A few weeks ago, I was watching the famous documentarian Michael Moore interview with television journalist Lawrence O’Donnell. And I was taken aback by what Michael said in response to the proposal of a Muslim registry, “if they actually go through with this Muslim registry, then I am going to make sure that my name is one of the first names on that registry.” It was very hopeful to hear that good Americans like him will always be there fighting against hate.
The idea of a Muslim registry is a terrifying thought considering something similar was done to the Japanese-Americans during World War II leading to them being placed in internment camps. The newly elected Trump administration had posed the Muslim registry idea during their election campaign for the purpose of national security. No one could have predicted that a few weeks later people would be talking about a “Muslim ban.” In all fairness, the term “Muslim ban” is something that the media is using to cast a 90-day executive order enacted by President Trump stopping immigration from some Muslim Middle-Eastern countries.
I am not going to criticize the executive order. The United States government must figure out with the people of this country if it is something beneficial for us. I only want to highlight the nefarious politics that has drummed up anti-Islamic rhetoric to support some bigoted views of Islam. And this is causing a rise in hatred towards Islam and Muslim-Americans.
In general, the American media landscape has shifted public opinion about various issues that have affected Americans in different ways. The journalistic norm now is that it is not about the actual reporting on political issues anymore, but rather who gets greater media coverage. The 2016 Presidential election is a prime example of this. When it came to President Trump’s media coverage he beat Hillary Clinton by a large margin. The New York Times in March of 2016 reported that Hillary Clinton received $746 million worth of free media versus Donald Trump who received almost $2 billion, while Bernie Sanders was a distant third with $321 million. And when you take even a cursory glance at these amounts you can see a direct correlation with who won in the end. Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the primaries and President Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
The media did a good job of shifting public attention towards a specific candidate by covering their innumerable political gaffes for entertainment purposes more than the quality of what they were saying on their policies. If they wouldn’t have, then President Trump most likely had less chances of winning.
Since 9/11 the American public opinion has shifted against Islam, also prompted by the media. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, Americans were given a chance to rate several groups, religious and non-religious, on a scale of 0 to 100. It was a “feel thermometer” to judge how warmly they receive these groups with 100 being the warmest and 0 the coldest. Muslims were dead last, slightly below atheists, with a rating of 40.
Extreme American right-wing media outlets have the lion’s share in the American media landscape against Islam. They stir up old debunked controversies, sensational news headlines, and propagandist editorials for the platform of the bigoted.
Breitbart News is a product of this kind of media environment. Anti-Islamic bloggers Pamella Gellar and Robert Spencer used sensational headlines and debunked Islam-related controversies to spin up a toxic anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim narrative. Both Gellar and Spencer have been banned from entering the UK due to their divisive and dangerous rhetoric against a specific group. In fact, their rhetoric is so dangerous that it had real loss of life consequences on July 22, 2011. Anders Brevik, a Norwegian terrorist, directly quoted both Gellar’s and Spencer’s writings in his manifesto which he used as a preparation for his planned attack that killed 77 young men and women in Norway on that fateful day.
And finally, we get to Mr. Steve Bannon, former chief editor of Breitbart News, and current chief political strategist of President Trump. It is no coincidence that hate against Islam is noticeably high in America now that Mr. Bannon is shaping policy that reflects it. The current refugee ban was partly his brainchild for stopping immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.
In a recent Time magazine article Breitbart’s former editor Ben Shapiro is quoted to have called him, “one of the worst people I’ve ever dealt with” and “He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war.” Steve Bannon’s magnum opus of hate was a docudrama he co-wrote 10 years ago, and filmed to explain the rise of Islam in America. In it he warns that the United States of America would be turned into the “Islamic States of America.” Considering Mr. Shapiro’s statement, Mr. Bannon’s actions reveal his war with Islam.
Mr. Bannon’s docudrama presents a false and manipulative narrative of the affect Islam would have on America. He does not know or does not care to know that Muslims would still have to abide by the existing US constitution and all the laws of this country. They cannot disobey any of the existing leadership infrastructure in any way per Islamic guidance. This is per a clear injunction in the Holy Quran, “And obey all authority that is over you (Quran 4:60)”.
If you don’t believe me, then go ask a Muslim with a “#MeetAMuslim Ask me anything” sign about it. It is a recent outreach initiative by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association to inform the public about Islam.
When Muslims and non-Muslims are all on the same page about Islam then we will have, real unity beginning to develop in this country. But until then the compassionate statements from good Americans like Mr. Moore who fight hate daily is a strong unifying factor we have. The impact they have today will build our understanding and tolerance for each other tomorrow.