Nathan Lean is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto Press, $17.00)
Muslims are everywhere. They're hiding out in schools, churches, and Washington's halls of power (not to mention in our closets and beneath our beds), waiting for the next opportunity to jump out and wreak havoc on the Land of the Free.
At least that's the narrative being spun by the Islamophobia industry, a shadowy network of right-wing hucksters who, for the better part of the past 11 years, have drummed up such ludicrous fears and exploited sensible anxieties over terrorism by equating the detestable actions of a fraction with the larger non-violent majority.
Islamophobia is a dangerous and metastasizing social cancer. Mosque burnings, racist bus advertisements, Congressional witch-hunts, and a string of attacks (including recent acid bombs and shootings in Chicago) directed at followers of the Islamic faith are among the nasty effects of this discourse of hate that is ripping apart the pluralistic fabric of America.
These public paroxysms are unquestionably the stuff of the political right. Polls show that. A new survey conducted by the Arab American Institute reveals that 57% of Republican voters view Muslims unfavorably, compared to just 23 percent of Democrats.
Similarly, the Brookings Institute reported last year that two-thirds of Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Fox News viewers think Islam is incompatible with American values. And, in July of this year, Pew Research reported that 1 in 3 Republicans still believe that President Obama is a Muslim, an untruth that is endlessly bandied about as if being a Muslim was a bad thing.
It's no wonder, then, that GOP convention-goers adopted a plank to their platform supporting a ban on Sharia law, an Islamic legal code that sends many conservatives into fits of hyperventilation as they claim it's infiltrating the U.S. Nor is it a surprise either that opportunist politicians like Michele Bachmann would play to such obvious political fodder and fear monger about the Muslim Brotherhood and other boogeymen that spur boisterous reactions from the right.
The same people who brought us "terror babies," "death panels," the "Ground Zero Mosque," "Islamo-fascism," "the Axis of Evil" and other dime-a-dozen memes that turn viral overnight, are purposefully manufacturing fear of Muslims.
Here's a look at eleven dirty lies they are spreading:
Though Congressman Peter King (R-NY) likes to show off his political stripes by countering the supposed threat of violent Muslims, the reality is that Muslim support for violence isn't all that great. In fact, Gallup polling data shows that Muslims, more than any other faith group in the United States, reject attacks against civilians (78%). The same data also shows that nearly all Muslims (92%) have no sympathy for al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. According to scholar Charles Kurzman, global terrorists have only succeeded in recruiting less than 1 in 15,000 Muslims in the past 25 years, and fewer than 1 in 100,000 since 2001. That's hardly the monstrous threat of which the right warns.
Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are integrated politically, economically, and educationally into the social tapestry of America. Pew Research data shows that while more than 60 percent of U.S. Muslims are immigrants, of those, more than 70% are American citizens. Additionally, Muslims' income levels are at, or above, the income levels of the rest of the U.S. population and, according to a 2009 Gallup poll, Muslims have the second-highest level of education among religious groups in the U.S. Gallup also reports that American Muslims are equally as likely to identify with their national identity as they are their religious identity.
In 2010, when the hue and cry over the "Ground Zero Mosque" reached a fevered pitch, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 30 percent of Americans believe that Muslims want to establish Sharia law in the United States. Among Fox News viewers, that number shot upwards to 52 percent. But what do Muslims think? Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, a study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding shows that Muslims are just as unwilling to accept Sharia law as non-Muslims. When asked if American courts should apply Islamic law to non-Muslims, all of the 313 respondents answered no. Only 3 people said they wanted Islamic considerations for civil matters of marriage and inheritance. For all the fuss that's been made over "creeping Sharia," it sure seems to be creeping mighty slowly: not one American court has ever given it priority over the Constitution.
Monsters are scary. Especially the kind that sneak up behind you in the dark on their tiptoes. It's that kind of cartoonish fear mongering that hate group leaders like Robert Spencer advance, pointing to the "radical subversion of America" in such things as Campbell's soup, which offers halal lines of its tasty bisques, fireworks, and high school proms. Like "creeping Sharia," the term "stealth jihad" operates on the premise of a hidden threat. The real threat, though, is individuals like Spencer whose anti-Muslim writings inspired Norway killer Anders Breivik to massacre 77 youth. It is also the recent spike in the number of right-wing hate groups whose members have carried out 56% of all terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 1995.
Islamophobes can't decide how Muslims are supposedly taking over the United States. They often say it's slowly and stealthily, but then, in the same breath, proclaim that Muslims are breeding like rabbits, spreading their influence throughout the West a dozen newborn babies at the time. Neither story is true. As Doug Sanders points out in his new book, <em>The Myth of the Muslim Tide</em>, conspiracy theories about mass Muslim migration are deflated by actual data. In 2010, the American Muslim population was estimated at 2.6 million. By the year 2030, it would be 6.2 million, or an underwhelming 2.7 percent of the entire populace. That's on par with Jews and Episcopalians.
Though blogger Pamela Geller's racist bus advertisements in Manhattan and San Francisco would have you believe otherwise, Gallup polling from 2008 to 2011 shows that animosity between Muslims and Jews isn't all that it's hyped up to be. Eighty-one percent of Muslim Americans support a future in which Israel and Palestine coexist alongside one another peacefully. That's three points higher than Jewish Americans, 78% of whom report feeling the same way. In August of last year, Pew reported similar findings, suggesting that 62% of American Muslims support the existence of the state of Israel and believe that Middle East peace is possible. But bigots like Geller don't normally care for data or facts.
Pitting the majority against the minority is the modus operandi of racism and prejudice. Suggesting that Muslims, a minority group, hate Christians, who comprise the majority, is an example of this. But the facts tell us otherwise. Get this -- in a ComRes study for the BBC in London, nearly 80% of Muslims said that Christianity should guide Britain. That number was higher than Christians themselves, only 70% of whom said the same thing. In the U.S., the two faith groups have worked closely for years. Recently, Christians came to the aid of their Muslim neighbors after vicious mosque attacks. And, to the everlasting discredit of Islamophobes, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi recently appointed a Christian woman as one of his top advisors. Never mind the fact that Muslims recognize and love Jesus and have an entire chapter of the Quran devoted to his mother, Mary.
If Muslim women are oppressed, they don't seem to know it. A 2005 Gallup survey shows that Muslim women are more educated than women in every other religious group except Jews, with 43% of them holding an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. That's compared to 29% of American women overall. Also, Muslim American women are as likely as Muslim men to work outside the home and, compared to women of other faiths, their incomes are more equal to men. Additionally, they attend mosques as frequently as Muslim men. According to scholar Doug Sanders, 90% of Muslims in the U.S. say that women should have the right to work outside the home.
Michele Bachmann's map showing the Muslim Brotherhood's alleged infiltration of the government looked more like a maze in the Sunday newspaper than any bonafide piece of evidence. That's because the Muslim Brotherhood does not exist in the United States. In fact, since 1979, the only relationship Washington has had with Egypt has been with those people who are most opposed to the Brotherhood: the military. Former Assistant Secretary for the Near East, Richard Murphy, said that he was not aware of a single connection between the Brotherhood and the CIA during his tenure at the State Department. And that would seem about right, especially since Bachmann couldn't provide proof that her claims were based on anything other than delusional speculation.
In addition to his birth certificate, maybe the Commander in Chief should obtain some sort of religious identity card. Folks on the right who believe that he's a foreigner (and who also endorse voter identity cards) would just love that. According to Pew, 17 percent of registered voters believe that Obama is a Muslim. And frighteningly, nearly half of all Republican voters in Mississippi and Alabama believe the same thing (one in four of them also believe that his parents' interracial marriage should have been illegal). Despite the fact that he has publicly professed his Christian faith, and regularly attends church services, some bigots like disgraced country music star Hank Williams Jr., just can't stop mixing their hatred of blacks with their hatred of Muslims.
When a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was recently burned to the ground by right-wing extremists, a campaign to rebuild it brought in more than $400 thousand, the plurality of which came from online donations from American citizens. In fact, most mosques in the United States are supported by their local congregations who give regular donations much like Christian gives tithes, to fund projects, pay clergy, and maintain the premises. While Islamophobes like to shriek about "foreign influence" inside America, it's actually the United States government that funds mosques, churches, and synagogue construction projects overseas as part of its cultural preservation initiative. Started by President Clinton in late 2000, the first funds were announced and dispersed by President George W. Bush in 2001. How will the far right spin that dose of reality?
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