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It wasn’t even a political conversation. My friends had gotten a ride from an Arab cab driver, who talked about his conversion to Christianity. They told us what a nice man he was and how he’d been dismissive of Islam. Then one added, “The Muslims all hate us, you know.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that it was politically incorrect to be prejudiced. The advent of the Bush gang fueled a new wave of bigotry: first against gays and lesbians. Then it extended to the poor who were demonized as shiftless, “irresponsible.”

After 9/11, conservatives began to demonize Muslims. They suggested that any practicing Muslim was a Jihadist and that the Koran (Quran) sanctioned killing of civilians in the pursuit of political objectives. Key ministers on the Christian right picked up this theme. Evangelist Franklin Graham repeatedly criticized Islam, “The God of Islam is not the same God of the Christian or the Judeo-Christian faith. It is a different God, and I believe [Islam is] a very evil and a very wicked religion (sic).” Appearing on CNN, February 24, 2002, Pat Robertson noted , "Mohammed said the second most important duty of a follower of Islam is to wage jihad against the infidels."

In the aftermath of 9/11, Muslims and all those who appeared to be Arabs were subject to various levels of harassment. The recent convictions of Muslims appearing to be terrorist sympathizers is another indication that this are hard times for any American who looks Arab or admits to being a Muslim.

Into this environment stepped Daisy Khan, the executive director of the New York-based ASMA society, “an Islamic cultural and educational organization dedicated to fostering an American-Muslim identity and building bridges between American Muslims and the American public.” Khan notes that Muslims are “coreligionists” who, rather than being intent on Jihad, seek peaceful relations with American and Christians, in general. She decries the Islamophobia in the US as it threatens million of Muslims and deteriorates our relationship with the Middle East.

The Koran is a large work, organized into 114 chapters or “Suras.” According to scholars, some of the passages are ambiguous. As a result, similar to the bible, the Koran can be subject to a wide range of interpretation. Most Christians understand that the Bible contains contradictory messages; for example, the Old Testament says about revenge that the rule is “an eye for an eye,” while the New Testament admonishes believers to “turn the other cheek.”

Most scholars believe that Islam, and indeed the Koran, permits war and violence under very restricted circumstances, primarily self-defense when an Islamic state is under attack. Nonetheless, radical Muslims argue that jihad is justified in the Koran. They claim “The so-called ‘sword verses’ have ‘abrogated’… the verses that permit warfare only in defence. They used these ‘sword verses’ to justify war against unbelievers as a tool of spreading Islam (Qur'an 9:5, 9:29).”

Many Western conservatives focus exclusively on the rhetoric and teachings of radical Muslims. Additionally, they conflate them with the works of secular Arab intellectuals. Writing in the conservative magazine Front Page, Jewish educator David Meir-Levi illustrates this tendency. “To answer the question: ‘Why do they hate us?’ we need look no further than at the Islamofascist leaders worldwide who are confronted with our success, threatened by our freedom, humiliated to the point of fury and violence due to their culture’s emphasis upon shame vs. honor. Rather than learn from us or work with us, they seek to destroy us… In addition, they are buttressed by Arab and pro-Arab intellectuals and professors in the West who re-write history in order to make us believe that this hatred is new and is a function of the fictional crimes of which we are accused.”

Thus, conservatives merge three things: the teachings of radical Muslims, the posturing of Middle-Eastern leaders, and the pontification of Arab intellectuals. The result is equivalent to claiming that George Bush speaks for all Christians.

In an April 20 column televangelist James Robison begins, “The Prophet Mohammad prophesied about a Muslim Messiah, called the Mahdi, who will violently deliver Muslims from oppression and unite the world under Islamic rule.” He observes that many have claimed to be the Mahdi. The latest is “Iran’s President Ahmadinejad [who] seeks to usher in a worldwide reign of radical Islam.” The televangelist concludes with a defense of a preemptive attack on Iran, “President Bush has taken the fight to our enemies, rather than waiting for them to reprise the attacks of 9/11…We will be forced to draw a line against evil somewhere, whether at our own doorsteps or in the desert sands of the Middle East. For the sake of our loved ones and the sake of freedom, we must never let evil committed to destruction and domination prevail anywhere in our world.”

Robison contributes to Islamophobia. He ties an alleged teaching of Mohammad to the political posturing of Ahmadinejad and suggests implicitly that Americans are in a fight with all of Islam. And, of course, argued that the way to deal with this is to have George Bush launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

Each day, Robison’s column and the preaching of other Christian conservatives reach millions of Americans. Their bottom line is deceptively simple: Christians are good and Muslims are bad. It’s time to label this for what it is: religious bigotry of the worst kind. Islamophobia isn’t just wrong, it’s un-American.


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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