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American Muslims
10 Years after 9/11

September 11 Memorial

By ABDUS SATTAR GHAZALI

On the second anniversary of the ghastly tragedy of 9/11 I wrote:

“Two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Muslim community in America, victim of guilt by association, remains under siege. Profiled, harassed, reviled, attacked, peeped at by the CIA and the FBI, interrogated and permanently controlled at airports, the whole community felt excluded of American society. After the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were imprisoned in 10 relocation camps in the United States. But after 9/11 2001, the whole country is converted into a virtual detention camp for the Muslims by abridging their civil rights.”

Ten years later, this is true today as the seven-million American Muslims remained besieged  through reconfiguration of US laws, policies and priorities in the post-9/11 era. Alarmingly, the post-911 America has become less friendly to Muslims to the extent that they have probably replaced other minorities - Hispanics, Native Americans and Afro Americans - as targets of discrimination, hate and prejudice. Many American Muslims have a story of discriminative treatment ranging from physical attacks, a nasty gaze, casual comments to workplace harassment, burning mosques and the Qur’ān. Muslims have witnessed the ever-growing marginalisation of their communities.

According to a PEW survey released on August 30, 2011, forty-three per cent had personally experienced harassment in the past year. The survey also said that 52 per cent of Muslim Americans complained that their community is singled out by government for surveillance.

The 9/11 attacks have left a lasting and damaging image for American Muslims who to this day are still fighting stereotypes and a negative image. The challenge that most Muslims face is their concern in the way they dress or their name might make them an easy target for stereotyping. Arab and Muslim Americans increasingly feel targeted by negative media portrayals and concerned about profiling.

 

ANTI-SHARIA BILLS

A decade after 9/11, the backlash against American Muslims shows no signs of improvement and 2010-2011 witnessed a wave of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hatred campaign sweeping the country in the shape of the so-called anti-Sharia bills introduced in about 20 states. The bills were patterned on a template produced by leading Islamophobe David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew, who founded an organisation in 2006 with the acronym SANE (the Society of Americans for National Existence) with the aim of banishing Islam from the US. He proposed a law that would make adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. In February this year Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron and Representative Judd Matheny (both Republicans) had introduced similar bills to make it illegal to follow Islamic moral code which includes religious practices like feet-washing and prayers.

There is fallout on Muslims of these anti-Sharia campaigns which began November 2010 in Oklahoma when the voters by a 70-30 per cent margin passed a ballot question that barred “state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.” The new law – which was widely considered unfairly targeting the Muslim community and blaming it for the non-existent threat of Sharia law in the United States – was blocked by an injunction issued just a few weeks later by federal judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange. The judge argued that the Sharia ban was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and unfairly singled out Muslims.

The anti-Sharia campaigns increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.

Not surprisingly, January 2010 Gallup Poll showed that 53% of Americans have unfavourable views of Islam, more than any other religion, and 43% admit to feeling “at least a little prejudice” toward Muslims. This negative attitude was corroborated in the latest Gallup poll (released on August 2, 2011) which says at least 4 in 10 in every major religious group in the U.S. say Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans, with Jews (66%) saying this.

The non-existent threat of Sharia, or Islamic law, to the American way of life is going to be a major debate topic among Republican presidential candidates this cycle. As the Republican presidential nomination process begins, at least two GOP potential candidates - Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich - are making a name for themselves as the Islamophobia candidates.

The seven-million strong American Muslim community was dismayed at the anti-Muslim sentiment displayed by Republican presidential candidates during June 13, 2011 debate in New Hampshire. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s compared Muslims to Nazis.

Since 9/11, there has been a steady rise in Islamophobia, however during mid-term election campaign there was an exponential rise of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry. Many Religious Right leaders and opportunist politicians asserted repeatedly that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist ‘jihadis.’ There was a substantial increase in the number of political candidates using Islamophobic tactics in an effort to leverage votes, and use such tactics as a platform to enhance their political visibility.

Consequently, Muslims rejected the Republican Party at the polls in 2008 and 2010. According to the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, just 2.2 per cent of Muslims voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008.

As Stephan Salisbury reported, during the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the Beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals. 

 

PETER KING’S MUSLIM PHOBIA

As the cottage industry of self-styled national security experts, pundits, Republican operatives, think-tanks, and advocacy groups have spent years in fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry, Republican head of the Congressional Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King is stoking Islamophbia through his controversial hearings on what he calls the “radicalisation” of the American Muslim community.

In a bid to cast suspicion upon the seven-million strong American Muslim community by stoking anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia, Peter King has held three anti-Muslim hearings so far and hopes to stage more in future. The first hearing, held on March 10, 2011, was denounced by a number of Congressmen, including the former Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. After the shooting in Arizona last January that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) injured and six dead, the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Thompson called for King to expand his focus. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is not Muslim.

On June 15, he continued Muslim witch-hunt with another controversial hearing. The focus of the second hearing was on the “threat of Muslim-American radicalisation in U.S. prisons,” and though King painted the threat as serious, but there was little evidence to support that claim.

Republican Rep. Peter King continued his anti-Muslim witch-hunt on July 27, 2011 with his Congressional hearing on the so-called “radicalisation” of American Muslims.  This time the focus of his hearing was the Somali community. This was King’s third such hearing that came five days after the Oslo Massacre by the right-wing terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik who was perhaps radicalised by a group of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam American bloggers and zealots such as Bat Ye’or, Daniel Pipes, Hugh Fitzgerald, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer Walid Shoebat. Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s top Democrat, pointed to the Norway tragedy as one reason the hearings should not solely focus on Muslim extremists.

Under the guise of reviewing preparedness for any possible terrorist attack, another anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hearing was held by the New York State Senate on, April 8, 2011. Like the similar Muslim-bashing hearings by the Republican Congressman Peter King, the New York hearing drew sharp rebuke by Democrats. In a letter addressed to Republican lawmaker Greg Ball, who called the controversial hearing, 11 Democrats said that the hearing is designed to “isolate and vilify Muslims.”

On March 29, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims by saying a “backlash” which began after the attacks of September 11, 2001, continues against “innocent Muslims, Arabs, south Asians and Sikhs.” American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as other Americans, Durbin said, adding that this is an issue of “not just free exercise of religion but freedom of speech.” Tellingly the hearing was largely ignored by the media.

 

RISE OF ISLAMOPHOBIA

Recent years have witnessed an exponential rise in Islamophobia which should be understood as a potent political tool that is used to exploit fear to gain political mileage. According to the CAIR/UC Berkeley report of June 2011, Muslim-bashing factored into the 2010 midterm elections and is already front and centre in the upcoming presidential campaign. It says that Islamophobia has actually increased since the election of President Barack Obama, with right-wing Republicans feeding on anti-Muslim sentiments and fears over the so-called Sharia law.

The anti-Muslim sentiment in America is being generated by a cottage industry of Muslim bashers and Islamophobic groups.  Some individuals, institutions and groups are at the centre of pushing Islamophobia in America.

A recent report – The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America – by the Centre for American Progress report reveals that more than $42 million from seven foundations over the past decade have helped fan the flames of anti-Muslim hate in America. The top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in the country: Donors Capital Fund, Richard Mellon Scaife foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust, Russell Berrie Foundation, Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund and Fairbrook Foundation.

Not surprisingly, the self-proclaimed Islamic expert Steven Emerson has collected 3.39 million dollars for his for-profit company in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism.  In an investigative report titled “Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear,” Bob Smietana of The Tennessean pointed out that Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances. He went on to say: “Leaders of the so-called “anti-jihad” movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam.

 

GELLER & SPENCER

Tellingly, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, just happen to be among the heroes cited in the 1,500-page manifesto written by Andrew Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist whose anti-Muslim paranoia apparently drove him to kill 77 people, most of them kids, on July 22, 2011. According to the New York Times, Breivik was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers lacing his manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.

Unsurprisingly, on that day, for hours Pamela Geller, Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Dennis Prager, David Horowitz, CNN, Fox News and many others were touting the Oslo massacre as most likely an act of Muslim Jihadists. 

Breivik is apparently an avid fan of U.S.-based anti-Muslim activists such as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes. He lauds the Stop Islamisation of America co-founded by Geller and Spencer. JihadWatch of Robert Spencer was cited 112 times. Breivik cited Robert Spencer 54 times in his manifesto. Pamela Geller, and her blog, Atlas Shrugs, was mentioned 12 times. Daniel Pipes is cited 11 times and his blog danielpipes.org 14 times.

The nexus of Islamophobia and right-wing extremism was clearly on display during last summer’s “Ground Zero mosque” hysteria, which culminated in a rally where Geller and Wilders addressed a crowd that included members of the English Defence League (EDL) waving Israeli flags. Breivik is also a fan of EDL. (to be concluded)



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