Islamophobia, a Retrospective

It was the potshot heard round the world that touched off a counter-crusade. Packaged in western free speech cliches, and marketed as innocent satire, the newspaper Jylland-Posten’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist/suicide bomber with a ticking bomb for a turban was “provocation-entrapment” propaganda. Dual-use entertainment, in this case frivolous caricature, is an unexamined aspect of “full spectrum information dominance.” The US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “Information Operations Roadmap” mandates that ‘information warfare’ utilize all cultural venues to further its agenda- news, posters, books, movies, art, internet, and music etc.

Can comedy be far behind? At recent CIA training sessions in Dubai, Iranian opposition agent provocateurs were taught the importance of mockery and ridicule when used to discredit and ‘demythologize’ an enemy or incite against it. Even populist actions like grafitti “could embolden the student movement and provoke a general government crackdown, which could then be used as a pretext to ‘spark’ a mass uprising that appeared to be spontaneous.” (Asia Times, Mar 14, 06). Such provocation tactics operated in the cartoon intifada, as well as in US Embassy-coordinated “color revolutions”.

As a free speech crusader, Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s editor behind the Muhammad cartoons (and ally/author of a Daniel Pipes profile “The Threat from Islam”), had earlier refused to publish denigrating cartoons of Jesus, fearing it would “offend readers.” Jylland-Posten also rescinded sponsorship of a Holocaust cartoon contest for the same reason. Kurt Westergaard, Jylland-Posten’s ‘Muhammad bomb’ illustrator even transcribed a Koranic verse onto Muhammad’s turban to reinforce his message. Westergaard later admitted to The Herald of Glasgow, Scotland that “terrorism” which he said got “spiritual ammunition” from Islam was the inspiration for that message.

If propaganda is a weapon of war, Islam is under carpet bombing. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels described the methods, which define those used today: “Concentrating the fire of all the media on one particular point- a single theme, a single enemy, a single idea- the campaign uses this concentration of all media, but progressively…”

Theme: “War on Terror” Enemy: Muslims. Addressing the 2006 AIPAC “Now is the Time to Stop Iran” Conference, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Gillerman summarized the Idea: “While it may be true- and probably is- that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim.” Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami put it another way: “the West needs an enemy, and this time it is Islam. And Islamophobia becomes part of all policies of the great powers, of hegemonic powers.”

Is Islamophobia de facto state policy? Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi declared in 2001 that Western civilization is superior to the Islamic World: “We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights.” He added that this superiority entitled the West to “occidentalize and conquer new people.” Another Italian official MP Roberto Calderoni flaunted his Muhammad cartoon T-shirt on TV, warning of a an “Islamic attack on the West.” French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced Muslim immigrants “gangrene” and “scum,” and one Danish MP labeled Muslims “a cancer in Denmark.”

In America, Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk commented: “I’m okay with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states.” Texas Congressman Sam Johnson bragged to a crowd of veterans that he had advised Bush to nuke Syria, and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo advocated wiping out Mecca to get even with Muslims for terrorist attacks. Recently the Bush administration itself revealed its plans to “nuke Iran” with bunker buster bombs.

Zionist Daniel Pipes, a representative at the Congress-sponsored think tank US Institute for Peace, (who was appointed by Bush despite heavy public protest against Pipe’s racism) recently diagnosed Muslims as carriers of a sinister, latent psychopathic contagion: “Individuals may appear law-abiding and reasonable, but they are part of a totalitarian movement, and as such, all must be considered potential killers… This is what I have dubbed the Sudden Jihad Syndrome, whereby normal-appearing Muslims abruptly become violent. It has the awful but legitimate consequence of casting suspicion on all Muslims. Who knows whence the next jihadi? How can one be confident a law-abiding Muslim will not suddenly erupt in a homocidal rage?”

Muslims’ angry reactions to the cartoon provocation unwittingly served a goal of Pipe’s Anti-Islamist Institute: “the delegitimation of the Islamists. We seek to have them shunned by the government, the media, the churches, the academy and the corporate world.” For once, Israel, America and Europe were united to protect civilization’s free speech virtues against “crazed, rampaging”, “dirty arabs” or, as Pipes himself once remarked, “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.”

I asked Pipes about the systemic racism and Muslim/Arab ‘terrorist’ stereotypes in the US media. Pipes said: “I would strongly, strongly disagree. There is an enormous amount of media that is very, very positive about Muslims, an enormous amount. I see it everyday. There is a steady stream of media that is very positive about Muslims- steady, steady, steady. I see it everyday- all the time…” When persistently pressed to name five positive stories or Muslim role models among this plethora of good news- authors, academics, lawyers, celebrities etc. Pipes could not give a single example. But he easily supplied numerous names of prominent Arab Americans allegedly ‘linked’ to terrorism.

Despite disclaimers, bigoted, hideous and contemptuous anti-Muslim content continues unabated: hooded corpses in Abu Ghraib displayed by jovial “thumbs up” troops, force-fed hunger strikers at Guantanamo (who Donald Rumsfeld wisecracked were “on a diet”), refugee camps flattened, Palestinians starving, taunts of “Taliban lady boys” after US troops had set fire to Afghan bodies, ubiquitous car bombings, wedding parties crushed, mosques massacred, civilians attacked with cluster bombs and daisy cutters. Depleted uranium mutating future generations, and a thousand Iraqi pilgrims stampeded to death in an hour… In the midst of which President Bush pantomimed & joked about missing WMD’s to an applauding, jeering Radio & Television Correspondents Association that call themselves a press corp. Antics befitting a noncombatant President who greeted the initial bombing of Iraq with pumped fists: “I feel good!” (BBC) “See in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” (George W Bush, 5/24/05)

This state-sponsored smirking has trickled down to spawn a climate of recreational cruelty in the US military. Reflecting anti-Muslim propaganda while perpetuating it, is the “Rumsfeld Contingent” of the armed forces. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, Lt. Gen. William Jerry Boykin propagated hate at the grassroots level in dozens of speeches to church groups, saying that the war on terror was actually spiritual warfare, with the enemy ‘Satan’ being embodied by Islam. Speaking of God versus Allah he said: “Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.” Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld defended Boykin, so it was unsurprising that after Abu Ghraib crimes erupted Boykin found “no pattern of misconduct.”

Dropping down the chain of command, Marine Corp Lt. Gen. James Mattis’s comments were caught by AP. “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.” Drawing on the ‘Muslim misogynist’ stereotype, Mattis added that Muslim men were wife-beaters and continued: “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of alot of fun to shoot them.” Some troops on the ground echoed this “raghead” ethos as they shot Iraqis.

Or shot down their sacred symbols. In May, 2005, worldwide Muslim reaction compelled Newsweek to retract a story about US interrogators flushing the Koran down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld maintained that the revelation was not true, and demanded that Newsweek explain to the Muslim world “the care that the US military takes” to respect Islamic beliefs.

But such behavior had been documented independently elsewhere. The Denver Post: prisoners were “forced to watch copies of the Koran being flushed down toilets” (January, 2005), Financial Times: “they were beaten and had their Korans thrown into toilets” (Oct 28, 2004), NY Daily News: “They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it.” (Aug. 5, 2004), The Independent UK: “Guards allegedly threw prisoners’ Korans into toilets” (Aug 5, 2004), The Observer UK: “copies of the Koran would be trampled on by soldiers and, on one occasion, thrown into a toilet bucket.” (March 14, 2004), Washington Post: “American soldiers insulted Islam by sitting on the Koran or dumping their sacred text into a toilet to taunt them” (March 26, 2003). These were but a few of similar media reports over a period of years.

Other instances of Islamic desecration were also recorded. One online fundraiser sold printed toilet paper with the words “Koran, the Holy Quran” which was then distributed to mosques and the media with a letter claiming the Koran was a “cookbook for terrorists” and incited violence. The Mercury News revealed that flyers posted on a Sacramento National Guard military base extolled World War 1 General John Pershing as a hero for executing “Muslim terrorists” with bullets dipped in pigs blood, thus excluding them from Paradise. WorldNetDaily reported on a US Army Reserve recruit’s contest that used pages from the Koran to make porcine figures. His website showed a paper mache’ pig with a US flag on its back, and included paper mache instructions and links to get free Korans.

Some troop contests were flippant in a physical way. At Camp Nama adjacent to Baghdad Airport, The New York Times reported that detainees were bruised after being used for target practice by soldiers playing in the High Five Paintball Club. Human Rights Watch later assessed that prisoners were sometimes tortured as a form of stress relief for soldiers to help while away the hours. “Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. We did that for amusement.” One soldier added “…it was like a game …for sport..” This R & R earned the 82nd Airborne at FOB Mercury a prized nickname from terrified Iraqis: “Murderous Maniacs”. Departing military personnel who did a ‘good job’ were later awarded by commanders with trophies- a detainee’s black hood, and a piece of tile from the medical office that had once held Saddam Hussein. (After the 1990 Iraq War, one soldier tried to smuggle an Iraqi’s limb home in his duffel bag as a trophy under the first Bush/Cheney administration.)

At Abu Ghraib, Sgt Michael J. Smith laughed and partied with rival dog handlers as they competed to see who could outscare and humiliate Iraqi prisoners (dogs are considered unclean and human contact is forbidden by Islam) by siccing ferocious, violent killer dogs on them. Smith said: “My buddy and I are having a contest to see if we can get them to defecate on themselves because we’ve already had some urinate on themselves.” Then in a show of good canine conscience (or just good sportsmanship), one trainer’s Belgian shepherd turned its back on the detainee and instead attacked the interrogator.

Michael Blake, an Iraq veteran explained that the military indoctinated troops with the idea “Islam is Evil” and “they hate us.” This attitude facilitated the abuse and killing of civilians, and was not just ‘a few bad apples’. (There are around 2000 unreleased torture images). “Most of the guys I was with believed it”, he added. Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, a former 82nd Airborne commander insisted that responsibility for such abuses ultimately lead “directly back to Secretary Rumsfeld,” as an architect of the torture policy.

Lower level troops prosecuted to deflect responsibility from Rumsfeld have also testified that they were following orders from above. An official report in 2005 by the Army Inspector General confirms that authorities at the highest level sanctioned the crimes. The report documented Rumsfeld’s direct, personal briefings by Army Major interrogator Geoffrey Miller.

British Brigadier Alan Sharp (American Bronze Star winner for writing the “coalition campaign plan”) disapproved of the gung ho, swaggering “streak of Hollywood” displayed by US troops. Acknowledging that such “heroics” made for good television back in the States, he warned that heavily armed Americans boasting “how many Iraqis have been killed by US forces today” was no ‘hearts and minds’ winning tool.

But the example had been set after 911 by the “gunslingin’, nuke-totin'” swagger of Cowboy-in-Chief Dubya Bush. His blustering wisecrack “Osama- Wanted: Dead or Alive” mimicked posters of old Hollywood westerns. The New York Times reported that major Tinsel Town executives were working with top Bush advisor Karl Rove to revive the former propaganda partnership between the entertainment industry and the Department of Defense. “Hollywood Now Plays Cowboys and Arabs”, ran one headline. (Ironically, Bush’s grandfather Prescott claimed to have stolen the skull of legendary American Indian warrior Geronimo for his college secret society. It was proudly kept on display as a trophy).

In 2004, the Pentagon previewed its own “coming attractions.” Marines staged a desert “gladiators’ Ben Hur” drill in full historic costume- togas, trojan helmuts, and shields while swinging spiked truncheons to “psych up for a planned invasion” against Fallujah. “Friends, Romans, countryman, fend off their spears. When in Fallujah, do as the Romans do” the New York Post quipped. White phosphorus ‘burning at the stake’ was strictly offscreen. As Lt. Col. Gary Brandl said in the film Fallujah: “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah. And we’re going to destroy him.”

Internet audiences could catch candids of Iraqi dead “just for fun”. At, troops posted photos of bloody faces ground to a pulp. Others showed a birthday candle stuffed into a smashed skull, and various decapitated heads. Evoking Bush’s cowboy spirit, one caption read: “i’m an indian outlaw… look my first scalp.” accepted photos of Iraqi war crimes and atrocities as currency to buy pornography when credit card companies refused to ok payment in dollars.

After a brief outcry from Iraqi expatriates, the site was closed and diverted to an address called There troops laughed and gloated over ‘baked’, charred and hideously disfigured Iraqi cadavers, with captions like “Die, Haji die.” One picture showed a ‘barbecued’ corpse steeped in its own blood and entrails labeled “what every Iraqi should look like.” The US Department of Defense is aware of the site, but it is still accessible to voyeurs despite being in violation of Geneva Conventions.

Unfortunately, this avalanche of damaging associations have increased Americans’ prejudice against Islam. A March 2006 ABC News poll found 46 percent view Islam negatively, up from 39 percent in the months after September 11, 2001. Americans who believe that Islam promotes violence has risen from 14 percent in 2002 to 33 percent today. Former US president Bill Clinton warned: “So now what are we going to do? Replace anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?”

It seems so. In 2005, for the first time since the atomic devastation of Japan, an Associated Press poll found that half of all Americans would approve the use of atomic bombs, especially against terrorist targets. A mushroom cloud of anti-Muslim hate, with a sickly “humorous” spin, has been winning American ‘hearts and minds’ into acceptance of the Bush administration’s nuclear attack against the “axis of evil” terror sponsor- Islamic Republic of Iran.

Meanwhile, another cheap shot has recently been fired at Islam. A provocative ‘Muhammad cartoon’ depicts the Prophet Muhammad cut in half, and burning in Hell, next to a woman among burning coals. Its editor says the cartoon represents policy towards Islam and that any angry reaction to it could serve to further alienate Muslims: “if the cartoon provoked an attack, it would only ‘confirm the idiotic positions’ of Muslim extremists.” Don’t forget to laugh.

TRISH SCHUH was a co-founder of Military Families Support Network and is a member of Military Reporters & Editors covering the middle east.