The Gaza War demonstrates how US Muslim power is quickly destroyed by external events: American-Muslim academic

Israel’s war on Gaza has affected the lives of Muslims all over the world – none more so than the US, where millions are living through turbulent times, Anadolu Agency reports.

As the 2024 presidential election inches closer, Gaza remains a defining factor in almost all spheres of Muslims’ lives in the US, shaping their daily realities, specifically in terms of rising Islamophobia and their political choices.

“In many ways, 7 October feels as if a Muslim committed an attack, a terrorist attack, here on United States soil, and the Muslim community is facing the backlash for that,” Omar Suleiman, a prominent Muslim American scholar, Imam and activist hailing from a Palestinian family, told Anadolu.

What Muslims are facing for something that did not even happen in the US “shows that any power that the Muslim community supposedly has earned within the establishment, within the mainstream, is so easily blown away by things that don’t even happen on our soil,” he said.

Suleiman believes that the fallout of the Gaza war demonstrates that the Muslim community is “perceived as outsiders, regardless of invitations from those on the inside urging them to join as insiders.”

“You are tokenised, but you are still outsiders, and that’s especially true for Palestinians. The Palestinian cause is not welcome, not on a Republican platform or on a Democratic platform,” he stressed.

Another significant negative impact is that “we are seeing hate crimes rise,” he said, referring specifically to the murder of six-year-old Palestinian-American, Wadea Al-Fayoume, who was stabbed 26 times by his landlord.

The wave of Islamophobia in the US since 7 October was documented in a December 2023 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which said there were nearly 2,200 Islamophobia-related requests or complaints of bias in just the first 57 days of the war, almost 50 per cent of the total cases the organisation had in 2022.

On the other hand, Suleiman said, today many Muslims in the US, who may not have previously felt a strong connection to the Palestinian cause, “certainly feel connected now”.

“We are seeing the consciousness of the Muslim community rise, which I think is a good thing. We are seeing a development of the character of the community, which I think is a good thing,” he said.

“We are seeing the American public as well, especially younger Americans, becoming more educated about the Palestinian cause and not falling for Israel’s propaganda.”

Elections, Gaza and Biden
In the lead-up to the November election, the shadow of Gaza is looming large over President Joe Biden’s bid for a second term in the White House.

There is growing resentment among Muslim and Arab-Americans over his administration’s continued financial, military and diplomatic support to Israel, with the latest example being the US veto this week of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

In a recent interview with Anadolu, Osama Siblani, a journalist in Michigan and publisher of The Arab American News, said the community there considers Biden a “war criminal” and will not vote for him.

Michigan is just one of several key swing states where the 1 million registered Muslim voters in the US could play a decisive role in the outcome.

Suleiman, however, pointed out that unconditional support for Israel is a “bipartisan disease” in the US, equally prevalent among both Democrats and Republicans.

In 2020, Muslims voted for Biden over Donald Trump with the belief he was the “lesser of two evils”.

“Donald Trump had shown us what he was all about … Obviously, you had the Muslim ban; you had the movement of the (US) embassy to Jerusalem. You had many policies, both domestically and abroad, that were detrimental to the Muslim community,” he said.

“And, of course, the rhetoric and the unhealthy environment that we had here in the United States. The crazy environment that we had under his administration, I think, pushed Muslims to vote for Biden.”

Now, though, the calculus of Biden being better than Trump has been upended, he said.

“The thing is now that what’s more evil than a genocide?” he asserted.

The US has not just given Israel diplomatic cover, using its veto to make sure that Israel is not held accountable, but has been “participating in this genocide every step of the way, both by funding it and making sure that no one holds Israel accountable,” he said.

“So, the United States is just as guilty as Israel in this genocide, and it’s happening on Biden’s watch,” he added.

“Therefore, it’s very hard to make the argument to the Muslim community that he’s the lesser of two evils, when the most evil episode of modern history is playing out on his watch and with his cover.”

Suleiman said the US has been held “hostage by the two-party system”.

A country presenting Trump and Biden as the two choices for president is “already a country with a failed political system,” he said.

He stressed that it is essential for voters to “penalise support for genocide” and “the lack of moral courage to stand for a ceasefire”.

“I still think Muslims need to vote. I think Muslims need to show that their vote is consequential,” he said.

“It would be a loss for our community to send a message to these politicians that you can literally carry out a genocide and still bank on our vote.”

Islam and the Palestinian cause
The Gaza crisis has led to an increase in awareness in the US about the Palestinian cause and the teachings of Islam, encouraging more people to revert to Islam, said Suleiman.

“Every Friday … there are people that embrace Islam after the prayer, and almost all of those people that are embracing Islam now are directly referencing the Gaza as a factor in their embracing Islam,” he said.

He explained that the suffering in Gaza and the display of faith by Gazans is “leading to great curiosity and leading people directly to their local mosques, leading people to pick up a Quran for the first time, leading people to search for Islamic lectures.”

“The people of Gaza are clearly special. They clearly have something that much of the world wishes that they had on the inside while, at the same time, they are living a nightmare that no one else in the world has to live,” he added.

Boycott a ‘spiritual imperative’
About the global movement of boycotting brands supporting Israel, Suleiman emphasised that this should be viewed as a “spiritual imperative”.

“How can you be a Muslim and consume the products that are made by the oppressor of your brothers and sisters, while you are watching that oppression play out on your screens?” he said.

“There’s something that’s spiritually wrong with us when we fail to act upon something that doesn’t require any major adjustments in our lives.”

It is always collective action that has a major impact, he said.

“It’s important for us to recognise the political effectiveness of boycotts,” he stressed.

“It’s politically effective, that’s why Israel fears it so much. That’s why here in the United States, you have 38 States that have anti-boycott laws on the books. It’s why Israel is doing what it can to make sure that people cannot peacefully boycott it, because they know that it can have a major impact on its economic status.”​​​​​​​

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