Sunday, February 06, 2005

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.

6 comment(s):

  • Sayoko, I don't think I could have said it any better. Thank you!

    By Blogger Leila M., at 2/07/2005 07:18:00 AM  

  • I usually identify myself as an american muslim, emphasising muslim as the base word. Muslim is what I am, and american is only the modifier to it, not the core of my identity *shrugs*

    By Blogger UmmSqueakster, at 2/07/2005 09:45:00 AM  

  • I disagree with the premise that anything that comes out of fear doesn't work in the long run.

    Fear can be a powerful motivator and how you respond to it shapes the future for the better or worse. If you recognize that your fear is irrational, you learn to not let it control you. But when the the threat is real, its foolish to not be afraid.

    The shift in "Americanism" is an assertion of the god-given rights and liberty that are guaranteed by the constitution, and are not subject to the whims of who sits in the whitehouse. When there is a credible threat to these fundamental rights, one is better of to assert his/her americanism and to fight back. Is there any other option or any other refuge?

    By Blogger Jafar, at 2/07/2005 02:51:00 PM  

  • Thank you for your comments. I was a bit lazy and was too simplistic in my expression about fear so I would like to add a little more. I do believe that fear has an important function for our survival. In some situations, instinctive reactions from fear save our lives and I think feelings like fear and anger are God-given. The current reactions among Muslims seem to be coming from this level of instinctive fear, too. But then, there is re-acting and pro-acting and they are not the same. By reacting in a nationalistic “American” way, I think we may be compromising what I think is a beautiful principle in Islam—that Islam rejects nationalism/tribalism. And I think there will be some kind of consequence for Muslims in this country ‘in the long run’ if we compromise or alter the principle. So, it is like this: fear can move us into action quickly and we may be able to achieve some quick, visible results, but we also may overlook something and not realize the price we pay in the long run if we continue to act from fear.

    I agree that fear can be a powerful motivator—and in many situations, it is much better to “feel the fear and do it anyway” than waiting for the fear to go away. What I found out so far though, is that by doing some internal work, one can do the same thing out of love (or from a place of balance or equanimity) rather than out of fear. And it feels very different when I can do something out of love, without fear being the controlling factor. There is a change in the intention and the quality of the action. I also agree that one way to deal with irrational fear is to learn not to let it control you. But at that level, the fear is still there, and there is a constant struggle against it within ourselves whether we are conscious or not. We spend a lot of will power and energy in order to counter, suppress or control the fear. What I tried to say in the article was that there are other ways that this type of fear can be dissolved—so there is no struggle or need to control. It simply won’t be there no longer—and it is a lot easier to deal with the situation when we are not fighting with fear within.

    By Blogger sayoko, at 2/09/2005 09:42:00 PM  

  • rahma:
    I identify myself as a South African Muslim. Same reason as you gave.

    "In the long run we are dead." So said Keynes :)

    You said: "The shift in "Americanism" is an assertion of the god-given rights and liberty that are guaranteed by the constitution... When there is a credible threat to these fundamental rights, one is better of to assert his/her americanism and to fight back."
    Then THIS is the time to fight back! Because the rights you are guaranteed by the American constitution are fast being eroded (not just "credible threat") by the Bush administration.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/11/2005 01:17:00 PM  

  • Sayoko said "By reacting in a nationalistic “American” way, I think we may be compromising what I think is a beautiful principle in Islam—that Islam rejects nationalism/tribalism."You are correct that Islam rejects nationalism. But who are the american muslims reacting to? They are other americans who believe and act as if the muslim citizenry doesn't belong here. That's hardly a "nationalistic" reaction. Its a declaration of their right. Muslim citizens of the US have the same right as the other citizens to live freely. Its not any different from how the british muslims reacted in the past few decades. I read an article where the author(from UK) responded to "Go Home" catcalls with "My home is Leicester". Was he being nationalistic?

    Jafar [having difficulty with the password!!]

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/11/2005 01:25:00 PM  

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