By Tammy Obeidallah
New York Congressman Pete King served as ringmaster at the latest congressional circus looking into Muslim ‘radicalization’ and its perceived threat to the Homeland. Unfortunately, I was not invited to testify at this hearing, else I would have been happy to share my insights with Congressman King as to what “radicalization” means and how I became “radicalized.”
Granted, I am not a Muslim; therefore I will not pretend to speak for Muslims, “radicalized” or not. I will, however, hazard a guess I could do a better job than Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, who tearfully recounted the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani during the recent hearings. Hamdani was the Pakistani Muslim firefighter killed on 9/11 who was accused posthumously of being a co-conspirator in the attacks, allegations which were later proven false. The poignant theatrics by Ellison would have been an appropriate show of sympathy, was it not for the fact that a large portion of his congressional career to date has been devoted to serving as poster boy for the State Department. Engaging in such “image-building” abroad illustrates what a tolerant and diverse country the U.S. truly is and that Muslims are accepted and even elected to prominent positions in government—when they’re not being waterboarding or spied upon while praying. Ellison also proudly served as the token Muslim on a trip to the Jewish State sponsored by the America Israel Education Federation and visited Iraq in order to personally bestow praise on occupiers.
Not to be outdone was Imam Rauf, whose exchange with erstwhile john and now co-host of yet another talking head show on CNN Elliot Spitzer, was posted on the aptly named blog “Ikhras,” (Arabic for “shut up”). Rauf’s only complaint about the Peter King hearings was that more law enforcement agencies had not been invited to testify just how many Muslims are quislings for the FBI, spying in mosques and informing on their neighbors. Such gross displays of allegiance to an organization hell-bent on oppressing not only Muslims, but peace activists as well—23 of whom have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury— pushes those of us who believe in civil disobedience rather than collaboration a little closer to “radicalization.”
According to Wikipedia, “radicalization” is defined as “the process in which an individual changes from passiveness or activism to become more revolutionary, militant or extremist. Radicalization is often associated with youth, adversity, alienation, social exclusion, poverty or the perception of injustice to self or others.” By the same token, a “radical” is “a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles, extremist” or “a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.” While the word “militant” has a violent connotation, the definition does not specifically include the word “violence” or the word “religion.” In fact, tens of thousands of non-Muslims in Wisconsin have been “radicalized” by a Hitleresque attack on labor unions, yet they have been pretty peaceful thus far.
Being a Christian, my “radicalization” did not involve indoctrination by Islamic militants; it began with my own observations during a trip to Palestine in 2001. One of the first things I witnessed was an Orthodox Jew riding his bike through a crowd of Muslim women in the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, his legs outstretched nonchalantly as they scrambled to get out of his way. After a few days, I traveled to Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza and met 14 year-old Muhammad, who told me he was beaten by Israeli soldiers for playing on the beach.
The process continued months later when I went to the Jordan Hospital in Amman and visited a child who had been blinded in an Israeli attack. In the same place, I saw the life ebbing away from Taha Abu Snineneh, also a victim of Israeli fire, enduring weeks of machines working his vital organs for him before finally passing away.
I felt still more marginalized, when, like so many others in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, I was the victim of harassing phone calls and requests for a meeting with unidentified government officials from “the Defense Department” Later in 2007, two FBI agents showed up at my door to ask about my “connections” with Hamas.
During a protest in New York City against the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, a Jewish man was allowed to cross over from the pro-Israeli counter-demonstration to berate two Arab men while shoving his finger in their faces, all done under the watchful eye of numerous police. At the same event, I was grabbed by an officer and practically shoved down when I attempted to confront three Israeli demonstrators who were heckling me as I walked by. To add insult to injury, a letter to my Congressman resulted in a reply shamelessly promoting “our Israel.”
These incidents which led to my “radicalization” are nothing when compared to the humiliation and suffering Palestinians experience every day of their lives, whether they are forced to endure Israeli attacks, checkpoints, home demolitions and unwarranted searches, or the endless limbo of refugee camps in Lebanon and other Arab nations where they live in varying degrees of second-class citizenship.
Was it not for the grotesquely bloated handouts to the Jewish State enabling the violent persecution of Palestinians—Muslim and Christian alike—we Americans would not be faced with such drastic cuts to medical care, children’s hospitals and education, the brunt of which is being borne by the poorest among us. Ultimately “injustice to others” and “injustice to self” are intertwined.
So there you have it, Mr. King. Radicalization has nothing to do with Islam. It is a reaction: a testimony to the human spirit that we will only take so much “adversity, alienation, social exclusion and injustice” before demanding “fundamental political, economic and social reforms by direct and uncompromising methods.”
– Tammy Obeidallah contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.