The Mainstreaming of Islamophobia and its Consequences

March against Islamophobia in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 17, 2016. About 200 people gathered in east Minneapolis for a rally and march to denounce hate speech and hate crimes against Muslims. They marched to a nearby Republican Party office to denounce the rhetoric of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. Protesters also denounced government surveillance of the Somali community. Image: Fibonacci Blue / CC.

In his book “The Islamophobia Industry,” Nathan Lean, the research director at Georgetown University’s New Project on Islamophobia, the Bridge Initiative, refers to the group of Islamophobes as “a right-wing cadre of intellectual hucksters, bloggers, politicians, pundits, and religious leaders,” who, in the pre-Trump era, when the book came out (2013), had been working behind the scenes to demonize Islam. Their relative success at the time was due to the fact that “fear sells.”What’s happened since then is that Islamophobes have filled senior positions in the Trump administration, and many became their official or unofficial advisers. As a result, a dark and dismal view of Islam and Muslims became a central concept in decision-making at the highest levels and, at the societal level, Islamophobia is slowly becoming a new normal, leading to a surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

The chief Islamophobe in this administration is, undoubtedly, Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, who is also permanent member of the National Security Council. Bannon, who is dubbed in Washington “Trump’s brain,” was the head of Breitbart News, an internet site that he turned into a forum for the white supremacist, anti-immigration, “Alt-Right” movement. The movement’s motto is “Let’s Make America White Again,” so it is not only anti-Islam, it also targets other minorities, such as blacks, Latinos and others.

Bannon views the world in terms of a clash between the Judeo-Christian World and Islam. What alarms him most is that the West is weakening itself by creating unions, such as the European Union, where strong nationalist states are withering inside them, and where the idea of multiculturalism is gaining dominance. At a meeting in the Vatican in 2014, he described the “War” with Islam in Europe and declared: “To be brutally frank, Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise.”

Bannon played at one time the role of a movie director, to little success. One of his proposed productions in 2007 was a three-part movie under the title “Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Facism (sic) in America.” The opening scene of the movie script was described by the Washington Post in the following terms: “The flag fluttering above the U.S. Capitol is emblazoned with a crescent and star. Chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ rise from the inside of the building. On the screen in bold letters: ‘Islamic State of America.’” The film, which was never produced, speaks of a fifth column in the U.S. made up of Islamic front groups who are the enablers paving “the road to this unique hell on earth.”

Helping Bannon with his Islamophobic agenda are a number of senior appointees in the Trump administration: One of those is Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser, co-author with Bannon of the first ill-fated Executive Order banning citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United Sates (A new order was just signed but will also be challenged in the courts). Miller has been an Islamophobe since high school where, according to the Washington Post, he once wrote a column in the school newspaper titled “A Time to Kill,” urging a violent response to radical Islamists. The nominee for Secretary of Housing, Ben Carson, is another member of the Trump team who has made Islamophobic statements. Muslims could embrace American Democracy, he said, “Only if they are schizophrenic ... because they have two different philosophies boring at you.” He also believes, according to the newspaper the Independent, “that there is a Muslim plot to take over America, called ‘civilizational Jihad.’” The Independent says that the Trump administration already has seven people who have expressed Islamophobic sentiment, and 12 more potential appointees who have openly made anti-Muslim statements. One must add to these, the scores of assistants and regular staff that have been recruited by the above senior officials.

As important perhaps is the army of Islamophobes who have earned the respect of Bannon and who act as his intellectual support group of activists outside the administration. At the top of the list, in terms of widespread activist influence, is Brigitte Gabriel (née Hanan Qahwaji), a Lebanese American from Marjayoun. Gabriel made a career based on her unlikely life story in that town during the first eight years of the Lebanese war. She claims to have lived with her parents, during this period, in a cramped underground bomb shelter eating grass and dandelions. “To get some water, we would crawl under [Muslim] snipers’ bullets to a nearby spring.” The family was finally rescued, she says, by the Israelis when they invaded Lebanon in 1982. Michael Young, senior editor at the Carnegie Middle East Center, called her stories a “con act.”

Gabriel migrated to the U.S. through Israel and established a political group, ACT for America, which she claims has 300,000 members. She is now making a career sowing fear of Islam. Among her statements: “Islamic terrorists “are ... doing exactly what the Quran teaches.” “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.” Muslims worship “something they call ‘Allah’ which is very different from the God we [Christians] believe in.” “America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy: Islam.”

Other supporting activists of Bannon are Pamela Geller of “Stop Islamization of America,” Robert Spencer of “Jihad Watch” and Richard Spencer of “Alt-Right.” But the intellectual power in this cast of characters is undoubtedly Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy. In an interview, Gaffney stated that he is less worried about Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) than by Muslims in the U.S. praying in mosques and recruiting at Muslim students associations and other similar groups engaged in “this stealthy subversive kind of Jihad.” These groups act “like termites, hollow out the structure of the civil society ... for the purpose of creating conditions under which the jihad will succeed.” According to his theory of “civilizational jihad,” American Muslims are secretly trying to take over the American government.

This official attitude against Islam has affected not only public policy, but also attitudes of the common people. A 2016 study by the University of Minnesota found that the disapproval rate of Muslims has doubled, from 26 percent a decade earlier to 46 percent, making Muslims the most disliked group in the country. This was bound to be reflected in a spike in the hate crimes against American Muslims. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims rose 78 percent during 2015, the first year of the presidential campaign. While official FBI data for 2016 have not been released yet, private observations seem to indicate another surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes last year. Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at University of California at San Bernardino, told the New York Times last September that there was another spike in hate crimes against Muslims and that “the rise came even as hate crimes against almost all other groups ... either declined or increased slightly.” Other experts have confirmed this finding. Practically all of them blame this rise on the inflammatory rhetoric of Trump, fed by the chorus of Islamophobes surrounding him.

This mainstreaming of Islamophobia in the U.S. has also emboldened extremism in much of the Western World, from Canada to Australia, but it has most directly and dangerously affected Europe. The desire to return to the nationalist state, away from unions, is on the rise in France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and practically all of Eastern Europe, threatening to dismantle the European Union. It is as if Europe had forgotten that, in the first half of the 20th century, it was indeed composed of nationalist states, and had two world wars.

One of the purposes of the European Union was to avoid such calamities.

Riad Tabbarah is a former ambassador of Lebanon to the United States.

( Source: The Daily Star )


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