The seven-million strong American Muslim community, under siege since the ghastly tragedy of 9/11, is challenged in recent months with a growing anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry sparked by the opposition to the planned Park51 project popularly known as the Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan, New York. The inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the project, actually a cultural center and already approved by the New York City Planning Commission, has stirred hatred toward Muslims in America.
There has been so much fear-mongering and so much misinformation in the debate peddled by bigots and rightwing politicians. The constant vilification of Islam and Muslims over the air on radio talk shows, in newspapers and the Internet is contributing to the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.
The hate speech and fear-mongering has resulted in hate crimes against Muslims and their prayer centers. At least three anti-Muslim acts were reported in one day, on August 24. In New York, taxi driver Ahmed H. Sharif was stabbed after the passenger asked the driver "Are you Muslim?" When the driver said yes, the man slashed him with a knife on the throat, arm and face. The same night a drunk man barged into a Queens (New York) mosque and shouted anti-Muslim slurs at the congregation during the nightly Tarawee prayers. He then proceeded to urinate on the prayer rugs. Anti-Muslim acts are not limited to New York. Several thousand miles away in Madera, California, a mosque was vandalized with a sign reading 'Wake up America, the enemy is here.' Tellingly, earlier last month, a mock pig inscribed with "No Mosque in NYC" was left at a California Islamic center. It was also inscribed with "Remember 9-11" and "MO HAM MED the Pig."
Amid growing anti-Muslim sentiment--stirred up by a raging debate over the Ground Zero mosque, at least two more incidents were reported till August 31. In New YorkState's tiny town, Carlton, five teenagers harassed worshippers at the town mosque. The teenagers were charged with disrupting religious services at the mosque after they honked their car horns and yelled obscenities during one prayer service, and fired a weapon outside of another. In the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro (Tennessee) a fire was reported at the site of a planned Islamic center and mosque. More alarmingly, gunshots were fired when the community members arrived to inspect the site.
All these hate incidents come in an atmosphere of near anti-Muslim hysteria that is currently being generated by the feverish discourse and manufactured controversy over the Ground Zero mosque. It is generating anti-Muslim and anti-Islam public sentiments. A poll on August 29 by the extreme right San Diego, California 760 KFMB AM talk radio station indicated that 70% of those polled are in favor of forced registration for American Muslims in a national database. The same day a poll conducted by Chris Matthews show at the MSNBC revealed that more than half of Republicans polled say they have a negative attitude toward Islam, this compared to only 27% of Democrats. A PEW Institute poll result released on August 24 corroborated the findings of Chris Mathews show. By more than two-to-one (54% to 21%), Republicans expressed an unfavorable opinion of Islam and by more than four-to-one (74% to 17%), Republicans say they agree more with those who object to the building of the Ground Zero Mosque. By contrast, more Democrats agree with the center's supporters than its opponents (by 47% to 39%).
One may ask. If the feverish discourse about the so-called Ground Zero mosque is only about the building of a new mosque or something else? To borrow, Stephan Salisbury of Tom Dispatch, the mosque controversy is not really about a mosque at all; it's about the presence of Muslims in America, and the free-floating anxiety and fear that now dominate the nation's psyche. The dark stain of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry or Islamophobia had spread far and wide long before the controversy erupted. As Salisbury pointed out, "those opposing the construction of the center in New York City are drawing on what amounts to a decade of government-stoked xenophobia about Muslims, now gathering strength and visibility in a nation full of deep economic anxieties and increasingly aggressive far-right grassroots groups."
Since 9/11, there has been a steady rise in Islamophobia, however recent months have seen exponential rise of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry. Many Religious Right leaders and opportunist politicians assert over and over that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist "jihadis.' Over the course of the past year there has been a substantial increase in the number of political candidates using Islamophobic tactics in an effort to leverage votes, and use such tactics as a platform to enhance their political visibility.
Few examples: A Minnesota Republican congressional candidate, Lynne Torgerson, says that the religion of Islam cannot be protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, one of three Republican candidates running for governor, says Islam may be called a "cult" instead of a religion. Ron McNeil, a Florida congressional candidate tells local high and middle class students that Islam is against everything America stands for. Another Florida Republican candidate for Congress, Dan Fanelli, runs television ads in which he points to a white man and asks, "Does this look like a terrorist?" and then turns to an Arab-looking man and asks, "Or this?" A Texas congressional hopeful, Canyon Clowdus, wants no more Muslim immigration to America. The American Family Association also wants a halt to the immigration of Muslims into the U.S. to "protect our national security and preserve our national identity, culture, ideals and values." In Oklahoma an anti-Muslim measure is being pushed for November ballot.
Alarmingly, allegations of anti-Muslim bias are being leveled against the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, that advises the president and other government officials on issues related to religious freedom worldwide. The Washington Post has quoted some past commissioners, staff and former staff of the Commission as saying that the agency is rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism, with commissioners focusing on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background. In particular, they say an anti-Muslim bias runs through the commission's work.