Fear Factor*As a Japanese Muslim living in the U.S., I have observed with some interest a curious shift within some sections of the U.S. Muslim community for the past 5-6 years—especially after 9/11. For the lack of better words, I will call this shift as “Americanism”. What I mean is that all of a sudden, we are seeing more and more Muslims use the rhetoric that we are “American” Muslims--and stressing the fact that we are Muslims but also “Americans”. We see Muslim websites colored with red, blue and white with names like American Muslims, Muslim America etc. etc., underscoring the fact that we are Americans.
What I see is a subtle or blatant (depending on the way you look at it) nationalism or “Americanism” creeping into the Muslim ideology in this country--and to my surprise, not a lot of people seem to be alarmed by it. We would be, if this was happening in Japan among Japanese Muslims—I think we would be REALLY alarmed, if some “Japanese” Muslim websites pop up with Japanese flags on it. It is probably because we, Japanese have a different cultural and historical context in regards to nationalism. World War II taught Japanese a bitter lesson about the danger of nationalism (ironically, thanks to the U.S.), and we are, in general, hyper-alert to any tendency towards it. Most Japanese would cringe at the idea of any move towards nationalism—except in Olympic games, of course.
Going back to the topic, I believe that one of the reasons that this shift towards “Americanism” is occurring among the U.S. Muslims is because of fear. Islam and Muslims were never popular in the U.S. to begin with, and since 9/11, things have gotten much much worse. Now as Muslims, we face the fear of deportation, persecution, arrest, hate crimes, physical/personal attacks and insults as well as the cold rejection, stereotyping and prejudice from the mainstream society. As the U.S. government launches the war on terror, we Muslims are becoming more and more terrified. So, in order to protect and defend ourselves and our community, we jump to the first thing that may help—we try saying that we are also Americans and that under the U.S. constitution, we have the same rights just like anyone else. But have we forgotten what happened to and is happening to any other racial minorities in this country—Native Americans, Blacks and Hispanics—and to Japanese Americans during World War II? And of course, we are all human, so we want to be accepted and are scared of rejection and abandonment. So we try saying to others in the mainstream society that we are also like you, we are not that different, because we are also “Americans”--and see if that’s going to go over well. It seems to be a very natural reaction to the danger we are facing as a community and as individuals but I wonder if this type of reaction really works.
What I have learned in my psychological work is that anything that stems from fear does not really work in the long run—except for some instinctive reactions to fearful situations that save our lives. What really seemed to help me was, first of all, to recognize the fear and accept that I felt scared. We cover up our fears in many ways and hide it behind our anger for example, as none of us really like to admit that we are scared. Then the next step was about facing the fear and digging deep within to find out what I was really scared of. If I could find out where that fear was really coming from and identify and resolve the issue thoroughly, the fear dissipated and did not return. Then the solution came easily and clearly. The solution by then would be proactive, not reactive, and I would be able to institute it not from a place of fear and panic but from a place of ease and inner freedom—in an ideal situation, that is.
So maybe, we might be able to perceive even a better way to deal with our current problem than “Americanism,” if we can only deal with our own “FEAR FACTOR” within ourselves and in our community—and this, I think would be much easier than eating cockroaches and minced rats like they do in FEAR FACTOR on TV.
*Fear Factor is a “Reality Show” where the participants are given fearful tasks, and compete against each other, the last person standing wins $50,000. If you want to be a contestant click here.