Tea Party and the Right

The Right Wing's Relentless Muslim-Bashing: 5 Recent Cases

The conservative establishment is steeped in ugly, rank Islamophobia.

An anti-Muslim protester in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The conservative movement’s Muslim-bashing reached new heights on Monday afternoon, during a panel about—of course—Benghazi, the city in Libya that was the site of an attack that killed four Americans. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported on how the event, organized in part by the influential Heritage Foundation, devolved into ugly Islamophobia after a Muslim woman questioned the panelists’ one-dimensional and bigoted ideas about Islam.  The event predictably featured conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the government, and how the Obama administration is in league with jihadists.

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Milbank’s report focused on Saba Ahmed, an American University law student who told the anti-Muslim panel: “We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam.” Her simple attempt at inserting some facts into the discussion sparked a vitriolic response.

ACT! For America panelist Brigitte Gabriel, who has said the Arab world has “no soul,” asked Ahmed, “Are you an American?”  She also sneered at Ahmed’s point about the vast majority of Muslims being peaceful “by making quotation marks with her fingers when she said the word peaceful,” Milbank wrote.  Gabriel egged on the crowd, who taunted Ahmed, according to Milbank.

The Heritage Foundation panel is attracting a lot of attention. But it’s hardly the first time the Republican establishment has engaged in rank Islamophobia. It’s a staple of the movement, and a political strategy they think works. Fueling anti-Muslim sentiment is about appealing to a base that loathes and fears foreigners—especially if those foreigners can somehow be tied to the wars America is fighting. It’s also a time-tested fundraising strategy.  Many of the GOP’s largest donors, like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess, are big-time Islamophobes.

Here are 4 more recent examples of the right’s relentless Muslim-bashing.

1.  Muslim Brotherhood conspiracies.  Anti-Muslim sentiment directed at the lone Muslim in the audience came during a panel that also engaged in conspiracy theories about how the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over the U.S.  

Frank Gaffney, a former U.S. official who has become a leading light in the anti-Muslim movement, has been the key figure pushing these theories.  The panel was no exception. Gaffney once again claimed that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin has “deep personal” links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political movement active in the Middle East.  (It’s worth noting that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where they are strongest, swore off violence in the 1970s.)

Gaffney’s obsession with supposed Muslim Brotherhood influence in the U.S. led to Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) writing letters about Abedin and the Brotherhood’s penetration into the U.S. government.  

There is no evidence that Abedin, a Muslim-American, is directly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.  But the accusations are not about evidence.  They are primarily a smear to cast aspersions on Muslim-Americans at large.

2. Reaction to Bowe Bergdahl release.  The release of prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban members detained at Guantanamo Bay unleashed a major controversy. It also sparked anti-Muslim sentiment on the right.

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly put Bergdahl’s father, Bob, in the crosshairs.  O’Reilly said that he “looks like a Muslim…[and is] also somewhat sympathetic to Islam.”  The reference to Bob “looking” like a Muslim was because of his long beard, which Bob grew out to mark the time Bowe went missing and also to, according to media accounts, to win some sympathy from the Taliban. Bergdahl’s father also learned some Pashto—the language the Taliban speak—and studied Islam to better understand the circumstances his son was caught up in.

Other Fox News hosts joined in on the action.  Speaking on "Fox and Friends," host Brian Kilmeade said: “He says he was growing his beard because his son was in captivity. Well, your son's out now. So if you really don't— no longer look like a member of the Taliban, you don't have to look like a member of the Taliban. Are you out of razors?"

3.  Debra Burlingame.  The sister of the pilot of one of the planes hijacked on September 11, Burlingame has emerged as a prominent activist who uses her real suffering to bash all Muslims.  She’s firmly in the right-wing camp.  

In 2009, she founded a group called Keep America Safe alongside neoconservative Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of hawkish former vice president, Dick Cheney.  

Most recently, Burlingame has been in the news because of her status as a board member for the 9/11 memorial museum that recently opened.  There have been calls to kick Burlingame off the board for her Islamophobic views. Burlingame recently tweeted: “When are citizens going to rise up and demand the govt acknowledge that Islam is a transnational threat, that govt denial is killing us.” [sic]  

And when Burlingame appeared on Fox to defend herself, she only poured more fuel on the fire.  

She told Fox’s Megyn Kelly: “There’s no such thing as an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims when we know that virtually 80 percent of terror attacks in the world are committed by radical Muslims.”

4. Texas GOP convention.  Earlier this summer, student reporter Heba Said, a Muslim-American, went to a Republican convention in Texas.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was in attendance.

Said wears a hijab, the head-covering that some Muslim women wear.  She encountered vicious Islamophobia during her attempts to report on the convention.  

Said wrote about her experience in the Shorthorn, the University of Texas-Arlington’s newspaper.  

“I attended the convention as a reporter hoping to tell readers about the panel discussions I attended, but I discovered a cult-like hatred that is simply disgusting,” she wrote. “As I walked through the halls, people stopped in their tracks and frowned and shook their heads at me. Panelists threw the word ‘Islamist’ around as if it were perfectly OK, and one man even asked if I felt alone at a meeting. I was referred to as ‘you people’ and ‘y’all Muslims’ more times than I can count. The worst part was the way delegates looked at me, as if I were something to fear when I approached them.”

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.