The Attack on American Muslims

Against the Current, No. 152, May/June 2011

Malik Miah

FLAILING AFTER MUSLIMS is a convenient way for the right — extreme and mainstream — to prove their credentials as “genuine, God-loving Americans.” Islam, they charge, is not a religion of peace, of Western values; it’s an ideology of terror. “You can’t trust Muslims.”

Anything goes in this drive. Last year Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure barring “state courts from considering international or Islamic laws in deciding cases.” Who could have known that Islamic Sharia laws were taking over the state? How many Muslims live in Oklahoma?

After a state court said the new law violated the First Amendment since it blatantly targeted Muslims, a new bill was introduced in the state House in 2011 to ban the use of all religious law.

Some 20 states are now considering similar laws.

The rightwing vitriol against Islam and American Muslims is part of a broader fearmongering campaign to whip up cultural wars and advance a right-wing agenda to roll back civil rights, and liberties for those “not like us.” Constitution be damned.

The right to buy (private) property (sacrosanct in a capitalist country) to build an Islamic Center near Ground Zero is considered wrong if you’re Muslim. National security dictates that Muslims be treated as suspicious and second class residents.

Congressional Hearings

Long Island, New York, Republican Congressman Peter King is leading the demonization campaign in Congress. In March he held the first of a planned series of hearings on the so-called radicalization of American Muslims. It fits nicely into a climate of hostility toward “others.”

 “There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community,” King said in his opening remarks to the hearings, “and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.”

Why not all alleged extremist threats? King replied, “The threat is coming from the Muslim community. The radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?”

King claims, as do many conservatives, that “80-85 percent of mosques in the country are controlled by fundamentalists” who constitute “an enemy living amongst us.” He points to 9/11 and other attempted Al Qaeda-inspired attacks. No proof is given. Yet not a single American Muslim was involved! But that doesn’t stop King from repeating the lie that somehow American Muslims are linked to terrorist attacks.

American Muslims are a very diverse ethnic community. Some 25% of American Muslims are native-born African Americans; 26% are from South Asia (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) and another 26% are from Arab countries. The rest include other ethnic groups including white Americans.

King and others of his ilk are pandering to bigots in their base. They know that American Muslims are not terrorists. Scapegoating Muslims can win elections.

King of course knows that religion and terrorism are not the same. He was a longtime supporter of the Irish Republican Army in its battles against British rule of Northern Ireland — an organization called “terrorist” by Britain — at a time when Irish Catholic supporters of the IRA were also smeared as “terrorist” sympathizers.

Muslim-bashing is an easy way to deepen political polarization, and to attack Obama and liberals. Liberals have a hard time responding, since many are themselves suspicious of Islam. Many believe that the religion itself promotes radical and “anti-Western” values.

Tracking White Hate Groups

Yes, there are U.S hate groups that deserve a watchful eye for links to domestic terrorism. These are groups that King and conservatives will never go after — white militias, anti-immigrant nativist organizations and white supremacist organizations that have advocated violence against Blacks and other minorities, including Muslims.

These are home-grown white nationalist/nativist/racist hate groups. None are Islamic.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Montgomery, Alabama, tracks extremist hate groups. Its Spring 2011 “Intelligence Report” reports the rapid rise of hate groups since Obama‘s 2008 election. Led by antigovernment “Patriot” groups, the radical right hate groups have expanded dramatically for the second year in a row. There are now over 1000 such groups.

“It is not surprising that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest count found that the number of hate groups operating in America last year had risen to 1002 from 932 in 2009,” wrote the editor Mark Potok. “The number of nativist vigilante groups was up, too, from 309 in 2009 to 310 in 2010. And there was truly explosive growth in the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement, which added 312 new groups last year, skyrocketing 61% from 512 in 2009 to 824 last year.”

The breakdown is: 221 Ku Klux Klan; 170 Neo-Nazi; 136 White nationalist; 135 racist skinhead; 26 Christian identity; 42 Neo-Confederate and 122 general hate groups.

The SPLC list also includes 149 Black separatist groups. I don’t consider Black Nationalist organizations as “hate groups.” Black Nationalism and separatism have a justifiable historical basis: the white racism of the Jim Crow era and de facto segregation today. That’s why many of these groups exist. They are for Black solidarity and unity and oppose racial discrimination, even if their ideological programs may be flawed.

For example, the SPLC list includes the Nation of Islam (NOI) and its branches. The NOI, one of the largest Muslim and Black Nationalist groups in the country, advocates self-reliance — not African-American domination of whites.

Many of the white hate groups have supporters in state houses and Congress. According to SPLC, there are 657 hate-based websites pushing the far right’s nativist agenda. This includes 484 sites linked to the anti-government ‘”Patriot” movement, which generally defines itself as opposed to the “New World Order.”

There are 110 white militia groups with their own websites. Their ranting and views are no secret. Their hatred for minorities and immigrants and conspiracy theories are widely advocated. Every state except Hawaii has at least one hate group.

It’s striking that when a crime is committed by someone who may be influenced by these groups or the racism of rightwing media — including attacks on Muslim cab drivers or community centers — the assumption is that the perpetrator is mentally ill. When someone identified as Muslim is involved in any incident, however, it is assumed that the person is tied to “terrorists” and Muslim extremists.

Even the revolt in Egypt was criticized by some on the right as inevitably leading to extremist Muslims taking over those countries. They prefer the dictators over democratic change if democracy means the possibility of “radical Islam” winning elections. Muslims, in their view, can’t ever embrace democracy.

Stand Up to the Witch Hunt

Peter King and his conservative supporters refuse to investigate the plans of the white hate groups, because the latter are part of their conservative electoral base.

The Arizona state legislators who passed laws attacking immigrants and calling for the roundup and arrest of anyone under suspicion of being “illegal” (brown people), are carrying out a violation of the Constitution and rights of people. Those actions mobilized their white base and they swept the 2006 elections. Several other states plan similar legislation even if there are few “illegal” immigrants in those states.

Republican officials refuse to acknowledge that President Obama is an American-born U.S. citizen, and a Christian (as Obama professes). Arizona is considering a law to keep him off the 2012 ballot. Obama is a mainstream capitalist politician, yet these clearly racist attacks continue.

Obama’s not the issue, but Black, brown and nonwhite citizens are. Many white Tea Party leaders and supporters are concerned that their historic racial privileges may end when they become less than 50% of the population by 2050. While a majority of white people reject blatant bigotry — that’s why Obama could win the 2008 election — an energized and billionaire-funded right can confuse and lead many working class whites to vote and act against their own self-interest.

History has shown that pushing back white racist ideology is important to prevent retreats and reversals of moves towards full equality. The rollback of school desegregation/integration (schools are as segregated as ever) proves how that can happen without serious resistance. Affirmative action in jobs programs is dead.

The attack on American Muslims is a vanguard assault on civil and democratic rights of working people. This is an attack on all Americans — especially the poor, immigrants and most vulnerable and isolated citizens.

“Solidarity” needs to become an active watchword in response to the fearmongering and the demonizing of American Muslims. The stakes are much larger than for that community alone.

ATC 152, May-June 2011