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AMP Comment - September 6, 2012

American Muslims remain in the dock 11 years after 9/11

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Seven million-strong American Muslim community remained in the dock 11 years after 9/11 with Republican Party’s witch-hunt against Muslims in the U.S. government and meteorite rise in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the 2012 election campaign.

This is an election year and for many hysteria-peddling politicians fear-mongering remains the best tool to exploit the fear among masses fomented by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric by media and extreme right politicians as well as some religious leaders.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has adopted Islamophobia by including a plank in its platform that opposed the imagined threat of Sharia. It will not be too much to say that just as the threat of undocumented immigration is used to justify discrimination against Hispanics, the specter of Shariah is used to justify discrimination against Muslims.

Tellingly, Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state who may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, also pushed an amendment to the GOP platform to support a ban on foreign law (read Islamic law).  Kobach hopes that will give anti-Muslim activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws. In 2011 and 2012, 73 anti-Islam bills were introduced in 31 states. So far, six states have passed the bills.

Hate speech and rhetoric continue to add to the culture of hate and violence and lead to a dramatic surge of violent activity and harassment directed at places of worship. In a climate of increasing fear-based rhetoric, we have seen a rise in hate crimes not only against American Muslims and but also fellow Americans perceived to be Muslim. On August 5, 2012, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee and critically wounded three others, including a police officer. The gunman was later identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with reported links to the white supremacist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States tripled in 2011.The SPLC also reported dramatic expansion in the radical right groups.

Within 10 days of the Sikh Temple shooting there were at least eight attacks and harassment were directed at Mosques, Islamic Institutions and an Arab-Christian church.

Few days after Rep. Walsh told a room of people at a town hall meeting that “Islam is a threat,” an assailant launched a homemade bomb at The College Preparatory School of America -- A private Islamic school in the 8th Congressional District of Illinois, represented by Rep. Walsh. The bomb exploded outside of the mosque, and did not cause any injuries. It was not a coincidence. The facts are clear -- By proclaiming to the public that “Muslims are trying to kill Americans every week,” Walsh raised suspicion of the American Muslim community and incited fear. Hence, Rep. Walsh is responsible for the assailants’ actions.

Muslim Americans are not the only ones impacted from the hate and bigotry. Shortly after vandals defaced the Mother of the Savior Church in Dearborn, MI, the Rev. Rani Abdulmasih wrote to Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) stating, “As a Christian Arab and Middle Eastern congregation, we have sensed the profiling in more ways than one. [...] It is unfortunate that racial profiling, bigotry and racism continues to exist and flourish in our beloved country, as we live under a Constitution that supports freedom, justice and equality for all.”

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with its manufactured controversy over the Park51 Muslim community center in New York City also known as the Ground Zero Mosque, at least 88 American mosques and Islamic centers have been targeted by hate, including 13 acts of violence and 31 acts of vandalism since 2010.

GOP leaders’ rhetoric against Islam and Muslims

A succession of Republican candidates have attempted to run to the right of party favorite Mitt Romney by asserting that only a true conservative can defeat Obama in November, says John Feffer, the author of the just-published Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam. He went to say that most of them boasted of the same powerful backer. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all declared that God asked them to run for higher office. “Together with Newt Gingrich, they have deployed various methods of appealing to their constituencies, but none is more potent than religion. …..ugly Islamophobia has already insinuated itself into the 2012 elections in a potentially more damaging way than the 2008 elections.”

In a national security debate in November 2011, Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and once GOP presidential candidate said he would support profiling Muslims at airport checkpoints as a tactic to protect against terrorist attacks. “Obviously Muslims would be someone you’d look at, absolutely,” Santorum said.

Herman Cain has consistently held a hostile discourse on Islam, belittling almost anything or anyone resonating Muslim. Among many instances we may take as example Cain's opposition to the construction of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., unreasonably arguing that it's not religious discrimination for a community to ban a mosque. On this same line, Cain has also affirmed that he wouldn't appoint Muslims to his cabinet and even suggested to impose a loyalty test on any Muslim before allowing him to serve in his administration.

Tennessee state Republican legislator, Rick Wommick in November last called for the removal of all Muslims serving in the military. In an interview on the sidelines of an anti-Shariah conference in Nashville, TN, Womick told ThinkProgress that he doubts that any devout Muslim could be loyal to the US military. “Personally, I don’t trust one Muslim in our military,” he said.

In July last, Connecticut Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg questioned whether Islam was a peaceful religion and said he believed it was "a cult in many respects." His remarks were made in a radio interview on WNPR's "Where We Live" program. Greenberg said he believes the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, but added that Judeo-Christian values are the fiber of the country and what made it great.

Lou Ann Zelenik, a Republican candidate for Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District, on May 30, 2012 released a statement saying: “Islam does not claim to be a religion, but a social and political system that intends to dominate every facet of our lives and ... dominate it’s (sic) host culture by any means including force and violence.”

Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, a Republican congressional candidate from Arizona questions the presence of “Middle Easterners” in the US by asking, “Why do we want them here, either legally or illegally.” In a video interview last month she said: "If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them, they look Mexican. . .and they mix. . .those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States, so why do we want them here, either legally or illegally."

In July also, Michele Bachmann and several other members of Congress insinuated that Huma Abedin, one of the few American Muslims in a high-level government job, was an agent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. John McCain, Marco Rubio, and John Boehner criticized Bachmann’s smear campaign, but Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Eric Cantor, and Romney adviser John Bolton defended it. To borrow Peter Benart of the Newsweek, Romney, predictably, tried to have it both ways, saying that Bachmann’s attacks “are not things that are part of my campaign,” but that “I’m not going to tell other people what things to talk about.” In other words, I won’t defame American Muslims myself, but if other prominent Republicans want to, go ahead. After receiving threats, Abedin now receives FBI security protection.

Exponential rise in the U.S. anti-Muslim hate groups

Not surprisingly, such anti-Muslim and anti-Islam rhetoric has fomented discrimination, hate and intolerance against the Muslims and prompted the rise of anti-Muslim groups. According to Southern Poverty Law Center (SLP) the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from 10 groups in 2010 to 30 last year. In a special investigative report released in March 2012, the SLP said:

“Anti-Muslim hate groups are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, most of them appearing in the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier anti-Muslim groups tended to be religious in orientation and disputed Islam’s status as a respectable religion. All anti-Muslim hate groups exhibit extreme hostility toward Muslims. The organizations portray those who worship Islam as fundamentally alien and attribute to its followers an inherent set of negative traits. Muslims are depicted as irrational, intolerant and violent, and their faith is frequently depicted as sanctioning pedophilia, marital rape and child marriage. These groups also typically hold conspiratorial views regarding the inherent danger to America posed by its Muslim-American community. Muslims are depicted as a fifth column intent on undermining and eventually replacing American democracy and Western civilization with Islamic despotism. Anti-Muslim hate groups allege that Muslims are trying to subvert the rule of law by imposing on Americans their own Islamic legal system, Shariah law. Anti-Muslim hate groups also broadly defame Islam, which they tend to treat as a monolithic and evil religion. These groups generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.”

Tracing the background to the exponential rise in the anti-Muslim groups, the SLP report pointed out that it was marked by the vilification of Muslims by opportunistic politicians and anti-Muslim activists that began in August 2010, when controversy over a planned Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan reached a fever pitch. “Things got worse later in the year, when Oklahoma residents voted to amend the state constitution to forbid the use of Islamic Shariah law in state courts — a completely unnecessary change, given that the U.S. Constitution rules that out.  The overheated atmosphere generated by these events also helped spur a 50% jump in the FBI’s count of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2010. Then, in March 2011, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) held hearings on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims that seemed meant to demonize them. At the same time, there was a swelling of truly vicious propaganda like this remarkable Jan. 14, 2011, comment from columnist Debbie Schlussel: “They are animals, yes, but a lower form than the dog, as they won’t learn to change their behavior for a carrot or a reward.”

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