Friday, September 20, 2013

The Reality of Islamophobia in America

By Corey Saylor

Thirty-seven groups dedicated to spreading anti-Islam prejudice in America enjoyed access to at least $119,662,719 in total revenue between 2008 and 2011, according to a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

These groups often deny that Islamophobia exists in our nation. CAIR’s research finds a darker reality.

Islamophobia in America has resulted in a certain willingness to undermine the Constitution.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any “religious test” for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that “twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court” and that “nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President.” Herman Cain, at one point the frontrunner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, manifested a version of this sentiment when he said that to serve in his administration he would require loyalty oaths from Muslims. Cain said he would not require similar oaths from Mormons or Catholics “because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions.”

In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will. In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that Islamic religious principles are “based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.” The First Amendment clearly prohibits any such government interference in the free exercise of a religion. For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. In 2013 a Federal judge struck the amendment down as un-Constitutional.

Oklahoma’s bill was not unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. Seventy-three of the bills were introduced solely by Republicans. In at least 11 states, mainstream Republican leaders introduced or supported anti-Muslim legislation. While the bias behind the bills is clear, the presence of an actual problem that needed solved was not, even to the legislators introducing the measures. As CAIR’s report shows, time and again when asked to provide examples of Islamic religious principles trumping U.S. law legislators failed to do so.

Sixty-two of these bills contained language that was extracted from David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model legislation. Yeushalmi believes “Our greatest enemy today is Islam.” He has also asserted, "There is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote” and says he finds truth in the view that Jews destroy their host nations like a fatal parasite. Yerushalmi is an odd voice to be granted legitimacy in so many legislatures.

Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.

There are other indicators that Islamophobia is a societal issue in America.

A survey released by Gallup in August 2011 found that “at 48%, Muslim Americans are by far the most likely of major faith groups surveyed to say they have personally experienced racial or religious discrimination in the past year.” In September 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) noted, “Forty seven percent of Americans agree that Islam is at odds with American values, and 48 percent disagree.” PRRI later reported that the number of Americans who feel Muslims are working to subvert the Constitution rose from 23 percent in February 2012 to 30 percent in September 2012. 

According to a study released by Ohio State University in July 2011, in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden researchers found that Americans, particularly “political liberals and moderates” found Muslims more threatening and positive perceptions of Muslims significantly declined.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in 2011 cases filed on the basis of “Religion-Muslim” accounted for 21 percent of the total religion charges. In 2011, the most recent year for which the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has released statistics, there were 157 anti-Muslim hate crimes. The agency reported 107 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2009 and 160 in 2010.

According to CAIR, there were 51 recorded anti-mosque acts in 2011 and 2012. These included facilities in Joplin, Mo. and Toledo, Ohio sustaining catastrophic damage as a result of arson. David Conrad fired an air rifle, nearly hitting one worshipper, at a mosque in Morton Grove, Ill. A bottle filled with acid was thrown at a mosque in Lombard, Ill. A man living next to a mosque in Amherst, N.Y. posted a sign on his property reading, “Bomb Making Next Driveway.” During a hearing for a proposed mosque in Plymouth, Minn. individuals opposed to the project asserted, "aiding the enemy is treason," and "this is an ideology that wants to destroy."

Two notable spikes in anti-mosque acts occurred in 2011-2012: May 2011 (7 acts), likely related to the killing of Osama bin Laden and August 2012 (10 acts), probably all in reaction to the massacre of six Sikh worshippers by a white supremacist in Oak Creek, Wis.

Islamophobic rhetoric remains socially acceptable. Research released in 2011 found, “citizens are quite comfortable not only opposing [extending citizenship to legal Muslim immigrants], but also being public about that fact.” A number of mainstream candidates for the Republican presidential nomination used Islamophobic rhetoric, as represented by the Herman Cain quote offered earlier. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) held a series of five anti-Muslim congressional hearings, which were subjected to broad spectrum push back but also enjoyed significant support. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) partnered with key U.S. Islamophobia network leader Frank Gaffney to launch a campaign accusing Muslims in public service of infiltrating the government on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. In reaction to this last episode many public officials spoke out in a bipartisan show of support for Americans of the Islamic faith.

All of this presents a sober picture, but one that is more realistic than simplistic talking points designed to deny Islamophobia exists in America.

All, however, is not bleak. Subject matter experts surveyed by CAIR perceive a small, but highly welcome, decline in Islamophobia in America during 2011 and 2012. This makes sense given that the last time CAIR conducted this survey was during the 2010 national controversy over Park 51, a proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan that was misleadingly dubbed the “ground zero mosque.” That controversy’s proximity to the mid-term election and international news surrounding a Florida pastor’s planning 9/11 “International Burn a Koran Day” resulted in what is likely the U.S. Islamophobia network’s biggest moment in the spotlight.

All this points to an interesting moment for Islam in America. The faith is certainly subject to much suspicion. This suspicion is often latent, but certain incidents can bring it to the forefront. On the other hand, nothing leads me to believe this opinion has solidified.

After the tragic bombings in Boston, Pew found that while Americans perceive Muslims as more discriminated against than other groups—gays, Hispanics and African Americans—young people do not believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence.

Denial of a problem is not a solution. A sober assessment is a good beginning. Like racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and other issues, Islamophobia exists. Based on the positive news above it need not be seen as a malignant issue, but rather one that can be resolved.

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