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Yes, Virginia, Islamophobia Is Racism

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Back in 2007, before Mitt Romney's dreams for clinching the 2008 GOP presidential nomination sputtered to a dismal end, he spoke to The Christian Science Monitor about the makeup of his hypothetical cabinet. "Based on the numbers of African Americans [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified," he said. "But of course, I would imagine that blacks could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Actually, that's not what he said at all. But if you cringed or grimaced or cried "Racist!" after reading that remark, so too should you also be disgusted by what Romney did indeed say. Replace the words "African Americans" with "American Muslims" and "blacks" with "Muslims" and there you have the former Massachusetts governor's actual words:

"Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

In the wake of Michele Bachmann's recent episode of political prostitution in which she tried to make herself relevant (again) by bandying about a ludicrous and loosely sourced claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is leveraging its supposedly nefarious influence on the American government through Huma Abedin, the Muslim Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, card carrying Islamophobes have crawled out of the woodwork insisted that they are not racists or bigots. Rather, they claim to be freedom fighters and lovers and peaceful souls. Louie Gohmert, the Texas representative of "terror baby" fame that rode piggyback on Bachmann's hate fest even gushed that he travels the world far and wide hugging Muslims (but only those who are not secret terrorist operatives).

Gohmert might as well have said: "I'm not a racist. I have a black friend."

Islamophobia is undeniably a form of racism. Though it doesn't operate on overtly biological prejudices, it does divide the world between "superior" and "inferior" cultures, the latter of which are marginalized not only because of their ethnic background (cue up the Arab terrorist jokes, for example) but also because of their belief system. It attributes to the whole community the negative traits of a minority few. And while it's considered shameful today to prejudice African Americans or Jews, Muslims are always safe targets.

To illustrate this point, let's alter the statements of a few prominent anti-Muslim agitators in order to reveal the underlying racism in their harangues.

Remember Herman Cain, the long shot pizza king-turned-presidential candidate whose hypnotic 9-9-9 economic policy was a ruse to distract us from the fact that he paid an old flame (read: mistress) to keep her mouth shut? If not, maybe this will help. Here's an exchange he had with Think Progress's Scott Keyes in 2011:

Keyes: "Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?"

Cain: "No, I will not."

Now, let's alter that just a bit.

Keyes: "Would you be comfortable appointing a Jew either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?"

Cain: (drumroll please) "No, I will not."

Walking back that comment days later, he said that Muslims in his administration would be required to take a special loyalty oath. If such an oath were required of African Americans, for example, it was unclear whether Cain -- himself an African American -- would be subjected to it.

Earlier in the year, Cain gave us this gem:

"Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them."

Let's swap the words "the Muslim religion" with "African Americans" and "infidel" with "white" and see how that reads:

"Based upon the little knowledge that I have of African Americans, you know, they have an objective to convert all whites or kill them."

The key phrase in both instances was "based on upon the little knowledge that I have."

This year on "Fox and Friends," Congress' favorite Islamophobe, Peter King, defended his hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims, speaking to host Brian Kilmeade (who once said that "all blacks are terrorists" and that he supports spying on African American churches -- no, wait, that was Muslims and mosques).

King: "Almost 90 percent of terrorist crimes are carried out by the Muslim community. It's important, for instance, that the NYPD focus on that community and not give into political correctness."

If we swap "the Muslim community" with, say, the "African American community," we get this:

King: "Almost 90 percent of terrorist crimes are carried out by the African American community. It's important, for instance, that the NYPD focus on that community and not give into political correctness."

Imagine the uproar that would have caused.

Still, there's more.

Recently, shrieking blogger and hate group leader Pamela Geller won a preliminary court battle to splatter her Islamophobia on New York City bus ads. The headline at Newsday read: "Pamela Geller Wins Fight to Post Anti-Islam Signs."

Of course, if this were the news -- "Pamela Geller Wins Fight to Post Anti-Jewish Signs" -- all of New York would have erupted, not to mention that she would not have "won" the court hearing in the first place. Geller has also barked that, "Devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service." What would the reaction be if the extraterrestrial queen of Islamophobia had uttered this equally repulsive line: "Devout Jews should be prohibited from military service."

Finally, there's nothing like an occasion dose of insanity from the Tea Party. Wes Harris, the founder and chairman of the Original North Phoenix Tea Party, recently told the Arizona Capitol Times: "Anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country, and that's a fact. There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim."

Replace "a Muslim" with "black" and we have this: "Anyone that is black is a threat to this country, and that's a fact. There is no such thing as a moderate black."

Speaking about the Michele Bachmann affair, Harris opened fire on defenders of Huma Abedin: "Is she a Muslim? Is she an active Muslim? I rest my case. That's all she needs to be."

Using the same substitution, fancy the fallout that would come from this: "Is she black? Is she an active black? I rest my case. That's all she needs to be."

While these hate peddlers and political opportunists like to shield themselves from charges of racism by declaring that Muslims aren't a race, it is abundantly clear that their bigotry against this minority group is grounded in the same blinkered worldview that places humans into exclusive biological categories and ranks them as innately inferior to the larger, dominate group.

Islamophobia is the civil rights issue of our time. If you can't say it about Jews or African Americans (or other minority group), you can't say it about Muslims either.