorism, the war on Afghanistan and the massive arrests of people in this country?

When I say can, I don’t mean in private or with his close associates, which might be a problem for some, but in places where it counts and where people listen to the message! In place after place Arab and Muslim voices have been silenced at the most important time where their speech can and should make a difference as regards policy but alas the “main stream” would not hear of it, which is my point. On the contrary, where free speech counts the most, the community is forced to engage in the most polite expressions of platitude and patriotism motivated by a sense of self-preservation and survival knowing they are the prey of a very angry tiger living upstairs. On “the many” occasions of being invited to speak where it counts, Arabs and Muslims had to endure a barrage of questions and insinuation from a hostile media person/s who spoke as a matter of fact and possibly helped by another guest. You find these shows have one openly anti-Arab/anti-Muslim guest, balanced with one pro-Israeli personality, the host conducting the interview, an expert on terrorism (of what kind? I don’t know) and then an Arab or Muslim participant being offered as the meal to all.

The right to free speech was taken from the community and in its place a laundry list of someone else’s concerns about Arabs and Muslims framed the discussions and the exchanges. How many times do we have to answer the question about violence? Why Muslims are violent? Why your people are so violent? What do they learn in the Madrassa that makes them so violent? Is peace possible with so much violence? The non-ending questions, discussions and debates about violence! It reminds me often of African Americans with questions, discussions and debates about crime, drugs and violence in the community. Why black males are so violent? Why do they deal drugs? Why are they killing each other? What are they learning at home? It must be hip hop music or gangster rap songs etc. ad-noisome. Questions seeking no answers are meant to produce silence.

As you can see these are someone else’s questions, discussions, debates designed to silence the voice and create an impression of engagement. The introduction of the issue of violence is meant to control the discussion and place the individual on the defensive throughout a given program or event. If they were authentic discussions then we could deal with violence as a human phenomenon not only the preview of some determined by genes but not the other. Also, if we take this issue more seriously the question that ought to be asked is why our American society is so violent. I live next to the city of Oakland, and one hundred and fourteen individuals gunned down on the streets, were violence is all around and on average someone is shot daily with a human life lost every two and half days. You see if we talk about violence then we should be honest about it and not point the finger at others because they will only through it back in our face.

Let’s reflect together about violence in our society and attempt to be forthcoming for no other reason than to take account of what others outside our country already know. To begin with, as far as my memory can recollect the Inquisition, Crusades, Manifest Destiny Colonialism, Genocide of Native Americans, Slavery, WWI, and WWII-yes the one with the Holocaust and two nuclear bombs on Japan-are Western collateral to the world and we can legitimately ask why are we in the West have been so violent! Also, can we contemplate someone asking why the Christians in the West are so violent! The African American individuals have been on the receiving end of violence since the day he/she were forcefully landed on the shores of this land and up to this day their communities are a free shooting range for many a cop under the banner of fighting drugs and crime. The African American can legitimately ask why are you so violent and why you don’t know anything but violence! In actuality, when we look back at the 19th and
20th centuries we find that the Arabs, Muslims, Asians, Africans and the third world in general have been on the receiving end of Western violence almost the entire two hundred years but it is the victim that is being asked to explain his supposed“pathological” condition. If the “main stream” media with its many talking heads wants to discuss violence then lets line up our ducks for proper counting.

Ours is a violence economy and our production capacity is directed at perfecting and refining its delivery systems. Yes sir, we love violence for it keeps our economic engine humming; it pays our hefty mortgages and three or four cars in the garage. Oh no, we talk peace but we mean war. Our business is war and war is business for it helps us keep more of what they have so we can live the way we do. Haves have more while have-nots must be made to have nothing at all. Violence is what we do best since we have the capacity to kill everyone in the world many times over and still have some for keep. We have perfected the marketing of violence selling the best killing machines to the world. And yes, we are number one in producing and selling killing machines even sometimes to both sides of a war, Iraq and Iran a case in point.

You might say this is enough! I do get the picture, however in reality we have not scratched the surface of violence in our culture. Let’s get real about it some more for I need to make up for every time I got a microphone in my face to talk about violence in the Muslim world as if we are dealing with a mental defect among 1.2 billion people. How about what we learn in our universities? You thought I would leave this alone, not for a billion dollar. Our universities are designed to help in the development, refinement and testing of the killing machines and we do it at a bargain price. Atomic bomb developed at a university near you! Hydrogen bomb developed at a university near you! Biological weapons developed at a university near you! Chemical weapons the likes of agent-orange developed at a university near you! Weapons with names and those that remain nameless are developed at a university near you! We love it at the university, it brings in major dollars and helps us pay higher wages to our administrators and some faculty. You see we teach violence but rarely stop to look at ourselves. If you are going into education then make sure to go where the money can be found-development of the killing machines- it will help you get a house, a car and a fat bank account faster than you think. By the way, I am not letting the humanities off the hook for they engage in sophistry and an ever-expanding role in justifying the empire’s violence. Do you think that political science departments are teaching how to change the structure of violence or just mere descriptive of the outer forms of the process-judicial branch, executive, legislative branch, media, public pressure etc. In departments of economics we are educated to be part of the structure not to alter it, thus consenting to violence in the market and the survival of the fittest. We give rationalization to the economy of violence and produce new crop of practitioners to keep the wheels of micro and macro processes moving without a single challenge mounted.

What about history departments affirming empire by recordings its victories while erasing the images of its victims, a wholesale enterprise of glorifying past violence which is needed to capture the imagination of yet a new generation ready to do as the fathers did. Yes, future glory might be born out of the pen of a historian. So whichever way you look at it we are over our heads with violence.

The question is asked about what Arabs, Muslims, Africans and Asians are watching on T.V. or movies and it is indeed a concern. However, can we stop to examine what we have on the tube and in the theaters or the video games we play. Anyone in Hollywood will readily inform you that violence sells and it is what makes money. We love to watch violence and the more blood in the movies the better returns at the box office. At the nightly news, “if it bleeds it leads” is the standard. Our “main stream” media loves to cover wars and violence on the local, national and international level and if they are truthful they will say so. Ratings go sky high the more violence you show on the tube and if it is mixed with sex then you do have a successful show on your hand. Violence is what we have for entertainment since sex is nothing more than a process of violation of the woman as a human being. I am not talking in a Moral Majority tone of voice, the selling of sex as a form of entertainment by media types is a form of violence directed at women as a class. I do and can make a distinction between women engaging in sexual activities verses the selling of sex as a form of entertainment for the former is often based on economic needs while the second is rooted in mostly male greed, which produces an ugly form of violence.

Our system is structurally violent based on a Darwinian cooked up view of survival of the fittest and refined by the market economics of scarcity. To move up you have to step on those below and you do so because of laws of nature, the strong eats the weak and a dog eat dog world! On a certain level every aspect of the society is engaged in the structure of violence in the form of stocks and bounds invested in 401K retirement or investment accounts and over 60% of all Americans are invested in the stock market in some way or another. You can see that answering such a question about why Muslims are violent is a very problematic undertaking when it is being asked by someone who is a party and possibly an active member in the most sophisticated structure of violence the world has known since its beginnings.

Hatem Bazian is is also a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as co-founder and Academic Affairs Chair at Zaytuna College, the first Muslim Liberal Arts College in America.

This article was originally published in World Bulletin