For Muslims in America, McCarthyism Is Already Here

Peace Advocate April 2024

MIT student demonstrations. Photo: Grace Sanford

by Hayat Imam

Remarks presented at MAPA’s Annual Meeting, April 6, 2024

As a Muslim American, I am very worried about the deep losses to our civil rights that I can see coming – for all of us, but particularly for the Muslim community. Just as in the post 9/11 period, which I lived through, we are again facing the prospect of becoming suspects – just for being Muslims. This time the accusation is going to be that we are antisemitic. Every Muslim will be now required to prove that we are not antisemitic. And let’s be clear, Zionists consider any Pro-Palestinian solidarity, and any criticism of the State of Israel, to be antisemitic.

The charge of antisemitism against Muslims is quite absurd. Muslims hold the Jewish prophets in the highest esteem and see them as our initial guides to God. We see Jews as our sisters and brothers. Historically there were no pogroms in Muslim countries; those were a European thing. On the contrary, Jewish scholars rose to the highest levels of Muslim governance and for centuries Jews and Muslims lived side by side in peace, sharing language and culture.

We all know there is an extremely well-funded Israeli lobby in the US, actively working to stifle criticism of Israeli policies and to suppress Palestinian rights. And we have already seen the power of this pro-Israeli network on university campuses. In response to passionate protests against the Israeli genocide in Gaza, we have seen the attacks by university administrations on Free Speech. Everyone who expressed Palestine solidarity has been affected – not only Muslims.

But, in the long run, students who are Muslim, and faculty who are Muslim, will pay an economic and social price that will be far more long-lasting and far more insidious. Muslims are in danger of being permanently black-listed, and we are already seeing that happening in major law firms and universities. Professors have been suspended and barred at Texas Tech and Indiana University. We have also seen eminent Muslim journalists silenced because they critiqued Zionism.

But what is new, and extremely troubling, is that this is all part of an Israeli government action plan, headed  by top people in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Diaspora Ministry. Truthout published a story about this plan submitted by William I. Robinson, on March 23. According to a report by the largest Israeli News Website, Ynetnews, the plan includes “shaming and publicizing names” of anyone protesting Israel’s actions. The plan’s goal is: “to inflict maximum economic consequences for all those criticizing Israel.” A direct quote says: “those targeted will struggle to find employment as we will pressure employers to blacklist pro-Palestinian students.”

And another says: “Israel will identify leading donors within the Jewish and Israeli community to pressure university heads to act against antisemitism.” This, of course, is any pro-Palestine activity on campus. We saw this scenario in action at Harvard, where wealthy donors pulled hundreds of millions of dollars from the endowment fund.

So, under the guise of stopping antisemitism, a serious form of Islamophobia is being fostered. We have been saying McCarthyism is around the corner for all of us, but it is already here for Muslims.

This wave of silencing has reached the judicial level. Joe Biden has nominated an American of Pakistani origin for a position on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He is a highly qualified man but, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing a couple of months ago, the questions to him were less about his qualifications and instead he was asked questions like “Do you condemn the atrocities of the Hamas terrorists?” Another question was: “do you think Israel is a colonial state?” So, now it seems, we will have to take oaths of fealty to Israel, in order to get on in America. Glib questions like these about complicated situations are not meant to get to know someone, they are merely attempts at entrapment.

Let’s keep in mind that while Muslims might be canaries in the mine, it is a matter of time before all progressives will be challenged, including those in the peace movement. We have already seen journalists and politicians intimidated into self-censorship. This is not surprising, given that they are facing the fear of losing their employment or their reputations. Sadly, we are all poorer when their – and our – voices are silenced.

So, this brings me to my second concern. How is it that a foreign country, in this case Israel, has such a huge influence on US domestic policies and US foreign policy? So much so that the snuffing out of academic freedom in the US can be orchestrated in Tel Aviv? And how is it that we can become manipulated as a nation to fund and send weapons to be used for genocide?

I think we need to pay very close attention to this, and to other related examples, such as how AIPAC money is being used to influence elections. AIPAC this year is well on the way to spending $100 million in the upcoming elections to replace progressive members of Congress. In the normal course of events, AIPAC would be officially listed as an agent of a foreign government. We should ask ourselves: In the face of what is happening in Gaza today, how can it still wield this level of influence? We must raise our voices to hold AIPAC to account.

Hayat Imam is an American-Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, who is committed to building global social justice movements. She cut her teeth in the Anti-Nuclear Movement in the late 70’s, before spending ten years internationally in the field of Women’s Development. She was a keynote speaker at the Boston Women’s March against Trump in January 2017. Former Executive Director of the Boston Women’s Fund and Board Chair of Grassroots International, she is presently an active member of Dorchester People for Peace, and a member of the Board of Mass Peace Action.