Bachmann, like many of her rabid anti-Muslim colleagues, also made a bet that the roar of predictable opposition and negative attention that followed her wild claims would die down. To that end, her gamble was a good one.
Despite the fact that such prominent GOP party members as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Arizona Senator John McCain publicly chastised her, the week-long firestorm quickly dwindled into the dust and ash of old news. Reasonable voices across the political spectrum, momentarily roused into a state of protest over the words of Capitol Hill’s Tenth Most Beautiful Person, soon hushed their harangues and moved on in search of the next sensational and media-grabbing event.
Meanwhile, false allegations, stereotypes, and racist attacks continue. Beyond the spotlight of the capital, Bachmann’s ilk regularly prejudices against American Muslims. Their targets aren’t high-profile aides of the nation’s top diplomat, but rather “everymen” and women who endure slanders and slurs in the absence of a public outcry.
In the weeks and months since the Congresswoman aimed her broomstick at Abedin, a flurry of equally xenophobic episodes have failed to garner the same vocal response. And that’s a problem.
In Tennessee, Republican congressional candidates battling for an August primary victory waged an anti-Islam contest, turning the democratic process into an argument over who is most opposed to a local mosque and sharia law. In Missouri, a mosque in Joplin was burned to the ground. In Oklahoma, another Muslim house of worship came under attack by challengers who called it a “command center for terrorism” and linked it to the Muslim Brotherhood using the same shoddy evidence that formed the foundation of Bachmann’s claims.
Now, Frank Gaffney, the man who whipped up that “evidence,” is targeting anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, charging that he too is an agent of Muslim radicals. “We are in a war,” Gaffney wrote. “And [Norquist] has been working with the enemy for over a decade.”
These are but a recent few examples of a growing national cancer. Despite the fact that American Muslims make up less than one percent of the population, they comprised nearly thirteen percent of religious hate crimes victims in 2010. Ten years after 9/11, polls showed that forty-seven percent of Americans believed that the values of Islam were incompatible with American values. Still today, almost half of Americans hold unfavorable views of Islam.
Islamophobia is a civil rights issue of our time. And while the Bachmann scandal draws attention to the ugliness of this racism du jour, it distorts its depth and consequences. Anti-Muslim hate will not be overcome with occasional gestures of sensibility. It will not be overcome by periodically admonishing those who promote it, nor will it be overcome by reacting only to the sensational and attention-grabbing instances of its manifestation during election years. As Senator McCain said, “What is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be.”
Only by recognizing Islamophobia as a real social illness and forcefully speaking out against it anywhere and everywhere it occurs — whether in the corridors of Washington’s powerful policy makers or the back roads of America’s heartland — will we begin to move beyond this ugly era in our nation’s history.