ISBN 978 1 8496 4748 9. “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims” was written by Nathan Lean in 2012 and published by Pluto Press. This book is from a largely North American perspective with a single chapter at the rear devoted to anti-Islamic race hatred in Europe. This is the story of how a narrow and narrow-minded minority manipulated public opinion, the media and politicians in the post-9/11 world. The key to this manipulation was an equally narrow self-interest. Hating Islam simply became flavour of the month, a useful hatred that could turn a nobody-racist-blogger into an internet sensation. It promoted the careers of politicians and served the interests of those whose shallow egos needed a boost. It served no purpose other than that. This hatred did not make a single person safer, in fact, entirely the opposite. Islamophobia undermined our security by alienating communities that could have helped and by recruiting young jihadists. Where did we go wrong?
I have a simple test that I apply to such issues. When someone makes a bold statement about Muslims I simply substitute the words “Jews” or “Niggers” in the place of “Muslims”. It normally does the trick. It works equally well for other groups such as Romanians or Catholics. Each in turn have fallen victims to a misplaced phobia. Lean describes a “decade-long spasm of Islamophobia” that ripped through American culture after 9/11:
“Bigoted bloggers, racist politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders, Fox News pundits, and religious Zionists, theirs is an industry of hate: the Islamophobia industry.”
It seemed that almost everyone had something to gain by grinding this particular axe. Firstly the pro-Israeli lobby found that “emphasizing what they view as the threat of Islam and Muslims creates an atmosphere of less resistance for their policies against the Palestinians.” Behind them was a long line of US & European Israel-sympathisers among them a motley bunch of evangelical Christians and other zealots for whom the entire clash of civilisations was foretold as the end of days in the Bible. Such nut-cakery has little traction outside of the peculiar confines of North America. Elsewhere the hatred industry simply pandered to people’s base-desires and animal instinct – the fear and hatred of the other, the outsider, the foreigner, those not in “our” tribe. These are the natural biases of those sadly drawn to the political Right of the old spectrum.
Such manipulation of public sentiment has a long history and Lean plucks several examples from the pages of US history – notably the pogroms against Catholics in the 1900s that had their last echoes in America when John F Kennedy became the nation’s first Catholic President. Before that there were the witch hunts against the Bavarian Illuminati in the late 1890s as well as more obvious examples such as the persecution of the Civil Rights movements, blacks in general and the McCarthy-era anti-communist hysteria.
This is a story with many ironies. Before 9/11 the greatest terrorist atrocity on US soil was conducted by a nice white, all-American, ex-serviceman, Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma city (1995).
“The fact that such a gross display of violence was perpetrated by a white, southern American male was incomprehensible to many.”
This incomprehension was repeated years later in Norway. A matter to which we shall return. The Islamophobia industry, writes Lean
“..is largely, though not exclusively, comprised of ideologically driven, right-wing activists, many of whom identify themselves as evangelical Christians and have found a chorus of like-minded enthusiasts within the Tea Party movement and various political and social fringe groups. Despite their peripheral location within American society, their outcries over a suspected Muslim takeover have gained traction within more mainstream, moderate communities.”
It’s battleground in the USA quickly became a proposed Islamic cultural centre in Lower Manhattan. At the time, even in the post-9/11 reality this caused no controversy at all:
“Approved by the Lower Manhattan Community Board, Park51’ s proponents included the mayor’s office, local business owners, and families of 9/ 11 victims. “It’s quite a bold step buying a piece of land adjacent to Ground Zero,” said Alice Hoagland of Los Gatos, California, whose son, Mark Bingham, died aboard the hijacked plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. “But it’s a noble effort,” she added . Lynn Rasic, a spokeswoman for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum lauded the project. “The idea of a cultural center that strengthens ties between Muslims and people of all faiths and backgrounds is positive,” she said. Even conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham liked the idea. “I can’t find many people who have a problem with it,” she acknowledged..”
It was not until an unknown but ambitious blogger called Pamela Geller engineered the controversy that the internet exploded. Anyone who needed to inflate their inadequate feelings of self importance could suddenly become someone on the blogosphere. This was Geller’s calling and she rose to the challenge:
“…thanks to the blogosphere’s physical remoteness, the ability and even the incentive to say things online that they would think twice about saying at an organized political meeting or caucus.”
Certainly there are many parallels here to concurrent trolling themes invoked by such scandals as climate-change denial when suddenly everyone becomes a climate scientist despite knowing jack-shit about the topic. Discredited ideas bounced around online social media getting louder and louder out of all proportion to their actual importance. In any language building a mosque near 9/11’s ground-zero should be an important step for the United States – a line in the sand spreading a message of tolerance and to underline the message that no religion is to blame for the criminal acts committed against the occupants of the World Trade Centre that once stood there.
Much as it is for Climate change Denial the Fox News Network in the USA is the very center of such an irrational hub-bub:
“It has been, for the better part of the last decade, at the heart of the public scaremongering about Islam, and has recently become the home for a slew of right-wing activists who regularly inhabit its airwaves to distort the truth to push stereotypes about Muslims. Little surprise then, it was, that a Brookings Institute poll on American values conducted in September 2011 found that approximately two-thirds of Republicans, Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement, and Americans who most trusted Fox agreed that the values of Islam are at odds with the values of the United States. Additionally, nearly six in ten Republicans who say they trust Fox also say that they believe that American Muslims are trying to establish Islamic law in America.”
Careers could be made by associating yourself with such opinions.
“Representations in the news media of a link between Islam and violence were largely deployed by individuals whose careers operated on the necessity of such beliefs— individuals whose “expertise” was not an objective evaluation of the situation at hand, but rather an extension of narratives that preconfigured Muslims and Middle Easterners in a violent way.”
Likewise the Christian Right in America had all kinds of reasons to hate Islam. Not only was Islam perceived as the enemy of Israel but it also represented an existential threat:
“Revelation is what leads many of the Christian Right— and many religious fanatics in general— to believe that they are in exclusive possession of the final truth. It is, according to them, a truth that was delivered by God and is theirs to share with others, but also to protect. The entire destiny of man, therefore, is in their hands— that includes members of their Christian faith community and others. For those who interpret revelatory passages quite rigidly, this poses a problem, particularly upon the recognition that other faith narratives also have such claims. .. the idea that Muslims may also be in possession of God’s revelation and truth, is not only unacceptable, it is an offense so blasphemous that it must be stopped… Thus, to consider that others may also have access to such an exclusive and promised gift destroys for them the notion of their special relationship with God.”
Combine this ideology with a pro-Israeli tilt and you had a propaganda gift to those who wished to crush human rights in the middle east:
“The new anti-terrorist agenda did exactly what Netanyahu hoped it would. It allowed Israel to push forward with its brutal policies against the Palestinians. Political scientist Neve Gordon notes that from 2001 to 2007, Israel killed more Palestinians per year than it had during the first 20 years of occupation.”
The war on terror was to end up killing far more Muslims in Islamic countries than non-Muslims abroad. 9/11 was played out again and again wreaking a massive Muslim-to-non-Muslim kill ratio. An entire people were being punished. The vast majority were innocent of any crime other than their religion (by birth, culture or choosing). Collective punishment is illegal under international law but the rule of law has nothing to do with what rich and powerful people want. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre fell not in Manhattan but upon the heads of a million innocents abroad. That is the proud legacy of the so-called “war on terror”. It was nothing but a war of terror against the innocent that recruited for more Jihadists that bin Laden could have dreamt of. All so counter-productive. All costing so many lives. Yet they largely were not “our” lives. The lives or others do not seem to matter in this crazy equation.
The US has a unique nexus between extreme right-wing politics and fundamentalist religious belief:
“The Tea Party’s conviction that America has been robbed of its economic potential by sinister cosmopolitan elites spurred a campaign to “take back” their country. Evangelicals share this strong sense of dispossession, loathing what they see as America’s moral decline. The government, they believe, has strayed from Christian principles and embraced secular policies that will lead to a world where competing powers seize America’s prominent place on the global stage and spread a foreign ideology.”
Lean portrays the distorted beliefs of the Islamophobes in such tender detail that reading this book can create the curious effect in the reader – it can actually undermine your faith in the Muslim community. Of course this is silly and irrational but you were left with the feeling that Lean massively neglects his essential role in debunking such stupidity. He seems to think the lunacy of such beliefs is self-evident and lets it speak for itself. Too many shortcuts are taken by the author as he paints a glorious scene for us that may not be the picture he wished to convey. Just occasionally does Lean wake up to this in time for him to interject with countervailing facts such as this evidence about a self-proclaimed expert on Jihad who claimed himself to be a former Jihadist (Caner):
“During the summer of 2010, his story began to unravel when bloggers discovered major discrepancies in his accounts of his Muslim background. While Caner’s testimony made for great post-9/ 11 storytelling (and sold hundreds of thousands of books), it was not true. Though he claimed to have been born in Istanbul, Turkey, the son of a devout Muslim who trained him to become a hardened anti-American jihadist, official court documents show that he was born in Sweden, immigrating to Ohio in 1969 before he was three years old.”
Lean tells of how black race riots were blamed upon Communism in the USA in the 1950s & 60s. The US government even had Senate Committee look into the linkages between human-rights activists and the Commies. The fact that the riots were caused by racism and violence by whites against black didn’t really seem to matter. There is always someone else to blame – never ourselves. There was no introspection. The bitter social disadvantages faced by American blacks were not even entertained. As Lean writes “Social problems .. need not be discussed. There was little time for such triviality“. Now Islamophobia has become the new racism and this was true largely in Europe.
“The spheres of Islamophobia and racism overlap greatly. In the last 60 years, in particular, racist language has shifted away from overtly biological prejudices to include a strong cultural component. While derogatory views of blacks, for example, have come to occupy a taboo and even disdainful corner of public social discourse, prejudices against groups with differing belief systems— not necessarily genes— is acceptable.”
So if you were liable to believe such things then Islam became the “here be monsters” from old sea charts. Ignorance is bliss:
“Though the Muslim community accounts for less than 1 percent of Oklahoma’s 4 million residents .. Republican State Representative Rex Duncan … launch[ed] what he called “preemptive” measures to prevent Islamic law that he admitted did not even exist in the state.”
The whole issue of attempting the block the imposition of Sharia-law again seems unique to this peculiar blend of North American ignorance. Maybe this is an aspect of a culture where so few have a passport and have travelled abroad. The idea that the religious laws of Islamic states can be imposed in the USA or any western democracy are absurd and the matter is never even raised in debate outside of North America. It is a non-issue. But in the USA:
..the.. “..United States government should impose a law banning the recognition of Sharia in federal courtrooms. This law .. would insist that “no judge will remain in office that tried to use sharia law.” Despite the fact that there had been no such occurrence... So insidious was the encroachment of Islamic law .. that its influence had crept into the American political, educational, and justice systems and required a strategy for removal similar to that of the anti -communist persecution in the 1940s and 1950s.”
(We’ll revisit this issue later in this piece.) This is Islam as phantom. Lean called it “Playing the Islam card”. It was easy to convince the ignorant and ideologically-minded that anything could be true of Muslims. Race hate was one thing but when such nonsense reach into the upper echelons of US Military Command it takes an even more insidious turn. Take the case of G. “Jerry” Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a highly decorated and twice-wounded war veteran who believed he was on a “mission from God”:
“..Boykin actively recruited Christian crusaders while in uniform. Speaking in 23 different churches, mostly Pentecostal and Baptist, he claimed that the US military was enlisting a spiritual army geared towards fighting a higher battle. That appeared to be just the case when, in 2005, the Washington Post released a report showing that a private Colorado-based missionary group called “The Navigators” was assigned to the Air Force Academy to proselytize cadets. One year later, the paper reported on the circulation of an evangelical video that was filmed inside the Pentagon showing four generals and three colonels praising “The Christian Embassy,” an organization that evangelizes among military leaders..”
Crusaders? In the twenty-first century? Seeing as the US military is most likely to be sending troops to Islamic countries this is an open invitation to al Qaeda to recruit. They see themselves as being under attack from latter-day “crusaders” and folk like Boykin had no intention of letting them down. How many young men and women had to die for this folly? The uncritical hypocrisy of some of these leading Islam-haters defied all belief. Take the example of Republican lawmaker Peter King who saw “Muslim terrorists everywhere“:
The “..irony in King’s rise to the post of chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and his subsequent inquiries into domestic support for terrorist groups… lay in a relationship he had nurtured over the course of 30 years with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).. King frequented the homes of well-known IRA leaders and participated in the group’s various social events, including a visit to a drinking haunt hosted by a subgroup of terrorist veterans who had served time in jail. His association with the motley crew alarmed British intelligence officers who eventually tagged him as a person of interest. On one occasion, a Belfast judge threw King out of the courtroom during a murder trial, calling him an “IRA collaborator.” Similarly, the United States Secret Service listed him as a security threat in 1984..”
He excused this love of terrorists on the basis that the IRA were OK because they didn’t target Americans. Hence we are to believe that “terrorism” is only something that happens when nice white American people are the victims. Nothing else counts. It calls to mind Noam Chomsky’s definition of “terrorism” as simply a propaganda term we use as a slur to describe the acts of our enemies. Hence it is not something WE – or our friends – do.
Ironies abounded in this sad tale of counter-productive activities. After 9/11 elements within the FBI and other law enforcement forces started to see Islamic terrorism under every bed. Lean retells the classic case of the FBI sending an ex-con called Craig Monteilh into a mosque in Irvine, California as agent provocateur. Mosque goers were so disturbed by the undercover agent’s activities they:
“..took out a restraining order against Monteilh and, in an ironic twist, reported his violent ramblings to the very organization that had placed him there in the first place: the FBI.”
Monteilh himself later admitted that “It is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It’s such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed … Because of this the Muslim community will never trust the FBI again.” What is so utterly demonic about such stupidity is that it alienated the very communities were had so well demonstrated their determination to root out violent Jihadists from their midst:
“…Muslims had been vital to foiling the plans of would-be terrorists. … In May 2010, a bombing in New York City’s Times Square was thwarted when a Muslim immigrant working as a food vendor alerted nearby police to a suspicious car. Five months later, an attempted bombing of the Washington, DC metro system was interrupted when the Muslim community provided details that eventuated in the suspect’s arrest. In December 2009, a sustained cooperative effort … led to the capture of five American Muslim men in Pakistan suspected of trying to join radical, anti-American forces.. ..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.. .. Fewer than 200 Muslim-Americans have engaged in terrorist plots over the past decade— that’s out of a population of approximately two million.”
Despite the demonstrable innocence of the Muslim faith and the communities that practice it the provocations increased:
“Despite the fact that they had cooperated with law enforcement agencies, the American Muslim community had good reason to harbor ill will and mistrust towards them . The FBI’s subversive scheme in California was just one example of a growing pattern of government stings that sent covert operatives into neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and houses of worship in search of information on growing Muslim enclaves. In Manhattan , the local police department collaborated with the CIA to dispatch “rakers,” or spies, into minority communities and used “mosque crawlers” to record sermons and scout out evidence of wrongdoing. Sifting through census data, officers matched ethnically concentrated neighborhoods with patrolmen of the same background. .. Immediately after September 11, 2001, the Justice Department had rounded up hundreds of illegal immigrants, more than 700, in fact—all of them Muslims. Jailed for two weeks while authorities traced leads, the large majority was sent back to their countries of origin. Three out of four were from New York or New Jersey, many were of Pakistani origin, and according to one report, 84 were subjected to highly restrictive, 23-hour “lockdown” and were shackled at the arms and legs by chains. The same report called attention to the “unduly harsh” imprisonment despite a lack of any evidence of terrorist ties and a “pattern of physical and verbal abuse.” Some of the prisoners were picked up at traffic stops and others were reported to authorities as simply being Muslims with “erratic schedules.” “
Then came the Oslo attack by a real terrorist – Anders Beivek. This didn’t fit the model of what the Islamophobes were trying to convince people: terrorist were all Muslims:
“..the case of the Oslo attacks demonstrates an instance where the word “terrorism” became virtually meaningless. Despite the insatiable desire of some right-wingers to use it synonymously with “Muslims” or “Islam,” characters like the blond-haired, blue-eyed white Christian male, Anders Breivik, deflated that possibility; the same was true for his American counterpart and predecessor, Timothy McVeigh, of Oklahoma City villainy. These men , and several others like them, showed that non-Muslims were capable of committing atrocities that were often attributed exclusively to Muslims.”
Islamophobe cheerleaders were genuinely shocked and in denial:
Fox News.. “..Host Laura Ingraham proclaimed on an episode of Fox and Friends that “The idea that [Breivik] in any way represents Christians is ridiculous and absurd.” According to her, he did not represent “any mainstream or even fringe settlement in the Christian community.” Soon, mainstream media outlets that first reported that the attack was the work of Muslim terrorists began to walk back their claims.. ..when it was learned that no Muslims participated in the bombing and the shooting, that, by definition, meant that no terrorists were involved . Conversely, when it was first believed that Muslims had participated, it was suggested that the attacks in Norway were, in fact, acts of terrorism.”
Brievek wrote a massive anti-Islamic manifesto. It held damning evidence as he called out hundreds of references to north American and European Islamophobes. They influenced him to commit mass murder. It was a damning indictment that suddenly put the hate merchants on the back foot. Quickly they had to defend themselves against the logical conclusions that had to be drawn from their own words. Hate always leads to murder. Whilst the Oslo massacre knocked back the north American hate industry Lean reminds us in his final chapter that there are no happy endings and we in Europe have nothing to crow about:
“In Switzerland, minarets, the towers at mosques from which the Muslim call to prayer is made, were banned in 2009. Despite the fact that the Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and despite the fact that the lush European ski capital had long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance, political players on the far right saw the towers as threats to Swiss values. Posters showing black missile-like structures rising up out of the country’s flag and a woman shrouded by a niqab, a black full-length covering that shows only the eyes, were splattered throughout the city as part of a campaign to whip up fear about Islam and push forward with an agenda to outlaw the future towers. Ironically, only four minarets existed in Switzerland, none of which were used to perform the call to prayer.”
Most hate crime in Europe was less organised than this nonsense
“…that the main perpetrators of low-level anti-Muslim hate crimes are not gangs but rather simply individuals from a wide range of backgrounds who feel licensed to abuse, assault and intimidate Muslims in terms that mirror elements of mainstream media and political comment that became commonplace during the last decade.”
In summary Lean returns his attention back to the United States and sees a glimmer of common sense returning:
“..the state of Oklahoma’s, a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that a widely popular state statute banning Sharia law was unconstitutional. The court pointed out in its decision that proponents of the law admitted that they did not know of a single instance in which an Oklahoma court had applied Islamic law..”
What is more the very people who pressed for such hated-laced and ignorant anti-Sharia legislation in the first place revealed their true intentions. David Yerushalmi, the ultra-Zionist, right-wing lawyer who had crafted most of anti-Sharia legislation in the USA admitted that
“His project in advancing anti-Sharia laws was, by his own divulgence, simply an exercise in heuristics. It was a way to stimulate public interest as a means of furthering investigation. Islamic law did not exist in the United States the way Yerushalmi said it did. It did not even exist at all. But by frightening the population otherwise, he could ramp up public paranoia to such a degree that Americans would fall in line lockstep behind his anti-Muslim campaign.”
Lean concludes his work with a call for all men and women to resist the threat of the Islamophobia industry:
“..there is great urgency to resist and counter those whose aim it is to chop up humanity into different minority blocks, pitting them against one another, and gambling with other people’s freedom for the sake of politics or profit.”
There is an injustice here so massive that we can barely see where it begins and ends. It has seen the humiliation of an entire culture, an entire way of life, simply for personal gain. Millions may now have been slaughtered or met a premature end to satisfy the craven ideals of narrow politics. It served no purpose other than to satisfy the immediate desires of a handful of people who cared not who suffered in their name. For suffering there was and it was not only the Muslims who fell to this sword. Islamophobia lead to exactly what it opposed. It created an atmosphere of hate in which some young Muslims felt that they did not belong. In such an environment members of these communities will feel under attack and will find comfort in the words of extremists. They offered a gateway to another possibility – that of getting revenge. An outlet for their hatred and fears. The Jihadist training grounds of the Yemen and the horn of Africa were packed with bright young recruits driven there by despair. A despair the blossomed in an environment where they were told they did no belong and were not wanted. Since they were always under suspicion for crimes they had never committed and originally had no intention of committing then what had they to lose?
So in the end just how many more nice white people have to die before we stop recruiting for the extremists? The hardest lesson in all of this is, once again, that WE are the extremists. Americans look at the middle East and see a bunch of undemocratic theocracies run by medieval-minded war lords touting guns. Yet they are looking in a mirror. They see only themselves. America is fighting a losing battle against its own tendency to solve all the world’s problems with hate and bombs. Until we can all learn to stop hating there will always be another scapegoat for our own crimes waiting around the corner.
Pray next time that it isn’t YOU.