Lean takes us inside the minds of the manufacturers of Islamophobia – a highly-organized enterprise of conservative bloggers, right-wing talk show hosts, evangelical religious leaders, and politicians in the United States.
The Islamophobia Industry
How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims
By Nathan Lean
Pluto Press, London
222 pages, $ 17
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Islamophobia has deep roots in history. Most Americans had their first encounter with Islam in the wake of Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978. Terrorist attacks fed the growth of Islamophobia in the US in recent years. Islam and Muslims have become guilty until proved innocent, a reversal of the classic American maxim. Islam is often viewed as the cause rather than the context for radicalism, extremism and terrorism. Islam’s portrayal as the triple threat (political, civilizational and demographic) has been magnified by a number of journalists and scholars who trivialize the complexity of political, social and religious dynamics in the Muslims world.
Many people believe that Muslims or Islam are unable or unwilling to adapt to the cultures of the countries to which they move. This is premised on the inaccurate idea that the US has belonged historically to one main group of people with a core value system. Yet the US has no state religion, class system or overarching set of moral tenets; thus it is impossible to conceive that Muslims or any other group could refuse such a thing. Still capitalist economic values that overlap with social ideals breed suspicions that ethnic, racial and religious minorities want to take advantage of freedoms and opportunities for prosperity that are thought to be uniquely American or European.
American or European Muslims, born in the US and countries like France and Britain, are, to Islamophobes, just as foreign as immigrants. Cleaving identities in this way—that is, forcing one aspect of a person’s whole self apart from its other aspects—is of an expressly political nature. By turning majority populations against minority ones and exaggerating differences, some world leaders have been able to advance atrocious agendas.
Economic stability gives way to social tensions. The ‘Ground Zero’ Mosque joined ‘Eurabia’, ‘death panels’, ‘creeping sharia’ and ‘dhimmitude’ into public political discourse and fostered fear without much concerted effort on the part of the right.
In 2010 ABC News and the Washington Post reported that the percentage of Americans with a favourable view of Islam was at its lowest point since October 2001. Just 37% of Americans admitted to having a favourable view of the Muslim faith. What is the cause of such a steady and persistent rise in anti-Muslim sentiments? Why is it that ten years after September 11, 2001, fear, mistrust, and hatred of Muslims were at their highest level ever?
The Islamophobes have laboured since the day the planes hit the towers of WTC to convince their compatriots that Muslims are gaining a dangerous influence in the West. Bigoted bloggers, racist politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders, Fox News pundits, and religious Zionists, there is an industry of hate; the Islamophobia industry.
Some of these Islamophobes are;
American blogger Robert Spencer and Robert Spencer daily blog posts for Jihad Watch, an arm of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and write regularly for FrontPage Magazine, an online political journal also operated by Horowitz. Hardline supporters of Israel’s quest to extend its reach into Palestinian territories are often major backers of the pseudo-intellectual pugilism that the Islamophobia industry deploys. By creating hate against and fear of Muslims they seek to reduce resistance for their own cause. Parts of the evangelical Christian community also root their faith narratives in a religious showdown with Muslims. It is a three-way alliance between Israeli camp, conservative Christian camp and factions of Tea Party.
The logical conclusion of fear and hate is violence. And sometimes it manifests itself in a horrendous manner as it happened in Oslo three year ago by shooting and killing of 77 innocent people by Norwegian anti-Islam blogger Anders Breivik. The poisonous harvest was suffered by Norwegians themselves. But few intellectuals and writers are bold enough to admit that fear and anxiety of Muslim is an entirely fabricated phenomenon.
Imaginative monsters serve to unite the threatened. Fear paralyses the rational impulses. The Americans have been victims of such campaigns. In the past fear of Bavarian Illuminati, Catholic takeover of America, Fear of Communism promoted by Senator McCarthy, Soviet nuclear attack etc were used to this end in the recent past. American administration, it seems, fears the monsterless vacuum the most. So it must create monsters at frequent intervals to arm itself against the “forces inimical to the ‘American justice and liberty’”.
Despite best efforts to differentiate between criminal acts of individual Muslims and the quintessential nature of Muslim faith by the Administration and well-meaning organisations, such endeavours have often been overpowered by a counter-narrative that exploits realistic fears and represents Islam as a violent threat to not only American values but the future of America itself.
The industry of Islamophobia uses lurid imagery, emotive language, charged stereotypes, and repetition, to exacerbate fears of a larger than life, ever-lurking Muslim presence. The movement threw up blogger-activists such as Pamella Geller, Robert Spencer etc on the social networks. Print media has some restraints for penchants for sensationalism. But not the social networks. It is free-for-all and no-holds barred atmosphere. Fox News which claims itself to be ‘balanced and fair’, hosted 47 different guests between May 13, 2010 and August 12, 2012—a period of 91 days during the controversy on Ground Zero mosque. Seventy five per cent of those guests were opposed to the mosque. Fox specifically used Obama’s middle name ‘Hussein’ to impress upon the audience that the frontrunner in the Presidential race had a Muslim background. Films like Obsessions and Iranium joined the 2008 campaign against Obama. Donor Capital Fund (DCF) funneled nearly $21 million into anti-Muslim causes between 2007 and 2009.
Despite all this, Americans have been mature enough not to fall prey to propaganda. A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Chapel University found that in more than one-third—48 out of 121—of the violent terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, it was American Muslims who first tipped off law enforcement officers to the plots. Charles Kurzman, the author of the report, notes that each year in the US, some 15,000 people are murdered. Muslim-led terrorism, it turns out, has accounted for just three dozen deaths since 9/11, a small fraction, “fewer than 200 Muslim-Americans have engaged in terrorist plots over the past decade—that’s out of a population of approximately two million.
The book provides a gripping narrative of the discourse on Islam in the United States and Europe and puts in social and political context of the two continents. Prof. John L. Esposito, the founding director of the Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the George Washington Unversity, in his foreword terms it an extraordinary and groundbreaking study of the multi-million dollar industry that manufactures xenophobia, bigotry and racism. The book is a must read for anyone trying to understand the why the American Democracy’s perpetual hunger for an enemy.
Blurb: The industry of Islamophobia uses lurid imagery, emotive language, charged stereotypes, and repetition, to exacerbate fears of a larger than life, ever-lurking Muslim presence.