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June 25, 2011

Politics is to blame for Islamophobia rise in US:  UCB/ CAIR Report


By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender (CRG) along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has released a report outlining the exponential growth of Islamaphobia in the United States. The report argues that politics is to blame for much of the problem.

This investigative report is a key step in exposing and examining the powerful force of Islamophobia in the U.S., according to Prof. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Director, Center for Race & Gender. 

The UCB/CAIR Berkeley report - called Same Hate, New Target - says Muslim-bashing factored into the 2010 midterm elections and is already front and center in the upcoming presidential campaign. It says that Islamophobia has actually increased since the election of President Barack Obama, with right-wing Republicans feeding on anti-Muslim sentiments and fears over the so-called Sharia law.

According to those interviewed for this study, on a scale from 1(best situation for Muslims) to 10 (worst possible situation for Muslims) Islamophobia in America stands at a 6.4. Interviews were conducted in September and October of 2010.

The UCB/CAIR report, based on available data and interviews with experts, provides a definition of Islamophobia. “Islamophobia is close-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims. An Islamophobe is an individual who holds a closed-minded view of Islam and promotes prejudice against or hatred of Muslims. It is not appropriate to label all, or even the majority of those, who question Islam and Muslims as Islamophobes,” the report says.

The report gives an overview of Islamophobia’s growing negative impact in the United State, and lists people and institutions known for promoting Islamaphobia. Those listed as actively promoting Islamophobia included Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of the anti-Muslim hate group Stop the Islamization of America(SIOA); Act! for America leader Brigitte Gabriel; and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

The report also details the best of those pushing back against growing anti-Muslim sentiment. Those commended for pushing back against Islamophobia include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg;; CongressionalTri-Caucus; Rep. Keith Ellison(D-MN); Jon Stewart, Aasif Man-dvi and The Daily Show; KeithOlbermann and Countdown with Keith Olbermann; StephenColbert and The Colbert Report; Media Matters for America; interfaith leaders; and Rachel Maddow and The Rachel Maddow Show.

Quoting three surveys, the report stressed that America is not an Islamophobic nation, but it has Islamophobic elements:

 The public’s favorable rating of Islam sank from 40 percent in November 2001 to 30 percent in August 2010 according to the Pew Research Center.

 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….” Interviewees for this report often cited their observation that there is a general societal acceptance of derogatory commentary about Islam.

Evolving toward ever-greater cultural pluralism

The UCB/CAIR report emphasized that American Muslim reflections on Islamophobia in the United States occur in full recognition that virtually every minority in our nation has faced and in most cases continues to face discrimination.

In its chapter - Evolving toward ever-greater cultural pluralism – the report recalled:

  • In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era,1 James McPherson reports on English Protestant Americans’ suspicion of German and Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century:
  • More dangerous was the specter of ethnic conflict. Except for a sprinkling of German farmers in Pennsylvania and in the valleys of the Appalachian piedmont, the American white population before 1830 was overwhelmingly British and Protestant in heritage.
  • It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law in 2009, reminds us that women in America must still struggle for pay equal to that of men for equal work.
  • Our nation placed Japanese- Americans in internment camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The deeply troubling story of the African-American struggle for full equality is well known.
  • Sadly, it is commonplace for minority groups and their leaders to be painted as a threat and vilified, even by the government. Martin Luther King—a non-violent, shining example of the civil rights movement who now has a federal holiday named after him and who won a Nobel Peace Prize—was branded “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country” in an FBI memo. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a “degenerate.” 

The UCB/CAIR report argued that America was founded on a set of ideals such as individual liberty, freedom of speech and worship and equal justice under the law. America was not founded as a place for any single religion, race or ethnic group. That said, people of conscience must continually remind themselves that the specters of bigotry, discrimination and second class citizenship are omnipresent.

Muslims have the great fortune to receive guidance, support and wisdom from the many groups who have fought bigotry before us, the report added.

“America has a reset button,” a professor of contemporary Islamic studies told us. “It has the ability that once in a while the historical processes come to bear where the group that previously had been marginalized, discriminated against, persecuted that America hits the reset button and that from that point on that group has now become vested, that group has become indigenized.”

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.