What Will We Do About Pompeo’s Islamophobia?

In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Mike Pompeo, then a congressman from Kansas, took to the House floor to offer a scathing rebuke of Muslim leaders:

“When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of the faith. Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts.”

Of course, Pompeo was wrong. It’s easy enough to point out the many condemnations voiced by Muslims, not only after the Boston bombings but after other terrorist attacks as well.

But this isn’t about what Muslims have and haven’t done in the face of terrorism. Pompeo knows Muslims have condemned terrorism. He just doesn’t care. In fact, when Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) pointed out to Pompeo during his confirmation hearing that Muslims did condemn the Boston Marathon bombing, Pompeo acknowledged as much before saying: “I’m not sure that we ever get to a point where it’s enough.”

Muslims can condemn terrorism until they’re blue in the face. It won’t make a difference. Not to Pompeo. As Secretary of State, current CIA director Pompeo would see to it that the Trump administration doubles down on policies casting all Muslims as latent terrorist threats. In other words, if we think Islamophobia is bad now, wait until Pompeo makes his way to Foggy Bottom. The Muslim ban may not be the worst of what awaits Muslims.

It’s important to understand that Pompeo’s views are rooted in racism. Pompeo assumes Muslims are guilty by association. He sees Muslims as a collective whole, a “race,” who by definition are prone to violence and terrorism. That’s why he admits Muslims can’t ever condemn terrorism enough. Muslims don’t just “do” violence; they are violent by nature.That’s what makes them complicit.

Pompeo wants to keep Muslims on the defensive. He wants them to explain themselves, prove their innocence, and defend their humanity, even as he also acknowledges there’s nothing they can do to convince him that “they” are one of “us.” He is tapping into the worst impulses of the president and the nation as a whole by scapegoating Muslims as perpetual outsiders and dangerous threats, all the while invoking his Christian faith to justify his views.

The Christian response to Pompeo’s nomination shouldn’t be grounded in partisan politics, but in theological conviction and moral courage. We must assert with clarity what it means to call Muslims our neighbors at a time when this nation’s most powerful politicians are going out of their way to cast Muslims as our most hated and reviled enemies. We must recommit ourselves to not bearing false witness against our Muslim neighbors at a time when one can say anything about Muslims—including the lie that they don’t condemn terrorism —and not only get away with it, but become Diplomat-in-Chief because of it.

In this age of Islamophobia, to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves—to tell truths about our Muslim neighbors—is to engage in acts of political defiance and resistance. If this sounds disruptive or divisive, so be it. Christian rabble-rousing and agitating may be one of the few things standing between our Muslim neighbors and an unprecedented onslaught of anti-Muslim policies, if and when Pompeo takes his place at Trump’s side as Secretary of State.

By Todd Green

 Todd Green is associate professor of religion at Luther College and a former advisor on Islamophobia at the State Department. He is the author of The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West (Fortress Press, 2015), and the forthcoming Presumed Guilty: Why We Shouldn’t Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism (Fortress Press, 2018).

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