The rise of anti-Muslim hate

FROM ATTACKS at mosques and mobilizations against proposed mosque sites, to physical attacks on Muslims and Koran burnings, racism in the United States against Muslims and Arabs has reached new heights in recent months.

At the center of this storm has been the proposal to build an Islamic community center called Cordoba House—recently renamed Park51—two blocks from “Ground Zero,” the site of the World Trade Center towers destroyed on September 11, 2001. What began as a fairly non-controversial project, and one moreover that had the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other New York City politicians, turned into a grave affront to the victims of 9/11 within a matter of a few months.

The effort to brand the center as the “victory mosque” was led by far right-wing groups associated with the Tea Party movement. These forces along with sections of the Republican Party were so successful in setting the terms of debate that anywhere between 541 and 682 percent of Americans expressed opposition to the project at its proposed location.

The speed at which the campaign against the project was able to shift public opinion—in spite of the fact that the current building, the former site of a Burlington Coat Factory, has been used as a Muslim prayer center for two years, and is located two and a half long Manhattan blocks from the site of the Twin Towers, in a neighborhood which includes a strip club and an off-track betting office—is a strong indication of how politicians, the media, and popular culture have successfully demonized Muslims in the United States over the past several years.

Cordoba House: The beginnings 
In 2009, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has served as a cleric in the downtown Manhattan area for over a quarter century, proposed the construction of a community center modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and the 92nd Street Y. The goal of the center was to promote greater understanding of the Muslim community.

The name “Cordoba House” refers to the city of Cordoba in Spain, which during Europe’s “Dark Ages” was a leading cultural center of the Muslim empire that ruled the Iberian penninsula. Cordoba represented not only a high point of intellectual development, but also marked a period of peaceful co-existence among Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

Imam Rauf, who positions himself as a “moderate Muslim” (he gave training speeches for the FBI and the State Department after 9/11), envisioned a community center with recreation facilities like a swimming pool, basketball court, gym, a culinary school, art studios, a child care center, and badly needed prayer space for the Muslim community in downtown Manhattan. His vision was to enable people of all faiths to interact.

The project was so non-threatening that even Mayor Bloomberg gave his support to it, and when the controversy hit, defended it in a speech delivered on August 3 with the Statue of Liberty in the background.When the New York Times ran a front-page story in December 2009, the overall tone was positive. The Times quoted Feisal saying, “We want to push back against the extremists.”4 A mother of a 9/11 victim also publicly backed the Islamic center.5

The project was even applauded by right-wing Fox anchor Laura Ingraham. While Ingraham, in an interview with Cordoba House co-founder Daisy Khan in December 2009, could barely hold back her anti-Muslim prejudices, arguing that Muslim majority countries from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon are intolerant toward Christians, she nevertheless gave her support to Khan, saying, “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it.… I like what you’re trying to do.”6

On May 6, 2010, the New York City Community Board voted unanimously to approve the project.

Enter Stop Islamization of America 
As Salon reporter Justin Elliott has documented, the Cordoba House project did not begin to become controversial until May 2010.

In response to the Community Board’s decision, Pamela Geller, a right-wing blogger, posted an entry titled, “Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction.” In it, she wrote, “This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.” The next day her group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launched “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!”7

Stop Islamization of America, premised on the notion that Muslims are conspiring to take over the United States, called a protest for May 29 against what Geller called the “911 Monster Mosque.”

Geller is a fan of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (and the feeling is mutual, given his glowing blurb for the book she co-authored on the Obama presidency), and an admirer of open fascists and street gangs such as the English Defense League that routinely attack Muslims and immigrants. She once claimed that Black South Africans were launching a “genocide” against whites.8 A staunch Zionist, in an Israeli column she calls the term “Palestinian” “fallacious,” and she exhorted Israelis to, “Stand loud and proud. Give up nothing. Turn over not a pebble. For every rocket fired, drop a MOAB. Take back Gaza. Secure Judea and Samaria.”9

Subsequently, the New York Post ran articles that extensively quoted Geller and her vitriolic rhetoric. One article claimed falsely that Cordoba House’s opening date was set for September 11, 2011. This was the moment, Elliott suggests, when this story spread like wildfire, gaining media attention not only on Fox and other conservative outlets, but also the mainstream media.

Yet, the community center was still far from becoming a symbol of Muslim “insensitivity.” When Mark Williams, a Tea Party leader, attacked Imam Rauf, New York City politicians came out against him and asserted their support for the center.10

Williams’s comments on his blog were despicable. He wrote:

The animals of allah for whom any day is a great day for a massacre are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13 story monument to the 9/11 Muslims who hijacked those 4 airliners.

The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god and a “cultural center” to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult.11

Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin soon added their voices to the “debate.” Gingrich ranted that “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”12

It is interesting that Newt chose to bring up the Japanese in connection with Pearl Harbor. We will return shortly to the process whereby over one hundred thousand men, women, and children of Japanese descent were imprisoned and put into concentration camps during the Second World War.13

After May, more and more voices critical of the project started to find a home in the mainstream media. The Anti-Defamation League weighed in, saying that it was insensitive to build the center “in the shadow” of the World Trade Center because it would cause pain to the victims of 9/11.14 Rudy Giuliani called the mosque a “desecration.”15

To be sure, some of the mainstream media defended Muslims, the Muslim center, and by extension, the image of the United States as a multiracial and tolerant society. Several mainstream liberal figures such as Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert also took a tough line against the bigots and exposed the racism at the heart of their project.

The New York Times featured a front-page story titled “When an Arab enclave thrived in downtown,” advancing the proposition that Arabs (and Muslims) are an integral part of American society.16 Time magazine did a cover story that asked “Is America Islamophobic?” Under the aforementioned question on the cover is the symbol of Islam, the crescent and star, filled in with the U.S. flag.

Yet this coverage was also contradictory. While Time magazine defended Muslims against racist attacks, the article stopped short of showing the connections between Islamophobia and the “war on terror.” Moreover, the previous cover of Time featured an Afghan woman whose nose has been cut off with the title “What happens if we leave Afghanistan,” both reinforcing the connection between Islam and violence against women, and recycling the old “white man’s burden” argument.17

You can’t fight the right from the center
It’s clear that the Republican right saw the mosque controversy as an opportunity in an election cycle to stir up scapegoating and put the Democrats on the defensive. And they succeeded. Democratic Party politicians were at best neutral and at worst downright hostile to the community center.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi articulated her opinion of the controversy by asking who was funding the opposition. The following day, she added that the location of the project was a “local decision,” and that freedom of religion was a constitutional right.18 This rather tepid defense pales in comparison to the rhetoric used by the other side.

Pelosi’s counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, decided to speak out against the project. Stating that while the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, he believed that the “mosque should be built someplace else.”19 Jeff Greene, running in the U.S. Senate primary in Florida, stated that, “Common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else.”20

Then came the response of the liberal Democrat Howard Dean who argued that this was “a real affront to people who lost their lives” in the 9/11 attacks. In an interview with a New York radio station, he said he would like to see the center built in another, less controversial, location.21

In the midst of this, President Obama, who had earlier supported the project, then qualified his statements by saying that while he supports the religious rights of all people, he was not in saying this commenting “on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”22 This vacillation by Obama is part of a larger pattern where he takes a position, but then quickly adapts it in response to right-wing pressure.

When Gainesville, Florida, minister Terry Jones announced his plan to burn the Koran on September 11, Obama’s argument was not that such an act was offensive, an attack on religious freedom, or reminiscent of the cross burnings in the South, but that it threatened “national security” and that it would put U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in “harms way.”

“This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities,” Obama remarked.23 As if Obama’s foreign policy—predator drone attacks that kill civilians in Pakistan, bombings of wedding parties in Afghanistan, the use of systematic torture and imprisonment without trial, and the unprovoked invasion and occupation of two countries—is not what “provokes” rage and anger toward the United States. In this context, Obama’s summoning of the specter of suicide bombers in America’s cities only further stirs the pot of hatred whipped up by the Sarah Palins, the Glenn Becks and the Terry Joneses.

Polls show that close to 20 percent of Americans believe that Obama is a “secret” Muslim and that this makes him an unfit president. Rather than challenge the racist assumptions of his accusers, Obama has chosen instead to emphasize his Christian credentials. This posture only strengthens the right and gives credence to the notion that there is something wrong with being Muslim. In short, with few exceptions such as Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, the arguments coming from the “liberal” Democratic Party pandered to the right.

It is therefore not surprising that the right was able to set the terms of discussion on this issue. In capitulating yet again on the issue of Islamophobia, Democrats were simply echoing arguments that have become dominant since 9/11.

Clash of civilizations
After the end of the Cold War, right-wing ideologues like Samuel Huntington brought back Orientalist notions of “us” and “them” through the concept of the “clash of civilizations” between the secular West and the Muslim East. With the old enemy now out of the way, new enemies needed to found to serve as a cover for U.S. imperial aims.

The process of linking Islam with “terror” to justify U.S. policy goes back several decades. In the recent past, the Clinton administration used such justifications in relation to actions like the attempted cruise missile strike on Osama bin Laden in 1998. In its final months, the Clinton administration presented to the incoming Bush administration a comprehensive strategy to “roll back” al-Qaeda and elevate what was to become the “war on terror” to the level of a foreign policy and military priority. An August 2002 Time magazine article noted, “In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to ‘everything we’ve done since 9/11.’”24 However, the idea of a “war on terror” (terror defined as violent actions conducted by Islamic organizations) did not become the dominant theme of U.S. foreign policy until the events of 9/11.

The logic of the “war on terror” was that the United States should be given carte blanche to make war on any country that “harbors” terrorists. Islamophobia became the ideological handmaiden of this effort. To justify war on Afghanistan, the United States relied on a number of arguments including the old colonial cliché that Islam is inherently misogynistic and therefore that the “West” needed to rescue Afghan women. In reality, as the Afghan member of parliament Malalai Joya has argued, the condition for the majority of women has deteriorated since the U.S. invasion.25 Yet, even liberals and feminists accepted this argument nine years ago, and some continue to do so even today.

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten printed cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad and lampooning Islam. When Muslims expressed grief and anger over such obviously incendiary and hate-filled messages, they were derided for not understanding “Western values” such as free speech. There was no distinction made between hate speech and free speech. Even progressive news media outlets carried a similar argument.

A year later, when a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company was set to take over the running of six U.S. ports, both Republicans and Democrats whipped up a xenophobic frenzy. The argument in the mainstream was that the United States could not trust foreigners to run its ports even though a British company operated the ports before the bid by the UAE firm.

In short, a process was at work that depicted Muslims as a distinct culture and civilization with views that were seen as antithetical to those held in the West. This ideology is best understood as a form of cultural racism that represents the Muslim “other” as untrustworthy, violent, misogynistic, and undemocratic.

The ideology served not only to justify U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also papered over the systematic discrimination against Muslims domestically. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, 1,200 people, mostly men, from predominantly Muslim countries were kept in “preventive detention.” Voluntary interviews with 19,000 others were conducted, and this was followed by a program of special registration of more than 82,000. Not a single terrorism conviction emerged from any of this.26 And since then Muslims been racially profiled, imprisoned indefinitely without the ability to go to court, deported, and tortured in secret CIA prisons around the world. Yet there has been no public outcry.

This is the logical outcome of a process where an entire group of people are constructed as enemies. Just like during the Second World War, when there was little protest around the mass punishment being meted out to the Japanese and to Japanese Americans, today too, there is little outrage at what is being done to Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in the name of national security.

Liberal Islamophobia
The United States is caught in a contradiction. On the one hand, the phrase “war on terror” is clearly and consistently associated with Islam. No one includes in the war on terror the idea of combating the violent Christian right that engages in attacks on abortion clinics, or the far-right militias, of whom Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, was a supporter. On the other hand, the United States must insist that it is not at war with Islam as a religion, since some of its most important allies, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt are majority Muslim states. Islamophobia helps to win support for overseas adventures and to stifle dissent at home, but at the same time it threatens friendly relations with important allies in the “war on terror.”

The contradiction found expression in the statements made by Bush after 9/11. On the one hand, he called the war on terror a “crusade,” and on the other hand he gave assurances to the world that the United States was not at war with Islam. The official line, touted by every U.S. administration going back to the Clinton era, including Obama’s, is that there are “good,” peace-loving, cooperative Muslims, and “bad,” anti-American, violent Muslims.

Like Bush before him, Obama has made speeches claiming that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. “Let me say this as clearly as I can,” he told the Turkish parliament in 2009, “the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject.”27

When he was still a candidate, he promised to shut down the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to bring the advocates of torture to justice. Thus, many foster the impression that Obama is against anti-Muslim racism. Yet since taking office Obama has not only continued Bush-era policies around torture and CIA prisons, his office has pushed to bar victims of torture from having their day in court. Not only have Bush administration personnel who justified torture been let off the hook, but Obama has increased the power of the president, granting himself the right to order the execution of a U.S. citizen without due process. His office has upheld the draconian Patriot Act, even opposing a lawsuit brought by the Humanitarian Law Project that challenged the law’s provision prohibiting material support to groups designated as “terrorist” by the U.S. State Department.28

Obama has continued to employ the framework of the “war on terror” in his foreign policy, even if he has dropped the use of that phrase. He has suggested both in relation to Afghanistan as well as U.S. incursions in Yemen that the threat posed by al-Qaeda and other radical organizations must be vanquished. And using almost identical language to that used by the Bush administration, he has stoked up fears of terror attacks on U.S. soil. Here is how Obama justified sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan:

I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.29

Obama not only relies on the same fearmongering tactics used by Bush, but he also goes on to suggest that there are “terrorists” in our midst who must be apprehended. In so doing, he has lent his voice to a new “green scare” that has started to take hold in the United States.

Green scare
Over the last year, Islamophobia has taken a new turn in the United States. Whereas until that point, the Muslim enemy was largely “out there” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, we were now being asked to cast suspicion on Muslim citizens and residents. Media hysteria around several cases of “homegrown terrorism” and the Obama administration’s deployment of Islamophobia laid the groundwork for the stoking of fear and paranoia toward our Muslim and Arab friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community members.

Since then, the arguments put forward in the mainstream media and political circles have been seized on by ultra-conservatives and the far right. Groups like Stop Islamization of America are founded on the insidious claim that there is a conspiracy afoot to turn the United States into a Muslim state. This ridiculous notion was then amplified by right-wing politicians to bolster their election bids.

After the Cordoba House controversy exploded, New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio (who has since dropped out of the race) produced an ad that accused Imam Rauf of being a “terrorist sympathizer.” In a similar vein, North Carolina congressional candidate Renee Ellmers ran a campaign ad in which the narrator states: “After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and Cordoba, and Constantinople they built victory mosques. And, now, they want to build a mosque by Ground Zero.”

The ad not only offers a highly skewed representation of history, but it also presents the actions of 9/11 as the automatic outcome of Islam, thereby equating all Muslims with the acts of the fundamentalists.30 Underlying this ad is the conspiratorial rhetoric that Muslims want to conquer the United States and build “victory mosques.”

To be clear, these ideas are not new. For example, right-wing crusader David Horowitz’s “terrorism awareness site” has long featured videos that make this sort of argument. Then there is P. David Gaubatz’s book Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America. According to Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, the book served as inspiration for a call by some House Republicans that the Council on American-Islamic Relations be investigated for trying to infiltrate the government.

In short, these ideas have existed for a while and have resonance both among far-right groups and conservative political figures. What is new is their steady injection into political campaigns, and their manifestation in the streets in the form of public attacks on mosques and other symbols of Islam. They are thus gaining greater visibility in the mainstream. Moreover, the lack of an alternative principled antiracist position has meant that these views are gaining wider acceptance among the public.

Of course the majority of people who oppose the “Ground Zero mosque” are not virulent racists. Though there is a large core of racist right-wingers who oppose Cordoba House, there is little evidence to show that all the opposition is specifically driven by anti-Muslim hatred or bigotry. One recent argument presents it this way: “Reasonable people”—i.e., those who are not bigots and hate mongers—do need to be “sensitive to the victims of 9/11,” and so such people must also be opposed to the Cordoba House project.

It should also be pointed out that a significant number of Americans support the building of the community center, albeit a minority of between 20 percent and 34 percent of Americans. This despite nine years of relentless anti-Muslim, anti-Arab propaganda churned out by the media mouthpieces of a state continuously engaged in a propaganda war on Iran, a military war on Iraq, an until-recently-forgotten war of attrition on Afghanistan, and a proxy war on Palestinians. This minority numbers in the tens of millions. 

What this means is that the political climate can be shifted, provided a visible resistance to the bigotry is organized, and such resistance is tied to genuine alternatives to the two parties of war and Wall Street. The demonization of Muslims in the United States tends to be an abstract argument because most Americans have limited contact with Muslims.

American Muslims
There is no accurate data, such as a Census Bureau count, on the number of Muslims in the United States. The most authoritative study on this subject, conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2007, put the number of Muslims at 2.35 million,31 less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. About 65 percent of Muslim adults are immigrants and were born outside the United States. Of this group, about 24 percent were born in Arab countries, 18 percent in South Asia, and 8 percent in Iran. Among native-born Muslims, half are African American. Overall, 20 percent of Muslims in the United States are African American.

Despite the number of immigrants in the Muslim population, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of Muslims in the United States are American citizens. The vast majority of immigrant Muslims who arrived prior to 1990 are naturalized (92 percent), and the same is true of those who arrived during the 1990s (70 percent).

Economically, Muslims earn about the same as the average household in the United States. About 44 percent report household incomes of $50,000 or more annually. This stands in contrast to the plight of European Muslims. A 2006 Pew study of Britain, France, Germany, and Spain found that Muslims in these countries earned significantly less than their counterparts.

Even while most American Muslims have expressed the view that their lives have become more difficult since 9/11, with a third reporting that they had been verbally harassed, physically threatened, or treated with suspicion because of their faith in the year 2006, they seem largely content to live in the United States. Again, this stands in contrast to the more virulent racism faced by Muslims in several European nations.

European connection?
The Tea Party seems to have taken a few pages from the European right. They have learned that in the context of a prolonged economic crisis, racism and the politics of scapegoating can enable them to reach a wider audience.

Far-right-wing parties, using anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, have made electoral gains in several European countries. In the June European Parliament elections, these parties were able to garner votes in a way they haven’t before. The British National Party (BNP), which has its roots in fascist parties of the past, got almost a million votes and its first two seats in the European Parliament. In Holland, Geert Wilders’ party, the Party for Freedom (PVV), won twenty-four seats in the Dutch elections and appears poised to be part of a new minority government.

Wilders is a notorious Islamophobe. He has compared Islam to fascism, equating the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Wilders ran on the platform of banning immigration from Muslim majority countries, contending that people who are a part of Islamic cultures are “retarded.” He would further ban the Koran and veiling. In striking a deal with Wilders, the center-right coalition that is attempting to form a minority government in Holland has adopted several of Wilders’s policy demands such as banning the burqa and imposing tighter immigration standards.

Wilders was one of the highlighted speakers at the September 11 rally against the proposed Islamic center in downtown Manhattan called by Tea Party bigots, where he called on his audience to “defend itself against the powers of darkness, the force of hatred and the blight of ignorance.”32

Anti-immigrant groups such as the Minutemen have started to appear at Tea Party rallies and events. The racist anti-immigrant leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, Barbara Coe, called for Muslims to be deported from the United States (even if they are citizens) because she alleged that they were teaching Mexican drug cartels how to kill.33 The connections between anti-immigrant hysteria and anti-Muslim racism are being drawn by the far right.

Geller, who identifies as a Tea Party person, spoke at the Tennessee Tea Party convention in May. It is not a coincidence that Tennessee is also the site where an Islamic center in Murfreesboro has come under attack. There were arson attempts and gunshots at the center creating a climate of fear and intimidation for the Muslim community.

Tennessee is also the location where Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, endorsed by more than twenty Tea Party groups, ran on the promise that he wanted to prevent sharia law from coming to Tennessee, and referred to Islam as a “cult” and a “violent political philosophy.”34

What we are seeing is a right-wing populist movement beginning to coalesce with racism at its core. This movement has both an electoral strategy as well as a grassroots strategy based on intimidating Muslim communities (and Latino immigrants). While earlier Islamophobia in the United States primarily served as a means to justify the “war on terror,” it is now serving the domestic agenda of the far right in ways similar to what has gone on in Europe.

The threat from the right is taking place in the context of a prolonged economic crisis. European governments have responded by imposing austerity measures and attacking the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, traditional left parties have failed to offer an alternative—indeed, have pandered to it. In this gap, the right, by scapegoating Muslim immigrants, has been able to tap into voter anxiety.

In Sweden for instance, the social welfare state has been steadily dismantled over the last decade. Left parties such as the Social Democrats have been party to such efforts and have failed to put up any resistance to cuts in unemployment benefits, and the privatization of health care, schools, etc. In this context, and with the ongoing recession, it becomes easy to place blame for the public’s economic hardship on immigrants.

France’s upper house voted almost unanimously to ban the public wearing of the burqa. When the vote passed in the lower house, the left parties (the socialists, Greens, and Communists) abstained. Rather than put up a principled defense of Muslims and try to defeat the measure, they decided to sit out the vote instead. The Socialist Party then came forward and stated that it too objected to the veil, but didn’t support constitutional measures banning it.

Such pathetic responses only strengthen the right. What is clear is that you cannot fight the right from the center. In the face of hyperbolic rhetoric that blatantly demonizes Muslims, a weak-kneed response that attempts to be “moderate” only strengthens the far right.

The only way to challenge the climate of fear and hate is both to confront the bigotry wherever it raises its head, and simultaneously build an alternative to the parties that have not only failed to stand up against the bigotry, but have fueled it. Only a politics that links the “war on terror” with U.S. imperialist policy can show that the anti-Islamic bigotry is about creating a political climate in which the United States can invade other countries at will, and suppress domestic dissent at home. A politics is needed that links the scapegoating of Muslims with that of all immigrants, and shows how this scapegoating is being used to weaken and divide the working class against itself by deflecting attention from the employers’ attacks, cutbacks in social services, and the bailout of corporate America at our expense. A politics of “liberal tolerance” will not do. Ours must be a politics of solidarity—for freedom of religion, against scapegoating, and against racism. It is a message that resonates with millions of people who once looked with hope at the Obama election, and are now disappointed, and desire to challenge rather than pander to the right.

That’s why the counterprotest in lower Manhattan on September 11 was an important step in countering the hate. Organized by a coalition of left-wing, antiwar, and anti-racist groups, the demonstration brought together a core of activists willing to make their voices heard. They spoke for many more people who aren’t acknowledged in the “discussion” of the “Ground Zero mosque”—people who despise the right wing for exploiting the September 11 attacks to whip up racism and intolerance.

One protest won’t turn the tide against Islamophobia. But along with other examples—such as the Tennessee activists who organized against the Christian Right-led campaign to block plans to build a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the Gainesville activists who organized 200 people to come out and protest the planned Koran burning—the New York City demonstration offers a different path.

Today, in the context of a global recession that seems to have no end in sight, this is a crucial lesson. Islamophobia has to be exposed as the scapegoating tactic of a system in crisis, but this has to be part of a broader vision that puts on offer both a political and an economic alternative to neoliberalism and war.

  1. “20% favor mosque near Ground Zero, 54% oppose,” Rasmussen Reports, July 22, 2010,
  2. Jordan Fabian, “Poll: Public strongly opposes Ground Zero mosque,” The Hill, August 11, 2010.
  3. Adam Lisberg, “Mayor Bloomberg stands up for mosque,” The Daily Politics blog, August 3, 2010,
  4. Ralph Blumenthal and Sharaf Mowjood, “Muslim prayers and renewal near Ground Zero,” New York Times, December 9, 2009.
  5. Justin Elliot, “How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began,” Monday, August 16, 2010,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Joe Jackson and Bill Hutchinson, “Monster mosque pushes ahead in shadow of World Trade Center Islamic death and destruction,” Atlas Shrugs, May 6, 2010,
  8. Chris McGreal, “The U.S. blogger on a mission to halt ‘Islamic takeover,’”Guardian, August 20, 2010.
  9. Pamela Geller, “Indomitable Israel,” Israel National News,
  10. Julie Shapiro, “Politicians rally against Tea Party bashing of World Trade Center mosque,”, May 20, 2010,
  11. Oliver Willis, “Mark Williams calls Allah a ‘monkey god,’ is he still welcome on CNN’s air?” Media Matters, May 18, 2010,
  12. “Debating the Ground Zero Islamic Center,” ABC News, August 22, 2010,
  13. Jay M. Brown, “When military necessity overrides constitutional guarantees: The treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute,
  14. Abraham Foxman, “The mosque at Ground Zero,” Anti-Defamation League,
  15. Jason Elliot, “How the ‘ground zero mosque’ fear mongering began.”
  16. David W. Dunlap, “When an Arab enclave thrived downtown,” New York Times, August, 24, 2010.
  17. The Time cover can be found at,16641,20100809,00.html.
  18. Brian Montopoli, “Nancy Pelosi questions funding of NYC mosque criticism,” CBS News,
  19. Chris Cillizza, “Democrats divided over proposed New York City mosque,”Washington Post, August 17, 2010.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Glenn Greenwald, “Howard Dean: ‘Mosque’ should move,” Salon, August 18, 2010.
  22. “Obama clarifies statement in Mosque debate,” NBC New York, August 17, 2010,
  23. “Obama: Quran burning is ‘stunt’ that threatens troops,” USA Today, September 9, 2010.
  24. Michael Elliott, “They had a plan,” Time, August 12, 2002.
  25. Malalai Joya, A Woman Among Warlords (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).
  26. Gary Younge, “Islamophobia, European-style,” Nation, September 23, 2010,
  27. Mark Tran, “U.S. is not at war with Islam, says Barack Obama,” Guardian, April 6, 2009.
  28. “Making free speech a crime,” Socialist Worker, October 6, 2010,
  29. “Remarks by the President in address to the nation on the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” December 1, 2009,
  30. Brian Montopli, “Renee Ellmers ad: No Muslim ‘Victory Mosque’ at Ground Zero,” CBS News Politics, September 22, 2010,
  31. “Muslim Americans: Middle class and mostly mainstream,” Pew Research Center, May 22, 2009,
  32. Video and text of Wilders’ speech can be found at
  33. Gustavo Arellano, “Barbara Coes calls for the deportation of Muslims, says Muslims train Mexican drug cartels,” OC Weekly Blogs, August 2, 2010,
  34. Paul Steinhauser and Steve Brusk, “Haslam is projected easy winner in Tennessee GOP primary for governor,” CNN Politics, August 5, 2010,


Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Issue contents

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