Islamophobia 101


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The Atlantic (June 16) has a powerful piece by Uri Friedman on Donald Trump’s rampant Muslim bashing with responses by six Muslim commentators and scholars. It is well worth reading.

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“WICHITA, KS – MARCH 5: A group of Muslim students take selfies before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a speech at a campaign rally on March 5, 2016 in Wichita, Kansas. During the speech, after they voiced some protests, they were removed from the convention center. J Pat Carter/Getty Images/AFP”

Middle East Eye, March 22, 2016

Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups

No sooner had the Belgian attacks happened, commentators on social media began linking the terror acts to the Islamic faith, with the hashtag #StopIslam trending on Twitter.

Empirical data show that Islamophobia, defined by Professor Todd Green as “an irrational fear, hostility or hatred of Muslims or Islam” is on the rise in American society.

Many Americans are increasingly scared of Muslims, and, given rising anti-Muslim hate crimes – the FBI says anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased fivefold since the September 11 terror attacks – many American Muslims are also growing more scared for their personal safety.

Given attacks by Muslim extremists – including the 11 September 2011 attacks – some fear of Muslim terrorists is obviously warranted. But much of Islamophobia borders on the absurd. Islamophobic statements, sentiments and policies tend toward exaggeration and overgeneralisation, and are divorced from empirical realities.

Recent statements made by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump offer useful cases-in-point. In a recent CNN interview, Trump stated that “Islam hates us.” Trump also claimed last week that 27 percent of Muslims are radicals who are “very militant”.

No one knows where or how Trump’s campaign team came up with the 27 percent figure. He may have consulted with noted Islamophobe Brigitte Gabriel, who famously claimed that Muslim radicals represent “between 15 to 25 percent” of the global Muslim population. “You’re looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation,” Gabriel asserted. Prominent media personality Glenn Beck, meanwhile, has claimed that 10 percent of the world’s Muslims are terrorists.

So-called Islam experts Robert Spencer, Sam Harris, Pamela Geller and Ayan Hirsi Ali have been even more direct. All have claimed that Islam is a religion bent on violence. Spencer argued that “Traditional Islam is not moderate or peaceful” and that late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was acting in ways that were “consistent with traditional understanding of the Qur’an.” Harris has said that “we are at war with Islam…we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.” Geller argued that “the Quran is war propaganda” and Ali said that the West’s war on terror should not only be directed at radical Islam, but, rather, “Islam, period”.

Statements like these are reckless, and may help explain why more and more Americans believe that Islam itself is the problem, not just the extreme, minority interpretations offered up by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 55 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats believed that Muslim extremists who commit violence against civilians are acting consistently with their faith. A 2015 Brookings survey, meanwhile, found that 61 percent of Americans hold unfavourable opinions of Islam.

Given all of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Americans support Trump’s November proposal for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. A strong majority of Republicans support Trump’s “temporary” Muslim ban proposal, including 78 percent of Republicans in Alabama, 76 percent in Arkansas, 76 percent in Mississippi and 74 percent in South Carolina.
Liberal Islamophobia

But it would be wrong to view Islamophobia as a strictly conservative phenomenon. Polling data indicate that 49 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of Islam. Also, Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid has argued that US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, holds views that amount to “Islamic exceptionalism”. Hamid argues that Obama’s statements about Muslims suggest that he is “frustrated by Islam” and that he has bought into Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.

Moreover, American news media, including liberal outlets, have done a poor job contextualising stories about Muslims and Islam. A growing body of empirical research into American news media coverage of Islam reveals deeply problematic patterns – negative, stereotypical portrayals, almost no Muslim sources, and few mention of Muslims or Islam in the context of positive news. That American news outlets apply the “terrorism” description almost exclusively to Muslim-perpetrated violence cannot be lost on anyone paying attention.

Of all the recent research on Islamophobia, Professor Chris Bail’s work might be the most instructive – and also the most damning for American news outlets. Bail uses computerized content analysis to show that Islamophobic statements – released by a small group of anti-Muslim fringe groups – are much more likely to make their way into the American news cycle than statements made by Muslim advocacy groups denouncing terrorism. Bail’s research shows that while denunciations of terrorism by Muslim groups generally go unreported, Islamophobic statements drive news narratives.

Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups. For instance, a 2011 Gallup World Violence poll showed that Muslims were just as likely as non-Muslims to reject vigilante acts of violence against civilians.

In America, polling data point even more sharply in this direction. A 2011 Gallup poll found that American Muslims were the least likely of all polled American religious groups to accept vigilante violence against civilians. In all, 26 percent of American Protestants, 27 percent of Catholics, 22 percent of Jews, 19 percent of Mormons, 23 percent of atheists, but just 11 percent percent of Muslims said that it is “sometimes justified” for an “individual person or a small group of persons to target and kill civilians”.

As for actual terrorists, the CIA estimates that there are around 30,000 Muslim jihadists in the entire world. A Kurdish leader has suggested that the CIA underestimates the jihadist threat, and claims that the total number is closer to 200,000. Even assuming the larger figure, jihadists represent a grand total of 0.01 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims.

American entertainment media have been part of the problem. Media scholar Jack Shaheen carried out a content analysis of more than 900 Hollywood movies featuring Arab or Muslim characters. Shaheen found Muslim characters are almost never cast in positive or neutral roles. The overwhelming majority of films that feature Arab or Muslim characters cast them as enemies, terrorists, violent, savage or backwards.

No one would suggest that American media and political discourse should completely eliminate mentions of Muslim-perpetrated terrorism. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are real threats and some attention, concern and fear are warranted. But, compared to other threats of violence, Muslim terrorism garners exaggerated attention in American news and politics.

In the 14 years since 1 January 2002, Muslim terrorists have killed 45 Americans in the United States, a smaller number than right-wing conservative terrorists have killed during the same time period. Also, since the start of 2002, there have been more than 200,000 firearm-related homicides in the United States, and hundreds of mass shooting.

More realistic, proportionate presentations would greatly improve American political life. However, given the extent to which the Islamophobia industry is funded, people shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for fairer, less sensational presentations.

– Dr Mohamad Elmasry is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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My latest post from Lund…

John Esposito at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service has just provided a unique website to chart the pace of islamophobia in the media,among the general public and in academe. Check out his new site here.

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Faux News expanded its crusade against President Obama (who is reduced to POTUS in their pseudo-news hocus pocus) and Islam (which is only newsworthy when it is called extreme) with a line right out of Monty Python. At the White House Prayer Breakfast (which Fox seems to think only included “evangelicals”) the president made a simple moral point that we should get off our “high horse” and remember that atrocious acts have been committed in the past by Christians in the Crusades and Inquisition. He might have added that “witches” were routinely burned at the stake in Christian Europe. The response from the right was that the president must hate Christianity if he compares the horrific acts of ISIS to marauding Crusaders and Torquemada. Some have such vitriol for Obama that they claimed the Crusaders were acting in self-defense.

I do not have the stomach to watch Faux News (and mercifully I choose not to have a cable connection in Qatar), but the tidbits that float through Facebook and Youtube cannot be easily avoided. (more…)

by David Miller and Tom Mills, Open Democracy, January 15, 2015

Terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson is more than a comic buffoon. His claims about no-go zones for non-Muslims in European cities are just part of a wealthy network spreading Islamophobia across the west.

On Sunday, the veteran terrorism expert Steven Emerson appeared on Fox News to discuss Europe’s Muslim population and claimed that Birmingham was an example of a ‘totally Muslim [city] where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in’. The claim led to him being ridiculed online, and after the news media picked up on the story he issued an apology to ‘the beautiful city of Birmingham’ for his ‘terrible error’. So high profile was the story, that the Prime Minister David Cameron felt moved to comment, reportedly describing Emerson as ‘a complete idiot’.

The claims were idiotic. But Emerson is not simply an ‘idiot’, or a hopelessly misinformed ‘expert’. An examination of his background, the sources of his ideas, and the funding for his think tank the Investigative Project on Terrorism, show that he is part of what the Center for American Progress in a widely cited 2011 report Fear Inc. described as ‘a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts’ that ‘peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam’. (more…)

Is it hard to image what President Obama has not been called. The tea party partisans say he is not an American; many Republicans think he is a Muslim (or Arab as though there is any difference). And he has let Muslim Brothers take over the government. He is obviously a socialist, if not a communist. And then there is what the Bible has to say about this American president (not to mention several others before him and quite a few defunct world leaders). So some prophecy sites on Youtube say he is the Beast of Revelation. After all, the secret service calls his presidential limousine “the beast.” Or the Antichrist. If he had a sex change operation, he would no doubt be a candidate for the “Whore of Babylon.” But then where would that leave Hilary Clinton? And now that we know that Michelle Obama is a man, it is really hard to find a revelation role for her or him.

(more…)

Misapprehending Muslims and the Media’s Misinformation

by Hasan Azad, Huffington Post. November 17, 2012

My friend Sim is a strapping young man in his 20s. He is fitter than I could ever dream of becoming. Sim has run in the New York marathon for two years in a row, and hopes to run in many more to come. When you meet Sim you’re immediately struck by the warmth of his smile. Opinions are unanimous, Sim has a heart of gold — and the good looks to go with it!

Sim was recently flying back to New York from visiting with his parents in Texas, when the chipper middle-aged Texan lady sitting next to him asked in the most disarmingly matter-of-fact manner that only Texans are capable of, “You’re not a Muslim are you?” A question possibly prompted by Sim’s full-length beard and turban. When he responded, “No, I’m Sikh,” the woman was visibly relieved, so much so she hugged Sim (short for Simran, in case you’re wondering), adding “I’m so glad you’re not a Muslim. They want to take over America with ‘Siran’!” Simran, being the gentleman that he is, smiled politely, but later revealed to me that he had no idea how to respond to the exchange. And it’s true, it wasn’t a “simple” exchange that had occurred, which could or should be explained away as another example (and aren’t there so many?) of unwitting Texan folk who can’t tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. (more…)

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