America's Embrace of Islamophobia Is New, But Not Surprising
America is hurting itself at home and abroad and what’s worse is that it has yet to wake up and uproot the new hatred in its midst. The crude, anti-Muslim demagoguery filling the stump speeches of Ben Carson and Donald Trump has been reinforced by a similarly toxic current of Islamophobia creeping into the liberal mainstream.
When asked at a public event how to “get rid” of America’s “Muslim problem”, Republican frontrunner Trump answered, “We’ll be looking into that and many other things.” And Ben Carson blithely declared that a Muslim practicing his or her faith should never be allowed to be president, arguing that the tenets of Islam are inconsistent with those of the US Constitution. Who will educate this ignoramus on Islam’s influence on the American Constitution?
Maher recently defended the arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a clock to school, saying that police suspicion of the boy was justified because “there’s only one culture that’s been blowing stuff up for 30 years”.
Conservative rhetoric wasn’t always this Islamophobic. Carson’s own views clearly reflect the change in atmosphere. In his 2011 book America the Beautiful, Carson pointed out the dangers of stereotypes: “There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world and to paint them with a single philosophical brush is just as absurd as trying to characterize the diverse thinking of billions of Christians around the world.”
And previous Republican hopefuls like John McCain famously refused to pander to Islamophobes. For instance, when a Republican voter referred to Barack Obama as “an Arab” during a 2008 presidential campaign event, McCain chastized the woman: “I have to tell you, Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States … He’s a decent family man [and] citizen.” McCain, like President George W Bush in the weeks following 9/11, went to great lengths to make clear that Islam and Muslims are not the enemy.
Unfortunately, the moral fiber exhibited by those moderate Republicans has largely vanished, replaced by candidates who play into misguided American fears of Islam. Polls have found that 39% of Americans believe a Muslim should not be president – that’s as much, if not more, than the entire Republican base. And, the anti-Muslim rhetoric clearly pays off: both Trump and Carson continue to dominate in the polls. In fact, Carson’s campaign reported a major surge in fundraising and social media following his call for barring Muslims from the presidency: he raised nearly $700,000 in 36 hours.
More worryingly, the impact of this growing intolerance is increasingly being felt beyond just the election campaign. Last year, three young Muslims were murdered in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in a suspected Islamophobic attack. Across the United States, Sikhs have been attacked by hate mobs who saw turbans and identified them as Muslims.
And in an ominous development last weekend, hostile protestors in several American cities – some armed with AK-47 assault rifles – gathered outside mosques and listened to hate speeches while worshippers were praying inside. The organizers of these rallies include a group of armed citizen militia, called Oath Keepers, who plan more such events and urge their protestors to bring weapons. In a country where mass shootings occur often the possibility of a further massacre seems increasingly likely.
So what’s behind this growing tide of intolerance? McCain’s decency notwithstanding, the Republican establishment never accepted Obama’s right to be president. Instead, for the past seven years they have relentlessly attacked him as if he were some sort of alien invader. As early as 2011, Donald Trump wrapped his own presidential ambitions in claims that Obama, despite all evidence to the contrary, had not been born in the US. Republican senator Ted Cruz went so far as to accuse president Obama of acting as “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists”.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which was not a mosque, nor at Ground Zero) in 2010 sparked a widespread reaction against Muslims. And although American Muslims see themselves first-and-foremost as US citizens, the atrocities committed 5,000 miles away – and especially the videotaped savagery – by Middle Eastern extremists such as al-Qaida and Isis, has resonated among those who view all Muslims as Fifth Columnists.
Demonizing and alienating Muslims will ultimately damage America’s collective effort to combat extremism. Over a billion Muslims share this planet with us. We all have a responsibility to challenge that climate in the name of the common values, and the fundamental promise of religious freedom that defines America.