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Tag Archive | "Religion And Politics"

Nathan Lean

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Nathan Lean: Wall Street Journal Denies Existence of Islamophobia

Posted on 15 January 2013 by Amago

Nathan Lean

Nathan Lean

How can Wall Street deny the existence of Islamophobia? (h/t: Tanveer K.)

Nathan Lean: Wall Street Journal Denies Existence of Islamophobia

(Huffington Post)

Unless you’ve been asleep for the past 10 years (or write book reviews for the Wall Street Journal), you may have noticed that anti-Muslim sentiment in the past decade has recently spilled out into some of this country’s nastiest displays of hate.

In August, a Sikh temple was shot up in Oak Creek, Wis.; the gunman couldn’t distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims, and so, frightened just the same by the presence of brown-skinned Americans with foreign names and beards, killed seven people.

That same month, as Muslims prayed inside a mosque in Hayward, Calif., four teens drove by the house of worship, hurling lemons and firing shots from a BB gun. In Panama City, Fla., a Mason jar filled with gasoline was thrown at the home of a Muslim family.

Two months later, in Ohio, Randolph Linn, a white, middle-aged Muslim hater, upped the ante on the lemon and Mason jar throwers, entering a Toledo mosque, pouring gasoline on the prayer area, and torching the building. Later, he said that all he knew about Muslims came from Fox News(surprise, surprise!).

More recently, commuters on buses and metros in some of the nation’s major metropolitan cities have comes across advertisements by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Muslim hate group. The ad campaigns equate Muslims with “savages” and cherry-pick violent verses from the Quran, plopping them alongside some predictable gory imagery of 9/11.

No wonder, then, in late December, Sunando Sen, a Hindu man living in New York, was pushed onto the tracks on of oncoming subway train and killed by a woman who later admitted that shehated Muslims and Hindus.

The FBI has reported that hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, which include vandalism, intimidation, assault, rape and murder, have continually risen in the past few years. In 2011, 157 cases were reported — an insignificant drop from the some 160 cases reported in 2010.

Any reasonable person would look at this growing phenomenon and conclude that we’ve reached an ugly new level of prejudice against religious minorities in this country. But not Jonathan Schanzer, a hawkish Bush-era terrorism analyst whose predictable (and unethical — I’ll get to that later) review of my book, “The Islamophobia Industry,” in the Wall Street Journal last week denied the existence of Islamophobia entirely. These episodes of violence against Muslims are, for him, apparently unimportant and easily justified by the continued political ferocity of Islamist groups acting overseas.

Schanzer apes the extremist voices on the right (including hate group leader Robert Spencer) and calls Islamophobia a “vaguely medical sounding term” that is “simply a pejorative neologism.” Strikingly, he doesn’t suggest that we should be concerned about increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., and seems to indicate that because some people may abuse the term “Islamophobia,” we should simply dismiss it altogether. That’s a dangerous deficiency in logic. Some people also abuse the terms “anti-Semite” and “racist,” but imagine his outrage if those terms were swiped from usage.

As I point out explicitly in my book, Islamophobia is a complicated term and one that has been parsed thoroughly throughout history. It’s not perfect, but it’s what we have and is the only real word that exists in public discourse to describe an irrational fear of an entire religious faith, Islam, based on the actions of a fraction of zealots. There’s not a person in this world — myself included — who would conclude that every critique of Islam or the violent actions of some Muslims constitutes Islamophobia (of course, that point didn’t configure in Schanzer’s review because it obviously undermined the attack that he hoped to level).

But what the Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem to get is that at the core of Islamophobia is the belief that there is something about the religion of Islam itself that is evil and dirty and bad — that groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah and others are motivated only by the tenets of their faith and not by their political grievances or ambitions. That unbalanced view places the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims under the magnifying glass, and that’s not OK.

It is also that belief — that Muslims possess, as a result of their religious faith, some inherently violent characteristic — that links discussions of racism and Islamophobia. Schanzer scoffs at the possibility that Islamophobia may be a distant cousin of racism.

But what does he say about Ahmed Sharif, the New York City cab driver who was slashed in 2010 because of his brown skin? How does Schanzer explain Sunando Sen, the brown-skinned Hindu who was pushed to his death in New York City subway station? Or how about the brown-skinned man from Queens, who in November of last year, was beaten to a bloody pulp by two attackers who asked if he was Muslim or Hindu? There was also a trio of shootings in Brooklyn that same month that killed an Egyptian Jew, an Iranian Jew and an Egyptian Muslim. According to law enforcement authorities, the victims, all shot by the same .22 caliber gun, were targeted as a result of theirMiddle Eastern descent.

Schanzer is silent on these issues. And his inability to grapple with these serious questions is just as unsurprising as the fact that his review does not even address the central thesis of my book to begin with: that there exists within this country an active and well-funded cottage industry of anti-Muslim fear mongers. Schanzer does not critique that uncontestable point; he does not deny the money lines, the relationships, nor does he reject my contention that Islamophobia is largely a fixture of the political right. (Consider, for instance that in 2011 and 2012, 78 Congressional bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslim religious practices were considered in 31 states; Of them, a whopping 73 were introduced by Republicans, four were bi-partisan, and only one by a Democrat.)

That’s because Schanzer is a part of that right-wing industry — a product of the grandfather of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, Daniel Pipes. It’s a relationship he doesn’t mention (one must believe, intentionally) in his review. In the spirit of fair journalism, the WSJ could have at least added that line of disclosure, especially since I attack Pipes in my book. But given that Fox News tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns the paper, such an expectation is merely a pipe dream.

Speaking of pipes, Daniel Pipes once employed Schanzer as a researcher at the Middle East Forum (he is still listed on the site as “staff”), his neoconservative think tank, and he wrote the foreword for Schanzer’s 2008 book. The two have authored numerous articles and appeared in public together.

Ironically, while Schanzer throws a public temper tantrum about the linkage between Islamophobia and racism, his former boss, Pipes, is the author of what is, perhaps, the most blatantly racist sentence ever uttered by someone claiming to be a serious scholar of these issues:

“West European societies,” he once wrote, “are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.”

(Since that time, Pipes has tried to wriggle his way out of that statement, practically begging his audience to just see things his way — he’s not really a racist, just someone who misplaced a quotation mark or two!)

The great irony in all of this is that Schanzer, by the very nature of his career as a neoconservative terrorism analyst and vice president of a hawkish pro-Israel think tank in Washington, actually depends on these types of “all Muslims are suspicious” narratives. It’s what prevents his paycheck from bouncing each month. The more he, and others like him, can dismiss Islamophobia as some imagined mental state and continue to conflate the actions of a few violent Muslims with all adherents of the global faith, the more he can legitimize his presence within a neoconservative clique that thrives on such discrimination.

If there ever was proof of the existence of the “Islamophobia Industry,” Jonathan Schanzer is it.

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Why Islamophobia Must Fail – The Case of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Posted on 10 April 2012 by Amago

Why Islamophobia Must Fail – The Case of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

by Rabia Chaudry, Huffington Post

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the latest victim of an intricate web of half-truths and outright lies woven for political profit and as part of a broad, well funded, Islamophobia network. The Congresswoman was slated to be the keynote speaker at an April 21 event for the group EMERGE USA, but backed off after a scathing blog post by Joe Kaufman, who happens to be running for a Congressional seat for Florida’s District 20.

EMERGE USA is a non-profit committed to empowering minorities through increased civic engagement and education about the political process. The organization has strong roots in the community and has been publicly supported by one of Florida’s senior statesmen, former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, an expert on terrorism and intelligence. However, the fact that EMERGE USA was founded and is run by Muslims seems to be the proverbial bee in Kaufman’s bonnet. Ultimately, Kaufman’s Glen Beck-esque acrobatics in trying to link EMERGE USA board members and staff to “questionable” organizations and associations can be easily dismissed because of factual errors and deliberate obfuscation.

The truly insidious aspect of this entire incident, however, is that it can be linked to a multi-pronged attack on Muslims nationwide through the creation of an Islamophobia network with deep pockets and an agenda to marginalize American Muslims at every turn. The Center for American Progress’s 2011 report “Fear, Inc.” thoroughly documents this network’s funding, messengers and reach. Its efforts have manifested in anti-sharia legislation in dozens of states, bigoted trainings for law enforcement and intelligence communities, the character assassination of mainstream national Muslim organizations and even promotion of the idea that President Obama is a Muslim.

The nightmarish narrative disseminated by the numerous think tanks, pundits and self-appointed “experts” on Islam and terrorism has not only successfully influenced the American discourse on Islam and Muslims, but has had significant political impact. The Islamophobia network focuses much of its time and energy on influencing and supporting politicians who promulgate its world view. It provides politicians with talking points, platforms and agenda items to keep the suspicion and fear of Islam and Muslims in the news. Examples of such politicians cited by the “Fear, Inc.” report include the following:

  • Rep. Peter King: held numerous hearings on Islamic radicalization
  • Rep. Sue Myrick: called for congressional inquiry on the CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, held hearings on influence of Muslim Brotherhood, leading Congressional fearmonger against Muslims
  • Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. John Shadegg and Rep. Paul Broun: supporters of the CAIR congressional investigation
  • Rep. Allen West: declared Islam as the enemy, claimed it is not a religion and held a briefing called “Homegrown Jihad in the USA”
  • Rep. Renee Ellmers: made the Park51 into an issue, calling it a ground zero victory mosque
  • Rep. Michelle Bachman: frequently raises concerns over homegrown Islamic threat and engages in anti-sharia rhetoric

While the influence of the Islamophobia network on right-wing politicians is more visible, the pressure it exerts on progressives is more troubling. Left-leaning politicians are also vulnerable to manipulation, as can be seen in Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s case. The Congresswoman is not the first Democrat to distance herself from a Muslim organization after being attacked by Islamophobes. To American Muslims who are mostly progressive in their politics, abandonment by Democratic politicians feels like betrayal.

The politicians who continue to be used to spread or confirm the network’s ugly narrative must realize something very important: while winning small battles, they are losing the war. History has proven that bigots, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites and other variations on the same brand of fear and suspicion have never succeeded — socially or politically. Even genocide, the extreme expression of bigotry, has left nothing but failed ideology in its wake.

A simple understanding of the human psyche tells us that people tire of living in fear, worn out from perpetually being “anti-other.” Over time, we make up and move on. The battle of the Islamophobes will also eventually be lost because American Muslims and their allies will continue to push back against false narratives. The lifespan of Islamophobia in the United States will undoubtedly end up a sad blight on our history like other failed “anti” movements — but politicians, both Republican and Democrat, should ask themselves on what side of history they wish to be.

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney, President of the Safe Nation Collaborative, and an Associate Fellow of the Truman National Security Project.

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Sahar Aziz: The Contradictions of Obama’s Outreach to American Muslims

Posted on 21 December 2011 by Amago

The Contradictions of Obama’s Outreach to American Muslims

On the same day that Rep. Peter King held the fourth “homegrown terrorism” hearing focused exclusively on Muslims, the White House released its Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Despite the White House’s seemingly benign approach to counterterrorism, its implementation produces adverse effects similar to Mr. King’s confrontational tactics.

The White House Strategy proclaims, “Law enforcement and government officials for decades have understood the critical importance of building relationships, based on trust, with the communities they serve. Partnerships are vital to address a range of challenges and must have as their foundation a genuine commitment on the part of law enforcement and government to address community needs and concerns, including protecting rights and public safety.”

To someone unfamiliar with the history of community outreach to American Muslims, the strategy sounds ideal. However, the Obama Administration has sabotaged its own high-minded public position by adopting the Bush Administration’s counterterrorism model that punishes the broad Muslim community rather than targeting genuine threats. Thus, the Administration’s actual practices conform all-too-closely to Peter King’s vision of terrorism being synonymous with Islam.

While preventing terrorism before it happens is a legitimate strategy, the way in which it is currently implemented comes at a high price to a vulnerable minority — Muslims in America.

Expansive surveillance laws coupled with a relaxation of terrorism investigative standards have placed mosques under intrusive surveillance. Similarly, thousands of informants have been hired, for hefty payments, to induce inept and often mentally ill young Muslim men to join fake terrorist plots. Watch lists are bulging with Muslim names while those incorrectly listed lack due process rights to seek removal of their names. Scores of Muslims with no ties to terrorism are charged for making false statements to federal agents in retaliation for refusing to serve as informants. And attempts to locate “lone wolf terrorists” have resulted in the misguided conflation of Muslim orthodox practices with terrorism.

These assaults on Muslims’ civil liberties have strained relations between Muslim communities and law enforcement agencies.

Community outreach meetings, in theory, are supposed to provide the communities with an opportunity to work with government to keep counterterrorism efforts from violating civil rights and civil liberties. Unfortunately, officials routinely dismiss community grievances, reciting self-congratulatory boilerplate that the American government respects constitutional rights as it fights terrorism. Indeed, the government’s cavalier disregard of community concerns is so pervasive that many leaders have concluded that meetings with federal officials are merely pro forma, check-the-box events providing political cover to a government they believe is systematically and unlawfully profiling Muslims. Others have chosen to boycott the meetings altogether.

The government seems oblivious to the harm these counter-terrorism policies are doing to the potential for trust in Muslim communities. Making matters worse, the immense political pressure on the Justice Department to produce terrorism indictments, and congressional accusations that Obama is soft on terrorists, places the Muslim communities in an intractable dilemma: How can you be partners with agencies who misdirect adversarial behavior from actual terrorists to Muslim communities en masse?

If a young Muslim terrorist suspect manipulated into a phony plot has mental health problems and needs rehabilitative health services, for example, investigators and prosecutors nonetheless pursue the adversarial route — to prosecute and incarcerate. The combined effects of these entrapment efforts and over-charging obviously disturbed young Muslim men threatens to devastate Muslim communities in the same way that the mass incarceration of African American men has transformed the communities from which they have been removed.

Such concerns are validated by documents obtained through a freedom of information request by the American Civil Liberties Union, proving the FBI used community outreach meetings forcollecting intelligence on Muslim AmericansAccording to the ACLU, the FBI did not inform Muslims at outreach events, such as community meetings, religious dinners and job fairs, that conversations and names of those in attendance would be recorded in government files. A 2008 document shows that an FBI agent “collected and documented individuals’ contact information and First Amendment-protected opinions and associations, and conducted Internet searches to obtain further information about the individuals in attendance.” This may explain why individuals, including imams, who were active participants in government outreach programs have found themselves indicted or deported, sending a chill through Muslim communities.

If the government is serious about partnering with Muslim communities, it must stop behaving like an adversary. For starters, community outreach programs should not be exploited to spy on Muslims, recruit undercover informants, and make false promises.

Until the Administration translates its lofty rhetoric into tangible policy reforms, there will not be much difference between Mr. King’s and President Obama’s approaches to counterterrorism.

Sahar Aziz is an associate professor of law at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She is the author of Caught in a Preventive Dragnet: Selective Counterterrorism Against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asiansforthcoming in the Gonzaga Law Review.

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