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Alive and Kicking

Islamophobia in America

by FAWZIA AFZAL-KHAN

Yesterday, as I was about to board a Metro-north train to Grand Central terminal from the sleepy Hudson-river hamlet of Croton-on-Hudson in upstate New York, approximately an hour north of Manhattan where I have lived with my husband for 30 years and raised two wonderful kids who are now young American adults—I was stunned to see an ad on a billboard staring me in the face from across the train tracks stating the following:

19,250 deadly Islamic attacks since 9/11/01. And counting. It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.

The ad was paid for by two organizations called “Jihad watch.org” and “Atlasshrugged”. Jihad Watch is a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and its Director is a man named Robert Spencer who is the author of twelve books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). According to the Jihadwatch website:

Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the U.S. intelligence community.  Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs (Regnery), is a supposed “expose” of how jihadist groups are advancing their agenda in the U.S. today by means other than terrorist attack. He has also appeared on the BBC, ABC News, CNN, FoxNews’s O’Reilly Factor, the Sean Hannity Show, the Glenn Beck Show, Fox and Friends, and many other Fox programs, PBS, MSNBC, CNBC, C-Span, France24 and Croatia National Televison (HTV), as well as on numerous radio programs including Bill O’Reilly’s Radio Factor, The Mark Levin Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, Bill Bennett’s Morning in America, Michael Savage’s Savage Nation, The Sean Hannity Show, The Alan Colmes Show, The G. Gordon Liddy Show, The Neal Boortz Show, The Michael Medved Show, The Michael Reagan Show, The Rusty Humphries Show, The Larry Elder Show, The Barbara Simpson Show, Vatican Radio, and many others. He has been a featured speaker at Dartmouth College, Stanford University, New York University, Brown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Washington University of St. Louis, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and many other colleges and universities. (http://www.jihadwatch.org/about-robert-spencer.html)

He is coauthor, with Pamela Geller, of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War On America —which brings these two American counterparts of the racist Dutch Islamophobe Geertz Wilders, together in their mission to hunt down and sound the alarm bells against ‘radical Islamists’ who are apparently everywhere in the US (and Europe), and who (according to Spencer and Geller’s allegations with no basis in anything but their own twisted imaginations)–have ties to Al-Qaeda and other so-called terrorist groups, and  who are plotting daily to “take over” the nation with their plans to introduce Shariah (Islamic) Law into the constitution of the US.

While sensible-thinking folk may be tempted to laugh at such canard and dismiss the Spencer-Geller alarmist surveillance blogs tracking sensational events from around the world that cast a negative light on Muslims, alongside the accompanying Islamophic rhetoric and ideology that they espouse on these blogs, in their books and media interviews—my visceral encounter with the Big Brother is Watching You-type of ad in my beloved Croton makes me think that would be a big mistake. That such an ad could spoil the beauty of this town in a region I’ve called home for the past three decades made me quite literally sick to the stomach ( I felt nauseous and developed a pounding headache that lasted into the night despite downing several advils), especially when I thought back to the town’s glorious history of liberal and socialist thought preached and practiced by such illustrious denizens as John Reed and Emma Goldman (remember the movie Reds with Warren Beatty? The house on the Hudson that serves as their meeting place is located on Mt Airy Road, where I’ve biked up many a summer morning, sans hijab, or any plans to take over the neighborhood, never mind the country; my plans are rather more modest: what will I order for breakfast at Grouchy Gabe’s at the end of my bike ride?).

It would be a mistake to dismiss the creeping power of these hateful bloggers, and the powerful conservative think-tanks and global network of supporters [1]that  back them,  because of the pretty obvious influence these folk and their ilk  are exerting on the political and social landscape in the US, especially in this election year.

Shall we connect some of the dots? Here goes:

Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller coauthor and publish a book entitled The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War On America in July 2010. According to various polls conducted from 2010-2012, 1-5 Americans continue to believe that Obama is a Muslim—despite the fact that he and his family attend Church and claim Protestantism as their religion.

Now I wonder if the fact that early in his presidency,  Barack Obama said that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state should happen in 2011 (he backed off that plan pretty quickly, but, I suppose, not quickly enough!), and who also supported the Arab Spring revolutions in the states of Maghreb and in the Middle East, made him anathema to conservative bloggers like Geller and Spencer who support the Israeli right wing? In their book The Post-American Presidency, they also torpedo Obama for what they see as his attack on the values of extreme individualism and the free market economy, and his championing of government’s role in reforming health care and education. In this, Geller is ofcourse touting the ideas of her idol, super-capitalist Ayn Rand.

* Spencer publishes a book entitled Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs in 2008. The effect of this book’s ideas can be measured years later when Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, and four other representatives send letters to top intelligence and security officials in mid July 2012 warning that the Muslim Brotherhood, a global religious Islamic movement whose members have been linked to terrorist groups in the past, may have infiltrated the top levels of U.S. government. They pointed the finger first at Huma Abedin, who is deputy chief of staff  to Secretary Clinton and has been one of her closest aides for nearly two decades. Abedin, who was born in the U.S. and is of Pakistani descent, is married to former Congressman from NY Anthony Weiner, who is a staunch supporter of Israel. So much for facts—as clearly Abedin’s marriage to Weiner belies their claim that Abedin, as a “stealth terrorist” is a Jew-hater!  While several prominent Republican leaders like McCain and Boehner condemned these remarks of Bachmann, one prominent Republican was conspicuously silent on the matter.  “Not only did Romney the man stay silent, his campaign also had nothing to say. No one in the mainstream media, with the exception of Hardball’s Chris Matthews, seems to have noticed. And Matthews only mentioned it in passing,” according to a report in Ecopolitical Economics. Obviously, Romney’s silence on this matter could only endear him to the right wing pro-Israeli presidential backers and funders.

* Spencer coauthors, with Daniel Ali, a book entitled Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (2003); he also authors and publishes Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (2002); Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (2003); Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t (2007). In this latter book, he refutes claims that Islam and Christianity may be morally equivalent, and calls upon all the beneficiaries and heirs of Judeo-Christian Western civilization, whatever their own religious or philosophical perspective may be, to defend it from the global jihad.

So, I ask you, is it surprising that in a media climate saturated with views such as those being espoused by the likes of Spencer and Geller—both of whom have appeared on numerous radio and TV talks shows, with two of Spencer’s books having been on the NYT Bestseller list and countless number of Americans reading their blogs daily– that Rick Santorum, while still a Presidential candidate for the Republican nomination should have had the temerity—and ignorance of Islam’s links to Judaism and Christianity—to say in his speech to his “flock” in South Carolina, that equality “doesn’t come from Islam“ but ”from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” ??!

* Two weeks ago, during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) claimed  that radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week” at a town hall just 15 miles away from the Morton Grove mosque. Subsequent to such an incendiary remark from an elected official–with no proof backing up such an assertion–several attacks against Muslims took place in his district:

1)    An Acid Bomb Attack At School: On August 12, an acid bomb was thrown into Muslim school in Lombard, IL, while the school was being used as a facility for evening Ramadan prayers. Worshippers heard a loud bang against the building and realized that someone had hurled a 7-Up bottle filled with acid and other unidentified materials at the school.

2)    Hate Graffiti In a Muslim Cemetery: On August 16, a visitor to a Muslim cemetery in Evergreen Park, IL discovered that several tombstones had been vandalized with hate graffiti, including racial epithets and insults against Prophet Mohammad. 

Other attacks around the country aimed at Muslim homes and places of worship and community congregation include, but are hardly limited to, the following:

* Mosque’s Welcome Sign Smashed: A North Smithfield, RI mosque was vandalized on August 5, when their welcome sign was smashed with a hammer. After appealing to local police for more protection, the mosque received increased security checks.

* Mosque Burned To Ground: Federal agents are investigating a suspicious fire that burned a Joplin, MO mosque to the ground on August 6. Just a month earlier, a small fire at the same mosque damaged part of it.

* Pig Legs Thrown Into Mosque Site: On August 7, pig parts were thrown onto the site of a proposed Islamic center in southern California. Since consuming pigs is forbidden under Islam, local advocates are asking federal officials to investigate it as a hate crime.

* Shots Fired On Mosque: On August 10, David Conrad fired two pellet-gun shots on the outer wall of a Morton Grove, IL mosque while about 500 people were inside observing evening prayers for Ramadan. No one was injured, but worshipers saw one of the bullets just narrowly miss a a security guard’s head. Conrad is now in police custody.

* Windows Smashed At Christian Arab Church: On August 13, a Christian church in Detroit reported that their building had been vandalized. The church’s pastor, Father Rani Abdulmasih, noted that his Middle Eastern congregation has been racially profiled before.

* Paintball Attack At Mosque: Vandals shot paintballs at the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City on August 13. The attack was caught on the mosque’s surveillance camera, but the police were unable to identify the suspects.

* Molotov Cocktail Thrown Into Muslim Home: In the middle of the night on August 15, a firebomb was thrown at a Muslim home in Panama City, FL. The home’s residents believe that the Molotov cocktail was aimed at a bedroom window, but missed its target. The fire was put out with a hose. Source: http://thinkprogress.org/

Attacks such as the one on the Christian Arab church in Detroit (reported above), as well as the recent shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people and wounded four, demonstrate the fact that anti-Muslim hysteria is closely linked to racism in general against brown and black peoples, (which would also explain 16%-18% of the American populace’s persistence in believing wrongfully that President Obama is a Muslim) and to anti-immigrant zenophobia as well ( such as displayed in persistently stated beliefs that Obama is not a US citizen). The fact that the lone shooter in the rampage against the Sikh temple turned out to be an Army veteran is also unsurprising when one puts him in the context of his  extremist affiliations (he played in a  far-right punk band), and his probable exposure to the many hatred-inciting seminars of Robert Spencer on Islam and jihad prepared and delivered for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the U.S. intelligence community. (http://www.jihadwatch.org/about-robert-spencer.html).

The attacks on Muslims and those thought to be Muslim which I’ve argued, are linked to racism in general, are hardly confined to the US. The terrible massacre of innocent children at summer camp in Norway by Anders Brevik a few years ago can be linked to the hate-speech of bloggers Geller and Spencer who are cited as important influences by Breivik in his Manifesto. While it is reductive and simplistic to argue for a cause-effect relation in most cases, in certain cases like Breivik’s where he is clearly reading and citing these hate-blogs by people like Spencer and Geller, as well as reading reports by organizations such as CSC and The Policy Exchange (which I’ve drawn attention to earlier)–and citing them in his Manifesto and on his own blogsite in laudatory terms, the opposite is true. Philip Weiss in his blog quotes Walt Mearsheimer on this causality issue, wherein Mearsheimer rebuffs notions from Geller et al  that Osama Bin Laden  could have been influenced by his own or Chomsky’s work in the way that their critics claim Breivik’s ideas are inspired by Geller and Spencer and their ilk. Explains Mearsheimer:

As you’d expect, some of Robert Spencer and Pam Geller’s] defenders have pointed out that the late Osama bin Laden also cited some writers favorably, including Noam Chomsky, Michael Scheuer, and yours truly. Bin Laden also mentioned John Perkins (author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) and Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The defenders suggest that these two situations are identical and accuse those who see a link between Breivik and his Islamophobic inspirations of a double standard. This line of defense is pretty silly because it completely ignores conventional notions of causality. Osama bin Laden began his terrorist career over a decade before the authors he cited had even started the books to which he subsequently referred. He didn’t need to read Chomsky, Perkins, Scheuer, or me [Mearsheimer],in order to develop his violently fundamentalist outlook; it was firmly in place long before I wrote one word and wholly at odds with the central views of the people to whom he referred. Indeed, I doubt he ever read my work; if he had, I wonder what he made of our defense of Israel’s right to exist, our condemnation of terrorism in general and al Qaeda in particular, and our explicit denunciations of anti-Semitism? By contrast, it is clear from Breivik’s own statements that his thinking was shaped by the various Islamophobic writers whose work he cites (and whose websites he patronized and posted on). He wasn’t dreaming up terrorist plots 20 years ago and then citing these writers after the fact to justify it; on the contrary, these works apparently helped convince him that radical violence was necessary in part because there was a looming danger to “the West.” Geller, Spencer, and their ilk are not responsible for his specific decisions and actions, of course, but they do bear some responsibility for creating and promoting a vision of cultural conflict that makes such extreme responses more likely.

(Mearsheimer quoted in http://mondoweiss.net/)

I want to conclude this essay by calling readers’ attention to the confluence of several dangerous discourses coalescing in the anti-Muslim ads such as those posted on MTA train stations in NY. Jihadwatch and AtlasShrugged are also behind another series of ads posted on municipal buses in San Francisco and on municipal buses, and here is what these proclaim:

In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.

Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.

(http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/)

The equation of “civilized man” and the State of Israel in this ad is very telling in its racist depiction of the Savage as the absent Arab. A 1974 lecture by American author Ayn Rand, from which the quote for this ad is taken, spells out the anti-Arab prejudice she espouses unequivocally (the Arab standing in metonymically for Muslim by equally racist acolytes of Rand such as Geller). Here are Rand’s own savage comments, which have been echoed by Golda Meir and other past and present leaders of Israel 2:

The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don’t want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don’t wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.

(lecture delivered in 1974)

What this uncritical support and valorization of the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens leads to, as the world has seen in the past 60 years or so since Israel was founded and Palestine reduced to a series of occupied settlements, is ongoing war between unequal opponents in Israel/Palestine.  Such a state of affairs based on injustice toward the Palestinians who have been refugees in their own lands since 1947, with more than 4 million of them displaced in the Palestinian diaspora, has contributed to many of the troubles we face today as the world becomes a full-scale conflict zone from East to West, North to South. The mentality of the Gellers and Spencers of this world has infected the good sense of people on all sides of this and other related debates on human rights worldwide, and exerted undue influence on the foreign policy of the USA; it has shaped presidencies and policies, and now, if unchecked,  such a mentality could bring together discourses of racism, zenophobia, class and gender politics together with Islamophobia, that may push the electorate into voting for people who would lead the country back into the Dark Ages of a second McCarthy era. [2]

Below see an anti-semitic Nazi Party poster for the parliamentary “Reichstag”elections of 1930. The Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party which made the Jews scapegoats for all of Germany’s problems, put up posters showing a sword with a swastika stabbing a snake with a Star of David on its head, labeled with the words ‘Usury, Versailles, Unemployment, War guilt, Marxism, Bolshevism, Lies Deception, Inflation, Locarno, Daves-Pact, Young-Plan, Corruption, Barmat, Kutisker, Sklarek, White slavery, Terror, Civil war’.

In this election the NSDAP (The Nationalist Socialist German workers Party) came out as the second strongest party with 18,3% of the votes. We know what happened shortly thereafter.

Is this what we want to look forward to in America? Perish the thought. We need to fight the twin forces of rising Islamophobia and racism. We need to remain vigilant, and to vote for Obama not because he is the “lesser of two evils” as many on the Left say disgruntedly ( I am guilty of  voicing the same sentiment often)—but because NOT to vote for him would be tantamount to endorsing racism, zenophobia, hatred of women 3 minorities and immigrants. And it would mean we have turned into a nation that supports Islamophobia and its adherents.

FAWZIA AFZAL-KHAN is a Professor and University Distinguished Scholar in the Department of English and Director of Women and Gender Studies at Montclair State University NJ. She is author, most recently, of the controversial memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing up with Girlfriends Pakistani Style (Syracuse University Press 2010; InsanityInk Publications 2011. She can be reached a:khanf@mail.montclair.edu


Notes.

[1] Donors identified in an Al Jazeera report include the neoconservative  Rosenkranz Foundation in the United States, and hardline Zionists such as Stanley Kalms and the late Cyril Stein in the UK. The report reveals that both think-tanks—the Policy Exchange and the Center for Social Cohesion (CSC) in the UK with which Spencer and Geller are linked– share major donors with a number of controversial organizations – including the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, the Israel-Diaspora Trust (an organization founded by the late Rabbi Sidney Brichto, a passionate supporter of Israel and scourge of its critics inside and outside the UK Jewish community) and the Anglo-Israel Association, founded in 1949 by the Christian Zionist Sir Wyndham Deedes. His nephew William Deedes became an editor of the Daily Telegraph and, in 2006, wrote an opinion piece entitled: “Muslims can never conform to our ways”. Another notorious report funded by the Policy Exchange (whose first chairman, Michael Gove, went on to become the UK’s Secretary of State for Education)—claimed to “demonstrate unequivocally that separatist and hate literature, written and disseminated in the name of Islam, is widely available in the UK”, and called for mosques to be made to “clean up their act”. It was subsequently removed from Policy Exchange’s website after the BBC discovered evidence suggesting that its findings had been fabricated. Another report blamed multiculturalism for a rise in “anti-Western ideas” among Muslims and non-Muslim immigrants in the UK. (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/08/20118516304675911.html)

[2] Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin once infamously proclaimed that Palestinians are ‘a beast walking on two legs’, and it was Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir who said that “[The Palestinians] would be crushed like grasshoppers … heads smashed against the boulders and walls.” This is discourse that demonizes, demoralizes and dehumanizes an entire people, and should certainly be considered incitement. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ghassan-khatib/textbooks-grasshoppers-an_b_525885.html

3 Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin and his notion of “legitimate rape” is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Republican right’s misogyny goes.