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Rising tide of Islamophobia in Western politics

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

While other forms of racism are frowned upon, Islamophobia is actively being promoted as an acceptable form of political behavior in the West. Muslims are a soft target and in such an environment, denigrating them carries little direct political costs. Early in 2003, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn sparked controversy by stating that anyone who believes in Islam is achterlijk—which translates into English as “backward” and/or “retarded—and that Holland should not accept any more Muslim immigrants.

The US media-monitoring group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), drew a list of the top dozen Islamophobes in a recent study. Under the heading: Meet the Smearcasters: Islamophobia’s dirty dozen (www.smearcasting.com), the list includes the following:

1: Daniel Pipes

2: Bill O’Reilly

3: Sean Hannity

4: Mark Steyn

5: David Horowitz

6: Debbie Schussel

7: Robert Spencer

8: Glenn Beck

9: Michelle Malkin

10: Steven Emerson

11: Michael Savage

12: Pat Robertson

Even his right-wing party, Leefbaar Nederland (LN), found his policies so excessively Islamophobic that it kicked him out. Fortuyn then launched List Pim Fortuyn, a party of his own that managed to attract many former LN members. Soon after his assassination by an animal-rights activist, Fortuyn’s new party became the second largest in the Netherlands.

During the 2008 American Republican National Convention, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the words ‘Islamic terrorism.’ I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe it will insult someone. Please, tell me, who are they insulting, if they say ‘Islamic terrorism?’ They are insulting terrorists.”

At the same convention, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney asked: “Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? [Republican Presidential nominee] John McCain hit the nail on the head: radical violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it!” A month earlier, one of McCain’s leading supporters told Florida media that “the Muslims... [are] going to kill us.”

McCain has called the US a “Christian nation” and has used the misnomer “Islamofascism” to describe the perceived terror threat the US faces. A few weeks after the Florida revelation about Muslims “...going to kill us,” the Clarion group began distributing a free DVD in newspapers and magazines to 28 million American households across the US. (See http://www.obsessionthemovie.com)

Drawing hatred of minorities into politics poses a serious and growing threat to every citizen and not merely the targeted minority. “At a minimum, the politicization of prejudice is likely to harden and inflame existing societal tensions,” say two American Professors Harold E. Quinley and Charles Y. Glock. “It will lead people to define their interests along religious, ethnic, and racial lines and to treat those different from themselves as political enemies ... In extreme form, the politicization of prejudice can result in the use of the power of the state to repress or even eliminate unpopular minorities. Of all the political excesses of humankind, probably none have been as vicious as those motivated by personal hate and bigotry ... Of critical concern are the nature, extent, and causes of political movements that appeal to public prejudices.”

Two days after the fourth anniversary of 9/11 (on September 11, 2005), Ontario (Canada) Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that there would be no “Sharia” law in his province and that he would move to ban all forms of faith-based arbitration. He was referring to the Muslim campaign to use the same faith-based arbitration process in resolving family disputes that Christians and Jews had used since 1991. There was no controversy for nearly 14 years until Muslims asked for the same rights that others had used. McGuinty said he would not let his province become the first Western government to allow the use of Islamic law to settle family disputes and that the boundaries between church and state would become clearer by banning religious arbitration completely.

“There will be no Sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians,” McGuinty told The Canadian Press. The proposal to let Ontario Muslims use Islamic law for settling family disputes drew protests throughout Canada and across Europe. The Canadian Press reported: “Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, has allowed Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to settle family law matters such as divorce on a voluntary basis since 1991. The practice got little attention until Muslim leaders demanded the same rights. Officials had to decide whether to exclude one religion, or ...scrap the religious family courts altogether. McGuinty said such courts ‘threaten our common ground’.” There was no such “threat” until Muslims came into the picture.

Although Professors Quinley and Glock were addressing anti-Semitism in America in the 1940s, their study is relevant to understanding the spread of Islamophobia in Western politics and society today. “By studying the dynamics of these situations,” they wrote, “[we] sought to arrive at a general understanding of the causes and consequences of the politicization of prejudice in America. Additionally, the study examined the susceptibility of Americans ... to political campaigns of hate and prejudice. To what extent can the elements leading to a politics of prejudice in the past be found among Americans in the present?”

They continue by stressing their efforts to “describe the general conditions under which minority groups are made the targets of political derision and attack. As will be seen, the politicization of prejudice has been more prevalent in America than is commonly assumed ... Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, intellectuals, communists, and several other unpopular and vulnerable minority groups have all been subjected to malicious and defamatory political attacks. Such hate-inducing groups have gained strength on the average of once a generation. They have often attracted millions of followers, elected scores of candidates to office, and succeeded in having their prejudices written into the law.”

In today’s post-9/11 era, Muslim minorities in the West can be added to the top of Professors Quinley and Glock’s list of those who suffer the most from “political derision and attack.”

(Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at np@canadianislamiccongress.com).

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 9

Dhu al-Qa'dah 02, 14292008-11-01

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