Islamophobia Has Been Mainstreamed
The real terror threat to the United States from a very small, but still significantly dangerous sliver of alienated Salafist radicals has been a boon to unrepentant bigots who wish to exploit fear for political purposes in an election cycle. The outsized presence of a small number of real extremists is being advanced as part of a coordinated effort to marginalize and exclude mainstream Muslims in the United States from meaningful participation in society. Unsubstantiated broadsides, particularly against moderate Muslims, not only reprehensibly damages them as individuals, but undermine their ability to build meaningful relationships across faith and political boundaries. Not only does this harm innocent patriotic Muslim Americans and potential allies in the fight against extremists, it shifts resources and attention away from real threats.
If there were any doubt about the mainstreaming of Islamophobia one need look no further than the recent horrendous character assassination broadsides against patriotic federal public servants like the State Department's Huma Abedin and U.S. Special Envoy Rashad Hussein by members of Congress such as Michelle Bachmann in letters sent to federal agencies. Other recent instances of this kind of mainstreaming include the necessity of a Tennessee federal court's order mandating the final inspection of a controversial mosque after a lengthy delay and the appointment of former Army Lt. Gen William Boykin, a fierce critic of Muslims, to the post of executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
Characteristics of Islamophobia
Fareed Zakaria notes, "A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West -- especially in the United States since 9/11." The Anti-Defamation League's Oren Segal, who tracks radical extremism explains that illegitimate criticism comes from those who vilify "the entire Islamic faith by making assertions that there are conspiracies against American values inherent in Islam." Dr. Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine further explains:
In the present moment, Islamophobic discourse is based on the explicit or implicit allegation that immigrant Muslim communities represent an alien and hostile political movement, in this case the so-called "jihadist" international terrorist front led by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. In other words, the idea is not just that Muslims are alien, other and "bad," but that, as an immigrant group, they are a stealthy vanguard of a hostile political and alien cultural movement that seeks to destroy American society and civilization.
Various tenets distinguish the Islamophobes from those offering meaningful insight into
the genuine extremist threat facing the United States.
Shifted Focus From Real Threats
These shotgun style broad screeds against Islam as a faith and Muslims in general, who are categorized as either terrorist sympathizers or naïve has the effect of marginalizing Muslims from meaningful participation in the civic life of America. It also has the effect of shifting resources and the spotlight from real recent events. Scurrilous attacks against all Muslims overshadowed important congressional hearings related to the money laundering capabilities of terrorists through mainstream banking, the potential terror threat from Iran, cyberterror risks, and the ability of undocumented persons to still get flight training in the United States a decade after 9/11. In addition it overshadowed other news like the ability of an Egyptian with apparent connections to a terror group to come to the United States in a diplomatic delegation, the alleged possession of a fake Michigan drivers license by the Bulgaria terror bomber and terror related cases in London and Manchester, England.
For the Islamophobes every Muslim who achieves meaningful participation in public life must be a stealth operator in a conspiracy to undermine the United States with the help of a gullible public of useful idiots. They point to several real and horrendous instances of disingenuous wrongdoing by mainstream criminal or terrorist enabler imposters like Abdurahman al-Amoudi, Sami al-Arian, Anwar al Alakwi and the Holy Land Foundation as evidence of a broad conspiratorial template that they conveniently apply to all Muslims they disagree with irrespective of the evidence.
In both the Red Scare of nearly a century ago, and decades later in the McCarthy era, threats were exploited not for the protection of the country but to its detriment and to the reputations of innocent Americans. Yesterday, CNN showed how far the damage can travel. Demonstrators in Egypt who pelted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade over the weekend relied on American bloggers for their information about a State Department Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.
Almost 60 years ago on June 9, 1954, lawyer Joseph Welch stood up in the Halls of the Senate to Joseph McCarthy in hearings about Communists and the Army:
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
Yesterday, it was another Senator, a hero of mine, who made the case against bigoted innuendo in the strongest of terms on the Senate floor, while Michelle Bachmann was nowhere to be found:
Mr. President: Rarely do I come to the floor of this institution to discuss particular individuals. But I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person's character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness. It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defense of Huma Abedin.
Over the past decade, I have had the pleasure of coming to know Huma during her long and dedicated service to Hillary Rodham Clinton, both in the United States Senate and now in the Department of State. I know Huma to be an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government, who has devoted countless days of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves and looking after its most precious interests. That she has done so while maintaining her characteristic decency, warmth, and good humor is a testament to her ability to bear even the most arduous duties with poise and confidence.
Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.
Recently, it has been alleged that Huma, a Muslim American, is part of a nefarious conspiracy to harm the United States by unduly influencing U.S. foreign policy at the Department of State in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist causes. On June 13, five members of Congress wrote to the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State, demanding that he begin an investigation into the possibility that Huma and other American officials are using their influence to promote the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood within the U.S. government. The information offered to support these serious allegations is based on a report, 'The Muslim Brotherhood in America,' produced by the Center for Security Policy.
To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.
The letter alleges that three members of Huma's family are 'connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.' Never mind that one of those individuals, Huma's father, passed away two decades ago. The letter and the report offer not one instance of an action, a decision, or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department that would lend credence to the charge that she is promoting anti-American activities within our government. Nor does either document offer any evidence of a direct impact that Huma may have had on one of the U.S. policies with which the authors of the letter and the producers of the report find fault. These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma's family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way. These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now.
Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.
Our reputations, our character, are the only things we leave behind when we depart this earth, and unjust attacks that malign the good name of a decent and honorable person is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans.
Some years ago, I had the pleasure, along with my friend, the Senator from South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham, of traveling overseas with our colleague, then-Senator Hillary Clinton. By her side, as always, was Huma, and I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand her hard work and dedicated service on behalf of the former Senator from New York - a service that continues to this day at the Department of State, and bears with it significant personal sacrifice for Huma.
I have every confidence in Huma's loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well. All Americans owe Huma a debt of gratitude for her many years of superior public service. I hope these ugly and unfortunate attacks on her can be immediately brought to an end and put behind us before any further damage is done to a woman, an American, of genuine patriotism and love of country.