Corey Saylor: Concern that Islamophobia is trending toward the mainstream in the U.S.
ONLY ON THE BLOG: Answering today’s five OFF-SET questions is Corey Saylor, National Legislative Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
On Thursday, June 23, 2011 CAIR and the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender is releasing the first-of-its-kind annual report on the growth of Islamophobia in the United States during 2009 – 2010. The report is titled, “Same Hate, New Target.” How do CAIR and the Berkeley Center for Race and Gender define “Islamophobia?”
Islamophobia is close-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.
It is not appropriate to label all, or even the majority of those, who question Islam and Muslims as Islamophobes. Most are simply misinformed about the Islamic faith.
When I talk about Islamophobes, I am speaking about people whose words or actions indicate that they rigidly view Islam as monolithic, static, authoritarian and primitive compared with the West. Such people view all Muslims as manipulative and devious. It is the kind of classic intolerant attitudes we have seen directed at any number of minorities in the past.
According to those interviewed for the report, on a scale from 1 (best situation for Muslims) to 10 (worst possible situation for Muslims), Islamophobia in America stands at 6.4. What is your interpretation of that standing? How Islamophobic is the United States?
I am concerned that Islamophobia is trending toward the mainstream, but to date our nation’s commitment to pluralistic values has kept that from happening. The revulsion expressed by most Americans in August and early September 2010 over a proposed Quran burning in Florida is evidence of that fact.
Polls consistently show that a sizable number of Americans hold prejudiced views toward Muslims. For instance, in late November 2010, the Public Research Institute found that 45 percent of Americans agree that Islam is at odds with American values.
A TIME magazine poll released in August 2010 found, “Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President….”
This spring, as numerous states sought to pass legislation that in many cases would have resulted in government sanctioned discrimination against Muslims we came close to mainstream acceptance of Islamophobia.
Fortunately, Muslims and other supporters of the Constitution’s protection of free religious exercise pushed back against these bills and excepting Oklahoma, nothing of significance passed.Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment, passed last fall that targets Muslims is on hold after a Federal judge ruled that it likely violates the Constitution.
The report spotlights individuals, groups and institutions for pushing back against Islamophobic trends. Among others, you name New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow. What did these people do to deserve recognition?
Generally, they acted in line with the values we all learned in civics classes in school. They refused to smear an entire group based on the actions of a few aberrant individuals. They used their public platforms to remind people, often with humor, that Americans judge people on individual merit, not based on crass stereotypes.
You also name some people who promoted Islamophobia: Pamela Geller and Stop the Islamization of America; Robert Spencer and Jihad watch; Newt Gingrich and others? What did they do?
In the case of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who co-founded the organization Stop the Islamization of America, both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in America, have issued their own concerns about the discriminatory nature of their rhetoric and actions.
Generally, those who promoted Islamophobia poisoned our public discourse, appealing to fear and stereotypes. They promoted conspiracy theories such as the idea that Muslims are here to remove the Constitution or that our faith compels us to wage endless war against America. They are the new face of the old hate that targeted other minorities throughout our nation’s past.
Recently, a group of GOP presidential candidates met in New Hampshire in a debate carried by CNN. Did you hear what you consider Islamophobic remarks during the debate?
Herman Cain reiterated his position that he would treat Muslims differently than members of other faiths. Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoed far-right hysteria about 'sharia' replacing the Constitution.
Since the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, there is no question of any other body of law replacing it. People who choose to have disputes resolved using the traditions of their faith should have the right to do so as long as such agreements comply with American law.
CAIR was encouraged by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's response to other candidates' fear mongering about Sharia, or Islamic principles, replacing the Constitution. Romney seemed to dismiss that scenario, and reaffirmed that "people of all faiths are welcome in this country."
Given that the United States is approaching the tenth anniversary of 9/11 – and the connection in some minds between terrorism and Islam – what does the study recommend to tackle the growth of anti-Muslim prejudice?
For this report, we focused on making recommendations to American Muslims, as we recognize that the primary burden of pushing back against anti-Muslim attitudes falls on our shoulders.
The core recommendation is get out and interact with your neighbors, get involved in local improvement programs, get involved in local politics. Our research shows that when people get to know Muslims as individuals it breaks the stereotypes.