by Sheila Musaji
This past week Eric Allen Bell posted an article on Daily Kos attacking the Loonwatch site
I was startled when I read the article, and sent an email “heads up” to Danios at Loonwatch in case he hadn’t seen the article yet. He replied that he had not seen it, and he was equally surprised at the content and at the venue in which the article was printed.
I had previously heard the name Eric Allen Bell only in relation to a documentary he had made One Mosque Too Many on the Murfreesboro Mosque. That documentary was well received in the American Muslim community, and in the interfaith community. Bell said himself about this documentary and why he made it
It was on this past 4th of July that I decided to make a documentary about the backlash against the building of a new Islamic Center here in Mufreesboro, TN. At that time I had no idea that a chilling wave of anti-Islamic hysteria was about to sweep over the country, strengthen the far right and send the civil rights movement several decades backwards all in the matter of just a few short weeks.
The documentary is titled “Not Welcome” and chronicles events in Murfreesboro concerning the backlash against the Mosque from the 4th of July to 9/11 of 2010. I have interviewed nearly everyone on all sides of this issue here. And along the way I have been threatened repeatedly but I have also made many new friends. I have learned a lot about how my own ridiculous prejudices about the South have distorted my point of view. I have been surprised repeatedly at how often the most unlikely of people can defy their stereotype with acts of kindness, courage and compassion. I have come to know many members of the Islamic community here, known them as friends, broken bread with them and watched as they faced persecution without striking back, without getting consumed with anger, watched as they prayed for those who oppose them, asked for God’s mercy on them and trusted that, in the end, whatever happens will be God’s will.
Because of that background, this current article of Bell’s was particularly puzzling. How could the person who said I have learned a lot about how my own ridiculous prejudices about the South have distorted my point of view. also be the person who showed ridiculous prejudice against the same American Muslim community he seemed to respect? I thought that perhaps there are two different individuals with the same name – one opposed to bigotry, and one encouraging it, and so I did a little research.
There is only one Eric Allen Bell. He has a website, and one of the sections of that site is Freedom From Religion. Scrolling through the posts in that section, it became obvious that this individual is not fond of religion. Bell’s posted comments are not just anti-Islam, but anti-all religion. One of his posts is titled “God” is part of the 1 percent, and seems to sum up Bell’s position:
Once upon a time a very, very angry man named “god” created the world, got pissed off at everybody and killed them all with a flood, except for his buddy Noah and his 2 live crew. Later God decided everyone is so lame that he chose his “chosen people” to give a plot of real estate to while telling everyone else to f*ck off, ordered some ethnic cleansings to clear out the area and so forth. Still finding nearly all people to be unbearable (and who can blame him, really?) this god person decided, out of the kindness of his heart, to send his only son to be brutally tortured and savagely murdered so that he won’t have to send us all into a lake of hell fire for all eternity, because he loves us.
About 600 years later, god met this slave owner named Mohammed who also hated most people and the two of them really hit it off. God told Mohammed to wipe out the Jews, the Christians, basically everyone who did not see the the world the way that he did, and together they decided to call this new way of thinking, “the religion of peace”. But now the religion of peace wants to wipe god’s chosen people off of their plot of real estate and the followers of god’s poor brutalized son – whom the chosen people killed (oops, epic fail there guys) see this as a good thing because it will bring about the end of the world, and god’s son will appear in the clouds while the rest of us can go to hell. What does this all mean? It means god must be stopped and his followers need to give us back our planet before they blow the whole damned thing up in one big rapturous apocalyptic orgasm of self fulfilling prophecy. In other words GOD IS PART OF THE 1 PERCENT. “He” must be stopped.
On his site he promotes films like “Islam, What the West Needs to Know” about which he says “I cannot say that I am in 100% agreement with everything said in this documentary. However, having read the Koran, visited a few mosques and produced a documentary on Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, it is my feeling that fundamentally what is being put forth here in “Islam – What the West Needs to Know” is correct.”
As Colm O’Broin has pointed out about this particular “documentary”
The documentary Islam: What the West needs to know, which features many of the most influential anti-jihad writers, makes this point clear. A short TV ad is shown of ordinary Muslim Americans describing their backgrounds and finishes with the statement that “Muslims are part of the fabric of this great country and are working to build a better America.” The contributors to the documentary warn ominously however that the Koran allows Muslims to deceive non-believers in the service of Islam.
This is possibly the most reprehensible claim made by the anti-Muslim writers. If you accepted what they say it would mean that you can’t trust your friends, relatives, neighbours or work colleagues if they happen to be Muslim. In fact, all Muslims are suspect according to this poisonous allegation.
Bell’s admiration for films like this, and for individuals like Robert Spencer of the hate group SIOA makes some sense after scrolling through Bell’s site. Although Spencer is a devout Catholic, and Bell would have no more respect for his religious beliefs than he would have for my religious beliefs, in Bell’s war against religion, it seems that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is his philosophy.
I had been working on a detailed response, but Devon Moore, also on Daily Kos posted an article yesterday Daily Kos Being Used to Further Classic Right-Wing Propaganda Against Loonwatch which does an excellent job of refuting the nonsense in Bell’s original article.
Bell begins his article by saying that,
The newly coined term Islamophobia describes an irrational fear of Islam. But for LoonWatch.com any criticism of the Koran or of violent Jihad – even those criticisms that might have some legitimacy to them – even of radical Islam, are branded as Islamophobia and anyone who dares to raise questions about the nearly constant acts of Jihad going on increasingly around the world today is labeled a Loon.
What does Bell provide as way of evidence for the claim that Loonwatch opposes “any criticism of the Koran or of violent Jihad?” Does he provide quotes or statements from Loonwatch articles or writers? You know, facts?
The answer is a glaring and resounding, NO.
Instead, Eric relies on guesswork. According to him Loonwatch doesn’t speak out against “Islamic Terrorism,” that, to him, is enough to declare that it is “in fact a terrorist spin control network.”
A pretty bold and probably libelous claim when measured next to the absence of facts Bell provides.
When one takes a look at the mission statement of Loonwatch, it becomes clear that their focus is on challenging bigotry against Muslims,
Loonwatch.com is a blogzine run by a motley group of hate-allergic bloggers to monitor and expose the webs plethora of anti-Muslim loons, wackos, and conspiracy theorists.
What’s wrong with that? As many commenters pointed out to Bell there are “thousands” of sites tracking “terrorism” and “jihad.” In fact there is a whole “Terrorism Industry” that is in existence feeding off of the fear of “Islamic Terrorism,” to make sure that Americans have a new “green” menace to replace the old “red” menace. Prof. Charles Kurzman, who has actually done empirical evidence on this topic gives us some perspective on this exaggerated threat,
As it turns out, there just arent that many Muslims determined to kill us. Backed by a veritable army of fact, figures, and anecdotes, Kurzman makes a compelling case. He calculates, for example, that global Islamist terrorists have succeeded in recruiting fewer than 1 in 15,000 Muslims over the past 25 years, and fewer than 1 in 100,000 since 2001. And according to a top counterterrorism official, Al Qaeda originally planned to hit a West Coast target, too, on 9/11 but lacked the manpower to do so.
Bell seems to have a schizophrenic personality, on the one hand he defends religious liberty (such as in the case of Murfreesboro Mosque) but on the other hand he agrees with many of the irrational attacks leveled at Islam and Muslims:
1.) He conflates Radical Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism with Islam. In the comment section he made clear that he believes “Islam IS Islamic Fundamentalism.”
3.) He believes Muslims who are peaceful are so not because of “Islam” but in spite of Islam, as he says “Lets not confuse Muslims with Islam.” That is similar to the statement of Robert Spencer that “The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim.”
4.) He cherry picks verses, quotes them out of context, and when it is pointed out that the same could be done with other scriptures he resorts to a popular argument amongst Islamophobes; stating that while it may be true that other scriptures hold violent passages they “are rarely carried out” in contrast to Islam. There is nothing further from the truth as the website, WhatIfTheyWere Muslim.com? details quite vividly. All the crimes that are considered uniquely “Islamic” are still committed by Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc.
Spencer, whom I don’t see eye to eye with either entirely, presents himself in a rather rational, sober and scholarly fashion and I might add that neither he nor the other “Loons” have bombs strapped to them – only words.
Either Bell is very ignorant or he is disingenuous. Robert Spencer is not a rational person. Someone who joins a group wanting to annihilate Anatolia, who denies the genocide of Bosnians, who thinks “Obama may be a Muslim,” is neither a scholar or a rational individual.
Also where is Eric Allen Bell’s outrage when polling shows that Americans and Israelis are more likely to support the killing of innocent civilians than Muslims in every Islamic nation:
Percentage of people who said it is sometimes justifiable to target and kill civilians:
Israeli Jews 52%
No religion/Atheists/Agnostics (U.S.A.) 43%
Spanish Muslims 31%
German Muslims 17%
French Muslims 16%
British Muslims 16%
Now, should we likewise, per the logic of Mr. Bell, be afraid of the scary Christian Americans, and make broad sweeping generalities about Christianity? Or Jewish Americans? Or Israeli Jews?
This is just a slither of what I found wrong with Eric Allen Bell’s article. It was reliant on not only a highly dubious methodology of critique, sourced poorly, but also filled with Orientalist and prejudiced tropes that ironically were the same ones used by the anti-Mosque opponents Bell documented in Murfreesboro, TN.
Danios of Loonwatch has also posted the following response
In 2009, the Daily Kos published a positive review of our website. So imagine my surprise whenThe American Muslim emails me a link to a recently published article on Daily Kos which is nothing short of a hatchet job against LoonWatch. This article was authored by Eric Allen Bell and is entitled Loonwatch.com and Radical Islam. Bell had the temerity to accuse LoonWatch of being “a radical Islamic front, covering up for terrorism”; he writes: “Loonwatch.com is in fact a terrorist spin control network.”
We would hardly bat an eye at this loony stream-of-consciousness article–Islamophobes have been accusing us of this since our site launched–except that this screed was published on the Daily Kos. Why would a fellow progressive website take a swipe at us out of the blue?
This mystery solves itself when you look into who wrote the article. His name is Eric Allen Bell, and he professes a soft spot for Robert Spencer, a man who was ranked by FAIR as the #2 leading Islamophobe in the country (losing out the number 1 spot to his boss, David Horowitz). Spencer is the leader of the SIOA group, deemed by the SPLC to be a hate group. Spencer’s organization has links to Neo-Nazi and skinhead groups in Europe. Among other things, Robert Spencer joined a genocidal Facebook group and posted a genocidal video on his website. This is the man that Eric Allen Bell calls “rational, sober and scholarly.” Bell imagines some difference between Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller even though they are close friends and colleagues-in-crime:
That explains why Bell’s article looks like something out of a loony anti-Muslim blog likeBareNakedIslam, AtlasShrugs, or JihadWatch. Bell uses the exact same talking points against us. His main gripe seems to be why our site “ignores” the violent acts of terrorism committed by Islamic terrorists. The answer to that is painstakingly obvious: our website’s mission statement is to document and expose Islamophobia. To ask us why we don’t document Islamic terrorism would not be very different from asking us: why doesn’t your site talk about world hunger? Whereas this might be a worthy topic to bring attention to, it is simply not part of our mission statement. Surely, Bell understands that websites oftentimes specialize in one particular topic and simply do not have the resources to dedicate to every noble cause.
Bell’s accusation itself is steeped in his Islamophobia. Imagine, for instance, if some white guy accused the NAACP of being “a black supremacist group” because they only fought racism against blacks instead of documenting violence and crime committed by blacks. What would anyone call such a person but racist?
Eric Allen Bell tries to shield himself from accusations of bigotry by pointing out that he made some documentary about a mosque in Murfreesboro. Yet, this would be like someone being opposed to segregated schools for black people on the one hand but on the other hand becoming absolutely livid against anyone who dared to deny that blacks are more violent than white people. Readers can go to the racist website Stromfront to find plenty of people compiling lists of black violence and criminality just like Bell reproduced his list of Muslim violence and terrorism.
Bell argues that Muslims are more violent than people of other religions, which is in fact the exact same argument raised by–you guessed it–Robert Spencer. My response to this is two-fold:
1) The threat of Muslim terrorism has been extremely exaggerated (in order to justify our wars in the Muslim world). According to the FBI’s own database (available from 1980-2005), of the terrorist attacks in America less than 6% were committed by Muslims. Readers should also refer to my May 2010 article which noted that since 9/11, there have been zero U.S. civilians killed from Islamic terrorism. The situation is the same in Europe. For the past several years, Europol has released an annual terrorism report, which showed that Islamic terrorism accounts for less than 1% of terrorism in Europe and has resulted in zero deaths. In the half decade documented in these reports, the only injuries sustained from Islamic terrorism were to a security guard who “was slightly wounded.”
For the past several years, zero civilians in America and Europe have been killed by Islamic terrorism. Yet, we are indoctrinated into thinking that Islamic terrorism represents some existential threat: you should be scared out of your wits and be losing sleep over Islamic terrorism. This is war propaganda at its finest. The reality is that you have a far greater chance of dying from being struck by lightning (about 67 Americans die of lightning every year) than being killed by an Islamic extremist (a whopping average of zero).
When confronted by this reality check, Islamophobes are quick to shift gears and insist that they are talking about Islamic terrorism in the “rest of the world.” Yet, almost all of this Islamic terrorism takes place in countries that have been bombed, invaded, and occupied by the United States or its proxy Israel. (India is the notable exception, although it should be noted that India has sustained a brutal occupation of Kashmir for many decades.) Iraq currently leads the list. If you look at Iraq before we started dropping bombs on it, Islamic terrorism was virtually non-existent in that country. Is it Islam then that is to blame for this terrorism or our bombing, invasion, and occupation?
2) The type of terrorism that is included in such comparisons is what I call Amateur Terrorism (strapping a bomb on yourself to injure a security guard and kill yourself); it excludes the greater form of terrorism: Professional Terrorism (carpet-bombing an entire civilian population). This is the violence committed by nation-states. The United States and Israel are guilty of committing, in the words of the Nuremberg trial, “the supreme international crime”: waging wars of aggression. When this form of violence is factored in, then the argument that Muslims are more violent seems untenable. As Prof. Steven Walt noted, Americans have killed anywhere from 30 to 100 times as many Muslims as Muslims have killed Americans.
I find it difficult to lecture Muslims about how violent they are when my own government, with the backing of its people, have killed so many Muslims (and continue to do so on a daily basis).
In a way, our violence is worse than theirs, because ours is sanctioned by us: our duly elected members of government are the ones who launch these wars, with our blessing and support. It is our uniformed soldiers who kill those Muslims. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda and such groups operate without governmental authority, without any sanction or permission from the Muslim population. In fact, the Muslim population is often the victim of such terrorist groups.
Since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years, or 91% of her existence. Meanwhile, the country in the Muslim world we vilify the most, Iran, has not initiated a war since 1795, over 200 years ago. (It was, however, attacked by its neighbor with the aid and encouragement of the United States.) Who is the more violent one again?
Here is a map of the Greater Middle East, showing countries that the U.S. has bombed or has bases in:
Meanwhile, the modern state of Iran has never attacked any of its neighbors or any other country in the region (or world). But, Eric Allen Bell wants us to say that Islam and Muslims are the violent ones?
These two points constitute my argument, and if Eric Allen Bell wants to produce something more than a screed that belongs on Pamela Geller’s AtlasShrugs, that’s what he needs to refute.
One should also recognize that I am making a radically different claim than the Islamophobes when I point to American aggression. There is nothing intrinsically different between the United States and the rest of the world that makes it more violent–or, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”–other than the fact that it has the power to do so. I truly believe that absolute power corrupts absolutely: those vested with great power almost invariably abuse it, and it is for this reason that they must be held to account the most.
Compared to the United States, the forces of Radical Islam have virtually no power. Since 9/11–more than a decade ago–the collective strength and resources of the “worldwide jihad” have been unable to kill a single civilian on American soil. That’s how powerful they are. In the grand scheme of things, Islamic terrorism is a nuisance of modern day existence, a threat akin to that of gang violence or drug cartels–it is not an existential military threat as it is made out to be.
There is no doubt that Radical Islam is repugnant to the senses and must be intellectually fought. But attacking all of Islam and Muslims in general–targeting their religion and labeling Islam as uniquely violent–is the most counter-productive way of doing so. More than that, it’s intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.