Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism Book Excerpts
Islamophobia refers to unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam. Such fear and hostility leads to discriminations against Muslims, exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political or social process, stereotyping, the presumption of guilt by association, and finally hate crimes. In twenty-first century America, all of these evils are present and in some quarters tolerated. While America has made major progress in racial harmony, there is still a long road ahead of us to reach our destination when all people are judged on the content of their character and neither on the color of their skin or their faith.
Islamophobia as a term and as a phenomena gained currency in part due to the popular thesis developed by Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington that argued about an impending clash of civilization between Islam and the West. When 9-11 happened, the people already predisposed to viewing Islam with suspicion jumped on this bandwagon and through a multitude of primarily right wing outlets have been successful in creating a climate of extreme prejudice, suspicion and fear against Muslims. This sentiment has also been aided by many pro-Israeli commentators such as Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson, Judith Miller, and Bernard Lewis among many others.
Islamophobia has resulted in the general and unquestioned acceptance of the following:
Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities.
Islam does not share common values with other major faiths.
Islam as a religion is inferior to the West. It is archaic, barbaric and irrational.
Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism.
Islam is a violent political ideology.[i]
As such any criticism by Muslims of American policy towards the Muslim world is dismissed as being “reactionary,” “anti-Semitic” and “irrational.” Mainstream American Muslim organizations are viewed with suspicion and a variety of excuses are put forward for not engaging the American Muslim community.
Such biased attitudes are present despite the fact that Muslim contributions played a significant part in developing a civilization in Europe and history books record the first Muslim arrival in America in 1312 when Mansa Abu Bakr traveled from Mali to South America. Of the estimated 10 million African slaves that came to America a significant percentage was Muslim.[ii] Yet Islam and Muslims remain in Europe and America embedded in stereotypical assumptions and misguided pronouncements regarding beliefs, attitudes and customs.
In 2006 the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) conducted a survey of American Muslim voters. Results show that American Muslim voters are young, highly educated, (62 percent have obtained a bachelor degree or higher. This is double the comparable national figure for registered voters), more than half the community is made up of professionals, 43 percent have a household income of $50,000 or higher, seventy eight are married and the community is religiously diverse (31 percent attend a mosque on a weekly basis; 16 percent attend once or twice a month; 27 percent said they seldom or never attend). The largest segment of the respondents said they consider themselves “just Muslims,” avoiding distinctions like Sunni or Shia. Another 36 percent said they are Sunni and 12 percent said they are Shia. Less than half of 1 percent said they are Salafi, while 2 percent said they are Sufi.[iii]
The survey results also show that American Muslims are integrated in American society—89 percent said they vote regularly; 86 percent said they celebrate the Fourth of July; 64 percent said they fly the U.S. flag; 42 percent said they volunteer for institutions serving the public (compared to 29 percent nationwide in 2005). On social and political issues the views of American Muslims are as follows: 84 percent said Muslims should strongly emphasize shared values with Christians and Jews, 82 percent said terrorist attacks harm American Muslims; 77 percent said Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews do; 69 percent believe a just resolution to the Palestinian cause would improve America’s standing in the Muslim world; 66 percent support working toward normalization of relations with Iran; 55 percent are afraid that the War on Terror has become a war on Islam; only 12 percent believe the war in Iraq was a worthwhile effort; and just 10 percent support the use of the military to spread democracy in other countries. [iv]
Despite such integrative attitudes, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. creates tensions and hinders quicker integration of Muslims. Here are some of the recent results of American public attitude towards Islam and Muslims.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Poll in 2004:
Almost 4 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, about the same number that have a favorable view.
A plurality of Americans (46 percent) believes that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers.[v]
ABC News March, 2005 Poll:
Four months after 9/11, 14 percent believed mainstream Islam encourages violence; today it’s 34 percent.
Today 43 percent think Islam does not teach respect for the beliefs of non-Muslims — up sharply from 22 percent.
People who feel they do understand Islam are much more likely to view it positively. Among Americans who feel they do understand the religion, 59 percent call it peaceful and 46 percent think it teaches respect for the beliefs of others.[vi]
CAIR 2005 Poll on American Attitudes Towards Islam and Muslims:
The level of knowledge of Islam is virtually unchanged from 2004. Only two percent of survey respondents indicated that they are “very knowledgeable” about the religion.
Almost 60 percent said they “are not very knowledgeable” or “not at all knowledgeable” about Islam.
Nearly 10 percent said Muslims believe in a moon god.
Just a little over one-third of survey respondents reported awareness of Muslim leaders condemning terrorism.
A vast majority of Americans said they would change their views about Muslims if Muslims condemn terrorism more strongly, show more concern for Americans or work to improve the status of Muslim women or American image in the Muslim world.[vii]
Cornell University Study:
In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.
Twenty-six percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising.[viii]
Such public attitude translates into discrimination, exclusion and violence. In 2005, CAIR processed a total of 1,972 civil rights complaints, compared to 1,522 cases reported to CAIR in 2004.[ix] This constitutes a 29.6 percent increase in the total number of complaints of anti-Muslim harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment from 2004. For the second straight year, the 1,972 reports also marks the highest number of Muslim civil rights complaints ever reported to CAIR in its twelve-year history. In addition, CAIR received 153 reports of anti-Muslim hate crime complaints, an 8.6 percent increase from the 141 complaints received in 2004.
The impact of Islamophobia is not only seen in these large increases in complaints of discrimination by Muslims but it can have other consequences that will be very detrimental to the overall society. Muslim youth in the West have grown up being preached ideas of plurality, equality and freedom. When such ideas are not applied towards their own empowerment it can lead to disillusionment, social disorder and in the worst cases irrational violence.
Islamophobia also negates one of the greatest strength of America as a multicultural society. The presence of an educated, professional and patriotic class of American Muslims ought to be viewed as a resource and strength as they can greatly aid in improving America’s image in the Muslim world. American Muslims have deep appreciation and love for America just as they have empathy and understanding of the Muslim world. Thus American Muslims can serve as the perfect bridge between America and the Muslim world. To enable this aspiration, American policy makers need to constructively engage American Muslims. American Muslim representation within most policy making circles (congressional or executive) is almost non-existent. Islamophobia prevents meaningful engagement with Muslims as politicians using the calculus of votes and money play it safe by caving into the tyranny of the majority.
The way forward is to develop a sense of urgency that Islamophobia ought to be made unacceptable just as racism and anti-Semitism are in America. Islamophobia is already beginning to erode America’s image and culture. Opinion leaders should view Islam, a faith with diversity, internal differences, having much in common with Christianity and Judaism, as distinctly different but not deficient, and as a partner in America’s future.
Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism:
To appreciate the grave dangers of Islamophobia and anti-Americansim, one must be clear about their essence—what they are and what they are not. A critical study of Islam or Muslims is not Islamophobic. Likewise, a disapproving analysis of American history and government is not anti-American. Contributors to this volume decry the hate directed at a faith community or a people because they happen to be Muslim or American. One can disagree with Islam or with what some Muslims do without having to be hateful. Similarly, one can oppose American policies without hating America as a nation.
These demarcations may sound clear and simple, and yet both Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are on the rise. Anti-Muslim feelings in the United States have increased, especially after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001 (hereafter referred to as 9/11). Between one-fourth and one-third of Americans hold negative views of Islam and Muslims.[x] Opinion leaders, especially on Internet blogs, talk radio, and cable television are increasingly using harsh language to refer to the Islamic faith. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, religious leaders often courted by elected officials and politicians, have called Islam “a wicked religion”, the Prophet Muhammad “a terrorist,” and Muslims “worse than Nazis.”
A global survey of world public opinion about the United States in November 2005 revealed that uneasy feelings were mutual. In five major Muslim-majority countries, from 51 percent to 79 percent of the respondents expressed unfavorable view of the United States. The survey found that sources of dislike were rooted in opposition to American policies in the Muslim world, particularly the war in Iraq and support for Israel.[xi]
While such views do not necessarily meet our definition of anti-Americanism, evidence shows that Muslims do hold strong negative stereotypes of westerners in general and Americans in particular. A June 2006 Pew Research Center poll found “pluralities in all of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed associate Westerners with being greedy, arrogant, immoral, selfish and violent. And solid majorities in Jordan, Turkey and Egypt—as well as a plurality of Muslims in Nigeria—view Westerners as being fanatical.[xii]
Beyond agreeing with negative statements about Americans, there is agitation that invokes anti-American feelings. For example, Muslim radicals blame America for most of the Muslim world’s problems, even in areas where America is not even a player. For example, Bin Laden repeatedly held American imperialism responsible for the persecution of Muslims in the Indian state of Assam.
Bin Laden’s faulty rationale goes like this: the exercise of American power has left Muslims unable to support vulnerable Muslim minorities, such as those in India. But there is no link between the rise of American power and the persecution of Muslims in Assam. In fact the general weakness of Muslim-majority countries predated the rise of American power in global affairs.
The reflective papers contained in Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies shed light on the causes and remedies to Islamophobia and anti-Americanism. Among the questions they attempt to answer are the following: What factors have led to this unfortunate state of affairs? What remedies should be sought to ameliorate prejudice? What is the role of faith leaders in promoting dialogue and tolerance? Can American Muslims bridge the gap of misunderstanding? Most of the following articles suggest that Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are related to one another as well as to politics, policy, the media, and global relations. The contributions draw on American history, religious knowledge, and keen observations of political and historical dynamics.
As suggested clearly throughout this volume, charges of Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are often used as tools in what Louay Safi calls the “war of ideas.” John Voll reminds readers that American history is replete with this “old politics”—the practice of dismissing opponents as unpatriotic elements acting outside the national consensus. Voll shows how this resort to politics by intimidation took place since the early days of the American republic. The term McCarthyism was coined to describe the anti-communist hysteria in the 1940s and 1950s. According to a renowned legal scholar, David Cole, targeting of Muslims after 9/11 is a repeat of that history, which included similar draconian executive orders, problematic administrative procedures, constitutionally questionable prosecutions, inquisitive congressional hearings, and fear-driven public discourse—much of which is based on guilt by association.[xiii]
Islamophobia and anti-Americanism have been fueled by real grievances. Unjust American policies cause anti-American feelings, while terrorism stirs up Islamophobia. Asma Afsaruddin points out that the American projection of power (whether direct or by proxy, as in the case of Israel) has harmed Muslims in several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Louis Cantori reports on attending a public meeting in 2004, at which returning members of the American occupation administration in Iraq expressed exhilaration regarding what they saw as successful American imperialism.
The United States is looking out for its own interests. But many of the world’s Muslims perceive its policies as increasingly, a leading factor in stifling their progress and denying them genuine political reform. There is no doubt that the American invasion of Iraq has reinforced this perception. The false pretext of weapons of mass destruction used to justify this military endeavor added to the already existing fury in many parts of the Muslim world, where people saw the resulting intervention as a campaign having the broad aim of weakening Muslims.
Chip Pitts expounds on another element of American policies that alienate Muslims, arguing that human rights violations fuel anti-American emotions. Chief among the incidents that inflamed the passions of people around the world were the despicable acts of torture at Iraq’s Abu Gharib detention center and other American holding facilities, the legal limbo faced by many Muslims detained by America around the world (including such clearly innocent people as the Canadian citizen Maher Arrar) and who were turned over to other governments to be tortured, and the detention and special registration procedures imposed on thousands of innocent Arab and Muslim immigrants living in America.
Every act of terrorism carried out by extremist Muslims pushes Islmophobes to new extremes. None of the contributors to this volume challenges the truthfulness of this statement. Of course, some may point out that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. But there is no moral justification whatsoever for attacking civilians. Unfortunately, many Muslims feel helpless when it comes to arresting the scourge of terrorism posed by the likes of al-Qaidah because of the political chaos in the Muslim world, which American foreign policy has helped propel for so long.
The U.S. has inherited and maintained the status quo of a Muslim world divided by colonial European powers. The U.S. maintains complex sets of bilateral and multilateral relations with Muslim-majority states, which are ruled for the most part by rulers who have marginalized civil society. Yet supporters of this untenable relationship are the most vocal in demanding that Muslims, who are rendered powerless, turn inward and band together in order to uproot terrorists.
To state this clearly, it seems contradictory for America to deprive Muslims from governing themselves and then to hold them responsible for mischief that results from them losing control (or genuine sovereignty) over their own lives. Yet Islamic activists across the globe condemned 9/11 in no ambiguous manner. American Muslim leaders and major Islamic centers signed on an anti-terror fatwa (religious opinion) issued by major Muslim jurists.[xiv] And Muslim public affairs agencies have maintained regular contacts with law enforcement agencies.
There is a circular cause and effect relationship between Islamophobia and anti-Americanism. Terrorist attacks against Americans are followed by anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy. This in turn reinforced anti-American sentiment and provokes a new round of terrorist attacks. For those like Shanta Premawardhana, who seeks to promote reconciliation, it is pointless to ask which of the two phenomena began first. Suffice it to say that there is a positive relationship between the two, namely, as Islamophobia increases, anti-Americanism is strengthened and vice versa.
Bin Laden’s stretching the line of logic beyond reason and fact in blaming America is clearly anti-American, just as the justification of the War in Iraq on grounds of 9/11 is Islamophobic. In both cases the rationalization of the attacks is made via ideology-based views on history and world affairs assigning responsibility for events not on the basis of linking actors with actions but on grounds that selectively mix geopolitical analyses and visions with ethnic, religious and/or national affiliations.
Dialogue and Reform
In practical terms, legitimate grievances must be addressed to dry up the sources of anger. This is not a call for the United States to relinquish its advantageous military and economic positions to appease others. Nor does it mean that governments in Muslim-majority countries should censor speech in order to prove to the American government that they are cracking down on extremism. As Cantori puts it, it means that the American government should work to resolve or, at the very least, refrain from opposing national liberation movements, because this hostility feeds legitimate resentment against it. He cautions, however, that this may not happen so long as the U.S. government is in the grip of those who believe in an imperial America.[xv]
Obstacles and Catalysts for Change
Serious obstacles limit the chances of a meaningful conversation. Denial is major complicating factor. Claude Selhani shares his experience with a group of Saudi intellectuals who denied that al-Qaidah had a role in 9/11. He reports that they insisted the CIA hatched the attacks to justify the subsequent wars. Such an attitude widens the gap of understanding. Similarly, some Americans deny that Islamophobia exists or that anti-Americanism is related to America’s unjustified militarism and support of oppression. Instead, they claim that Muslims hate America for its freedom and democracy. Public opinion polls in the Muslim world conducted by Western pollsters debunk this Islamophobic myth. The most recent of such surveys was conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes shows that majorities in Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia, four the heavily populated Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, North African, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, oppose attacks on civilians, support the application of Islamic law in their countries, favor democratic governance, and see value in openness to global exchange.[xvi]
Another impediment is condescending attitudes toward others, which eliminate the prospects of building what Alexander calls the “relationships of trust” necessary for a fruitful engagement. Muslims who speak of America as a sick culture contribute to the reinforcement of mistrust. Members of Congress, like Virgil Goode (R-VA), who objected to the preference of Keith Ellison (D-MN), a fellow legislator, to take his oath on the Qur’an reinforce Muslim fear of exclusionary politics.
The media, often the venue transmitting tolerant and intolerant speech, are often accused of promoting stereotypes that feed prejudice. However, media outlets and professionals vary in performance — some are more culturally competent than others. The political and ideological interests feeding them are too diverse; they cannot be lumped together. Hafiz al-Mirazi contends that charges of anti-Americanism against Al-Jazeera are politically motivated and loaded with double standards. He offers the example of its coverage of angry reactions to news about American soldiers flushing the Qur’an down a toilet at the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. American officials accused the satellite television station of hyping anti-American sentiment. This charge, however, was not leveled against Newsweek, the original source of the news. Nor were American television stations criticized for carrying reports of demonstrations against the offensive act.
The media should not be censored on account of having some bad players. However, media personnel should be educated so that all false, unsubstantiated, and taken-out-of-context coverage is replaced by treatment based on sourced facts. Besides the media, academia can benefit from such reform. Scholars are entrusted with educating the public about complex issues. When they choose, instead, to justify the acts of their preferred political and religious leaders, they betray the very function of knowledge production with which society has entrusted them.
Yet, conservative weblogs along with the often labeled “liberal” entertainment industry tend to reinforce very negative stereotypes about Muslim religious and political groups. Such portrayals may sometimes result from the producers’ own ignorance. Jones, however, contends that the negative labeling of others is usually intended to stigmatize and downgrade them for the purpose of social and political control.
Some columnists and “scholars” make use of such labels for the purpose of influencing public opinion and public policy. Neoconservative pundit Frank Gaffney speaks of “moderate Muslims” as “courageous, heroic and often alone.”[xvii] He wants to have it both ways: to be seen as someone who is only against “Islamists” not “Islam”[xviii] and to persuade Americans that there are only a few isolated moderate Muslims who could be liked. So in the mind of this Islamophobe, the moderate label is only a convenient cover for his vilification of Muslims.
Opinion leaders share some blame. Samer Shehata demonstrates how talk-show hosts and divisive religious leaders may have a vested interest in harsh rhetoric. Extremist speech can be effective in rallying support, and extremists have no incentive to change unless their ways are repudiated. When they are challenged by mainstream leaders, they tend to tone down their rhetoric. Talk-show hosts have even apologized in public when their divisive speech began to threaten their financial support base. In general, such repudiation is rare, and thus divisive opinion leaders shoulder some responsibility for provoking mutually reinforcing cycles of Islamophobia and anti-Americanism.
Exploring reconciliation takes the conversation to the group with the highest stakes in this endeavor: American Muslims. Cherrif Bassiouni believes that American Muslims have a great potential of becoming the catalyst for meaningful dialogue, because they are both Muslim and American. While resisting marginalization, they should fight extremism by engaging others constructively and striving to build on the great values of Islam and America. Asma Afsaruddin offers testimony showing that American Muslims are attempting to meet this challenge through their work and personal lives.
[i] See full Islamophobia report by Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. (London, UK, 1997).
[ii] See an extensive account of Muslim slaves in Sylviane A. Diouf Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (New York: NY, New York University Press, 1998).
[iii] CAIR, American Muslim Voters: A Demographic Profile (Washington, DC, October 24, 2006).
[ix] CAIR, The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States, 2006.
[x] Such findings are supported by public opinion polls commissioned by CAIR in 2004 and 2005. See CAIR, American Public Opinion about Islam and Muslims (Washington, DC, 2005).
[xiii] David Cole, “The New McCarthyism: Repeating History in the War on Terrorism,” in Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review Vol. 38, No. 1, 2003, p.1-30.
[xv]Michael Scheuer, former CIA Head of Bin Laden Unit, concurs with this assessment. He used the pseudonym Anonymous in his book Imperial Hubris (Washington, DC: Brassey’s Inc., 2004).
[xvi] PIPA, Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda, (Washington, DC, 2007). The poll was conducted in April. See at: http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/apr07/START_Apr07_rpt.pdf.