There is no doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise. It is no longer an isolated issue that is thriving in some bigotry-ridden corner in Europe. Thanks to its evil promoters, the beast has become a global phenomenon today. One such promoter is the group called Stop the Islamization of Europe (SIOE), which is led by Anders Gravers. As is evident from its motto “Islamophobia is the height of common sense,” the group doesn’t sugar-coat its bigotry. The group has its American equivalent in Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), which was created by anti-Muslim bloggers, bigots and militants Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. One may recall that in 2008, Geller announced that Barack Hussein Obama is not, as previously reported, the son of Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., but rather the illegitimate son of Malcolm X. In a 2009 blog she called for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Sadly, conservative politicians and the media in the USA continue to lend her insanity credence thereby destroying whatever slender base of credibility that they had.
Florida’s Dove World Outreach Center recently announced its plan for "International Burn a Koran Day" on 9/11, as a way to what it claims "stand up for righteousness." These Christian bigots are emboldened by many Republican politicians who are trying to reclaim their leadership amongst the right-wing, conservative, racist and bigoted section of their support base. And for them, fascists by many counts, nothing could be more politically expedient than targeting a minority religion whose 19 members reportedly had the audacity to strike back in a classic blowback style. Obviously, when the hunter gets hunted it is no fun any more; it loses its wit and behaves like a stinking sewage rat. So, the religion of Islam, the faith of 1.5 billion Muslims, has to be evil! What else can explain the “terrorism” of those hijackers on 9/11!
Unfortunately, xenophobia sells, as it did in places like Nazi Germany some eighty years ago. With a deflationary economy that has yet to show a recovery sign from the almost-trillion dollar stimulus package and unending wars in Iraq and Af-Pak territories it is not difficult to fathom why the fascist elements within the American society are selling this poison pill of Islamophobia.
Take for instance the statements made by Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of the Representatives in the USA, in relation to his opposition to the proposed construction of a Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan. The Muslim site is several hundred yards away from the former WTC and yet, if you listen to bigots like Gingrich, it would seem that the proposed site is right in the middle of the Ground Zero. He has argued, among other chauvinist and highly offensive things, that the Muslim congregation shouldn’t build the center because "Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington." Just in one such xenophobic outburst he has equated American Muslims with the Nazis. For years, this immoral politician has been dreaming about a political comeback, and for him nothing could be more opportunistic than selling fear of a growing Islamic polity. Sarah Palin has weighed in, too, in opposing the "Ground Zero mosque." The pain, she said, is "too raw, too real." Surely, with a bastard grandchild now she ought to know this “pain” better than most American grandmas!
Every Republican now imagines to have discovered the winning formula to either get reelected or unseat their Democratic opponent in the coming elections. The message has not lost its mark amongst vulnerable Democratic candidates either. The Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a spineless politician, had no moral qualms in opposing the endorsement of the president. Even the president himself looked less than presidential and credible with his flip-flop remarks to reporters just within 24 hours of his earlier statement in a White House Iftar party that favored the construction of the Muslim cultural center. It was a sickening display that lacked wisdom and courage!
Karl Rove, perhaps former president George W. Bush’s closest adviser in the White House, said in an interview last Wednesday on ABC News that Obama did "real damage to America’s standing in the world by this inconsistent and incoherent answer that he gave Friday night with a different answer on Saturday morning." He is right.
The offensive statements from mainstream politicians against Islam and its people are sure to damage America’s liberal and open society image abroad. The opposition to the proposed Muslim center would be the greatest gift delivered on a platinum plate to the very al-Qaeda that America claims fighting since 9/11.
As I noted earlier, not all politicians are like prostitutes and pimps. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has epitomized religious tolerance with his historic speech at the Governors Island. Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler is another honorable mention in this fight against bigotry. He is New York City’s most outspoken supporter of the Muslim congregation’s right to build the center. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, "It’s disgusting," of the remarks by Gingrich and other Republicans who rarely expressed support for the city. "It is an attempt to exploit for purely political motives a sensitive issue. And to exploit people they obviously don’t really care about." "It’s only a slap in the face if you think that the people in the congregation are responsible for al-Qaeda." "Jews, of all people, should know that we have to support religious liberty," he said. "Because if you can block a mosque, you can block a synagogue."
The sad fact is that many minority Americans may not fathom the wisdom behind such a powerful statement from Nadler unless being victimized themselves in hate crimes. However, it would be utter stupidity to ignore lessons from history!
Many of the opponents to the Muslim project are outsiders who don’t have a clue as to how lower Manhattan even looks like. As noted by a New York columnist red cranes may slowly be rebuilding Ground Zero, but they are surrounded by a vibrant cityscape: doughnut shops and strip clubs and churches and mosques and synagogues and off-track betting parlors and podiatry centers. It would be insane to claim holiness for everything that is located within blocks of the Ground Zero.
As noted by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in a message published in The American Muslim, the Muslim real-estate developer who bought the proposed site fell in love with the patterns of Jewish Community Centers and Y’s in Manhattan. He sought land for such a center where Muslims in Lower Manhattan could reach it –” and was ready to buy space on 23rd Street, till the financing fell through. He was not focused on the tip of Manhattan. But then space did become available –”–”not, as falsely claimed by some anti-Muslim bigots, on “hallowed ground”–”but two long New York City blocks from Ground Zero, and hidden from the WTC site by tall buildings in the way. Thanks to the ill-intentioned propaganda and media carelessness, no, scratch it, call it –” media meddling instead, the Muslim site came to be portrayed as the “Ground Zero Mosque”; all that geography and honorable intention of a proven Muslim visionary and leader Imam Faisel A. Rauf have lost their real meanings today.
It is probably not too late to remind fellow Americans with what our first President George Washington wrote, in a letter to the synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, during his very first year in office. He wrote: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
While it is altogether worthy that our 44th president has echoed the first one — To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance — I wish he had the hindsight and moral fortitude to stand by such messages when push came to shove. He sadly failed there. It is this failure in leadership which has largely contributed to making Islamophobia as mainstream American as apple pie is on a dinner table.
Leaders simply cannot be populists, but must set examples of higher moral values. They must rise above their histories, their constituencies, their pollsters, their circumstances, and their politics to do what is right even though this may not be popular.
As noted by many experts, Islamophobia has become this century’s anti-Semitism. The role of the media is no less deplorable in allowing this dangerous trend to emerge. They must now take the lead to stop this monster before its caustic effects are felt worldwide.
As to the American voters, they can start the very process of nailing a deathblow to this mortal enemy of mankind by refusing to elect the messengers and promoters of hatred and religious intolerance.
So here comes the test for the soul of America: will it cheer lead Islamophobia or put a stopper to it?