By John Esposito
Sep 4, 2011
The July 2011 massacre in Norway was a tragic signal of a metastasizing social cancer — Islamophobia. The Norwegian assassin, Anders Behring Breivik’s, 1500-page manifesto confirmed the dangerous consequences of hate speech that has been spread by American and European xenophobes and websites that are quoted hundreds of times in his fear-filled tract.
Because the small number of extremists responsible for 9/11 and terrorist attacks in Europe and the Muslim world legitimated their acts in the name of Islam, we have seen an exponential increase in the past ten years of hostility and intolerance towards fellow Muslim citizens. This hatred threatens the democratic fabric of American and European societies and impacts not only the safety and civil liberties of Muslims but also, as the attacks in Norway demonstrate, the safety of all citizens.
The broad spectrum of preachers of hate that include politicians, media commentators, Christian Zionist ministers, and biased media and internet sites exploit legitimate concerns about domestic security and engage in a fear-mongering that conflates Islam and the majority of Muslims with a small but deadly minority of militants. The Gallup World Poll revealed that 57% of Americans when asked what they admired about Islam said “nothing” or “I don’t know.” So. too, a Washington Post poll revealed that a shocking 49% of Americans view Islam unfavorably.
In the US, the 2008 presidential elections and the 2010 Congressional elections were marred by politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle who grabbed headlines, using Muslims as convenient scapegoats. Gingrich created a reality that doesn’t exist by calling for a federal law barring US courts from considering Islamic Law as a replacement for U.S. law. Sharron Angle nearly topped him when she falsely suggested that Frankford, Tex., and Dearborn, Mich., were subject to a “Sharia” regime. Park 51 (the so-called “mosque at ground zero”) and anti-mosque and anti-Shariah hysteria across the country revealed the extent to which Islamophobia has gone mainstream in communities from New York to California. In the wake of this irrational emotion and fear, major polls by Time Magazine and The New York Times in August 2010 reported that 33% of those polled believed that Muslim Americans were more sympathetic to terrorists and, in general, 60% of those polled have negative feelings about Muslims.
Despite all the paranoia, what objectively do we know about Muslim Americans? What does empirical evidence tell us? In contrast to the charges that Muslims cannot integrate and cannot be loyal citizens, a major Pew Research Center study (2007) found that most Muslim Americans are “decidedly American” in income, education and attitudes, rejecting extremism by larger margins than Muslim minorities in Europe. http://pewresearch.org/pubs/483/muslim-americans Similarly, a 2009 Gallup report found that 70% of Muslim Americans have a job compared with 64% of the US population. Muslim men have one of the highest employment rates of religious groups. After Jews, Muslims are the most educated religious community in the US. Muslim women are as likely as their male counterparts to have a college degree or higher. 40% of women have a college degree as compared to 29% of Americans overall. http://www.gallup.com/poll/116260/muslim-americans-exemplify-diversity-potential.aspx And how do these Muslims in their communities fight terrorism? Not only did tips from Muslim Americans provide information that helped authorities thwart terrorist plots, but also, as the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security’s study noted, “Muslim Americans have been so concerned about extremists in their midst that they have turned in people who turned out to be undercover informants.” This study also found that the number of Muslim Americans who were arrested for perpetrating terrorist acts dropped from 47 in 2009 to 20 in 2010. (pdf)
Despite much evidence to the contrary, Congressman Peter King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, held controversial hearings on “Radicalization of Muslim Americans,” using legitimate concerns about national security for political gain. King has been consistent in his undocumented claims. In a 2004 interview with Sean Hannity he charged that “no American Muslim leaders are cooperating in the war on terror,” and that “80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.” When challenged, he staunchly insisted, without providing any data or citing any government reports: “I’ll stand by that number of 85 percent. This is an enemy living amongst us”.King and others like him also ignore statements by key government officials like FBI Director Robert S Mueller III, US Attorney General Eric H Holder, and Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, who have all praised the Muslim American community for playing an instrumental role in assisting law enforcement agencies. As Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor to the President commented to Muslims in a speech framing the Obama administration’s strategy to successfully prevent violent extremism:
“You create jobs and opportunity as small business owners and executives of major corporations. You enrich our culture as athletes and entertainers. You lead us as elected officials and Members of Congress. And no one should ever forget that Muslim Americans help keep America safe every day as proud Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Indeed, some of these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and now rest in our hallowed national cemeteries.”
Like other Americans, Muslims also were victims; they too lost loved ones and friends in the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, they have seen their religion vilified and many in the mainstream Muslim majority have been victims of serious abuses — racial profiling, overzealous and illegal arrests and detentions, surveillance, wiretapping and trials using “secret evidence”. A campaign of ethnic profiling followed 9/11. Five thousand Arab and Muslim foreign nationals detained, 8,000 sought out for FBI interviews, 82,000 called in for special registration, not because they were terrorists, but because they were foreigners from Arab or Muslim countries. And still today, the use of tactics such as aggressive informants to “manufacture” crimes in Muslim communities, wiretaps, surveillance and monitoring of mosques without probable cause also remain a source of intimidation and fear. Yet, despite these extreme measures, as the FBI and Homeland Security have stressed, the majority of Muslims remain an integrated part of the American mosaic. It is time to digest the real, verifiable facts, to stop wasting energies on the wrong “enemies” and to use our collective strength to focus, together, on solving the very real problems that America is facing in the 21st century.
John Esposito is a professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is also the director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. This article originally published at Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST)
Source: Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism