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Hussein Ibish

When Islamophobia becomes legit

With the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks coming up this September, there are very disturbing indications that Islamophobia is reaching dangerous, even epidemic proportions in American culture and political life.
 
The most disturbing incident took place in California where right-wing Tea Party activists hurled abuse at Muslim-Americans attending a fundraiser. This outrageous behavior was exacerbated by hate-filled comments from a local councilwoman, Deborah Pauly, who told the protestors, “I know quite a few Marines who would be happy to help these terrorists to a, uh, early meeting in paradise.” Republican Congressmen Ed Royce, who claimed that “multiculturalism … has paralyzed” American society, and Gary Miller, who said, “I’m proud of what you are doing,” irresponsibly egged them on.

The organizers of the fundraiser didn’t help by including as one of the speakers the self-styled Oakland “Imam” Amir Abdel Malik-Ali, who has a history of extremist sentiments. The Muslim-American leadership in California and nationally has not yet taken sufficient steps to make it clear that people like Malik-Ali must be kept very firmly on the margins, not given platforms at events that aspire to respectability. But none of that excuses the conduct of the protesters or, worse, the opportunistic hatred of local politicians.
 
Meanwhile, the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, New York Representative Peter King, is set this week to hold a hearing on the threat of homegrown Muslim terrorism in the United States. This is a serious subject, but King has a long history of making wild accusations against the Muslim-American community generally. In advance of the hearings, he repeated his assertion that Muslim-Americans did not cooperate with law enforcement. In fact, many of the most significant counterterrorism cases cited by the government have involved precisely such cooperation.
 
In response, the deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, spoke before a Muslim audience outside Washington DC on Sunday and insisted that Muslim-Americans were part of the solution, not the problem. The Obama administration has strongly rejected King’s allegations. For his part, King, who was once a passionate supporter of the Irish Republican Army, insists there is no disagreement.
 
Given that the most disturbing recent case of domestic terrorism was an attack on an event featuring Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by an apparently deranged extremist, Jared Lee Loughner, the idea that Muslim extremism is the only serious threat to American domestic security has become harder than ever to defend. At the same time, simply dismissing the prospect of homegrown Muslim extremism isn’t realistic either. The problem with the King hearings is that they are narrowly focused on a single identity group rather than the broader challenges of political extremism and security.
 
Not only is Islamophobic hate-speech entering the American political mainstream, especially on the right, vandalism and other attacks have been increasingly focused on mosques and Islamic centers around the country. The irony is that while there have been disturbing incidents, there have been no repetitions of the 9/11 attacks, or anything remotely like them, in the past decade. Nonetheless, Islamophobic sentiment has been steadily increasing, and is much worse now than it was in the first couple of years following those attacks.
 
The reason for this is that since 2001, the Islamophobic narrative has become coherent and unified, and has been steadily drummed into the heads of far too many Americans. In other words, Islamophobia functions as a powerful instrument of political mobilization not because of the real degree of terrorist threat or level of Muslim extremism, but because the narrative has functioned independently of any verifiable reality. This highlights the difficulty of fighting such a narrative with facts or logic. It has a malevolent life of its own.
 
There are, of course, many on the political right who vocally oppose such hatred. They include small-government activist Grover Norquist, former Bush administration official Suhail Khan, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and many others. But it appears that in recent years the voices of reason have been fighting a losing battle on the right. Islamophobic sentiments were on display at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of American conservatives. And the rallying of right-wing voices against the Park 51 New York City Islamic Center project showed how deeply these ideas have penetrated mainstream conservative thinking.
 
There is money to be made in such hatred, and shameless bigots like Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, David Horowitz and Brigitte Gabriel have turned it into a cottage industry. There are also, even more alarmingly, votes to be had, as Allen West, a retired African-American military officer, demonstrated when he made anti-Muslim rhetoric a centerpiece of his recent successful Florida congressional campaign.
 
As long as people get rewarded for spewing Islamophobic hatred, and American-Muslim organizations keep making stupid mistakes, the situation in the United States is likely to get worse before it gets better. The onus is on both American conservative and Muslim leaders to act responsibly and display courageous leadership to prevent the situation from deteriorating further in the coming years.

Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and blogs at www.Ibishblog.com.

  • wilypagan

    WHEN MISOGYNY BECOMES LEGIT Its name is Shariah. When I see a woman in Hijab, I feel like a free black person seeing another black voluntarily wearing a slave collar. You can talk (or pray) until you are blue in the face, but any system of government or religion which designates half the human race as inferior, treats their testimony as 1/2, cuts their inheritance compared to males, bars them from certain jobs, allows them to be beaten by their husbands, and controls their bodies .... We will never accept such ... in America, .... Be careful Lebanon - ...

    March 10, 2011

  • wilypagan

    xoxo - I'm not sure which of my opinions you are referring to, which you claim most Americans do not share. Are you saying most Americans don't believe in equal rights for women? Don't think we should be able to practice our religion or lack of it in other countries? Don't believe we should be able to eat, drink, wear, or drive whatever we damn well please? Maybe you need to acquaint yourself a little better with how Americans think, since you don't seem to understand us very well.

    March 10, 2011

  • naja

    This is probably one of the most unpleasant discussions I have read recently. Frankly, as far as I am concerned, I'd rather live amongst Americans than amongst America-haters, and equally amongst Muslims than Islam-haters. Witches make for better companions than witch-hunters, in my view. An evil choice, but that's what you guys are leaving decent-minded people with.

    March 9, 2011

  • xoxo

    wilypagan likely most Americas don't share your view just like most Lebanese don't share m fawwazes.

    March 9, 2011

  • toni

    Several churches were burnt in indonesia when a christian man was not sentenced To death for blasphemy. In pakistan a christian minister was killed for wanting to remove blasphemy laws. In egypt a church was burnt following a dispute between christian and muslims. Should I continue ? Who's intolerant? Name me the muslim leaders that condemned those acts?

    March 9, 2011

  • wilypagan

    We bacon eating, beer guzzling, dog loving, Americans are sick of the double standard. When American women can visit Saudi Arabia unaccompanied by a male relative, and can drive their Harleys throughout the country, wearing bikinis, playing loud rock music, and preaching the love of Jesus, then you Muslims have the right to complain about the treatment you receive in the good old USA. Until then , STFU and go back to your hellholes of origin if you don't like it here. It's not just Saudis. Your Egyptian brothers just did a nasty little number on that American journalist. What Muslim majority country is prosperous, democratic, and offers equal rights for all? Looks like you need to remove that speck from your own eye before you start criticizing us.

    March 8, 2011

  • LEBINLON

    can we stop the blame game for a minute please ? as long as muslim leaders are seen coy in condemning extremism, shy in promotting tolerance and downright resistant to liberal, democratic or wetsern values -call it as you want- that makes the essence of the societies they live in, we will have a reciprocal intolerance. where is the surprise ? and note there is a trend across the whole western world. You should listen to Merkel, Cameron and Sarkozy when they declare defunct the multiculturalism model. Yes the West has had it with non-integrated Islam. prepare to deal with it

    March 8, 2011