Americans have, in the last 10 years, obviously become far more vocal about Islam than ever before. With a few exceptions, Islam had always been something “over there,” something that the average American didn’t have to think about. The events of September 11th brought Islamic related terrorism into the American living room and set off a new phase of fear and hatred. Suddenly, there was a new industry in creating phobias about Muslims. Mosques went under surveillance, the US went to war against the Taliban and more politicians and media personalities started talking of a struggle between Islam and America. What started as xenophobia, became attacks on Muslims (or non-Muslims who looked “Islamic”) and slowly became a steady drone of Islamophobia as pundits and politicians began to suggest wilder and wilder solutions to heading off the great Muslim threat.
Being anti-Islam became equated with being an American in certain right-wing circles. A Congressional hearing was empaneled to discuss how Muslims in America were becoming “radicalized.” “Writers” (and I use that word as loosely as possible) like Robert Spencer, Michelle Malkin and Pamela Gellar started appearing more frequently on bookshelves and television to spout their hatred of anything related to Islam. A public hysteria campaign was created to respond to the very idea that a new mosque would be opened in New York City. States began to propose, and pass, legislation preventing Shari’a law from becoming a source of legal reference. And, in the darkest instances, mosques were bombed, burned or vandalized.
This is the land of tolerance in the 21st century? Arson attacks on churches make the national news, but if a mosque is attacked, it hardly measures as a blip on the media radar? State and federal government officials waste their time to ensure that Islamic law isn’t going to overwhelm America? Have they actually forgotten where they live?
Peter King is a Republican representative from New York, a state where 9% of anti-Muslim hate crimes are reported and the state with the largest number of mosques. His response to this threat to his constituents, however, was to empanel a hearing in Congress to determine if the United States was facing a threat of domestic radical Islam.
More recently it was revealed that the New York Police Department has been secretly monitoring, or outright spying, on Muslim students across the northeastern United States. This program of espionage on both American citizens and foreign students included monitoring web sites, and using CIA training to spy on students in restaurants, stores and mosques. Undercover NYPD officers infiltrated student organizations to monitor their meetings and members. While there has been a public backlash against the NYPD for these actions, most of it seems to center on the fact that they have violated their jurisdiction, rather than the rights of individuals.
Islamophobia appears to be making itself known in US foreign policy as well. The United States has taken a ridiculous back seat position on the situation in Syria. That conflict is often being described in terms of Shi’a minorities versus Sunni majorities, as if the problem were one of cousins squabbling rather than a formidable military machine massacring civilians. The growing rhetoric for war against Iran seems similarly fueled. There, like Iraq and Afghanistan, the enemies would be Muslim, and this has somehow justified threatening war over a nascent nuclear energy program, a solution that was rarely, if ever, discussed when North Korea was creating its first actual nuclear weapons.
So, is this Islamophobic trend the new anti-Semitism? It is certainly not unique to America. Switzerland recently outlawed building minarets on mosques, while France, Belgium and Spain considered, or passed, legislation outlawing Islamic headscarves or veils. But, it appears to be taking on a life of its own here in the US. Muslim communities are being infiltrated and monitored by law enforcement. More than 20 states are considering legislation against Islamic law, although I have yet to find a reference to what it is they think they are preventing.
By no means do I think that the United States can be equated with Nazi-era Germany in its level of attacks on a religious community, but I see alarming signs that our rhetoric is flirting with that path. I congratulate organizations like the Islamic Circle of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Southern Poverty Law Center for doing their part to combat this un-American principle that is invading our social and political discourse. I can only hope that there are more people are willing to listen to, and learn from, them than are willing to take the bile they hear on TV of the Internet as truth.By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist