Islam in America


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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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larycia

by Daniel Martin Varisco, MENA Tidningen

As an undergraduate I attended Wheaton College in Illinois, an interdenominational evangelical Protestant enclave, from which I obtained a quality education. Although not a “Bible School”, there was a pledge which promoted the conservative values and rules that evangelicals are known for. Wheaton is in the news now for censuring a tenured professor of Political Science, who chose to wear a hijab as a sign of solidarity with Muslims, whose faith is under attack in the Islamophobic rhetoric of the Republican presidential circus.

Her name is Larycia Hawkins, one of the very few African-American professors at this conservative college. The college administration claims that she has not been placed on administrative leave because she wore a hijab, but rather because of the “significant questions regarding the theological implications” of her reason for doing so. Her reason was one of solidarity with Muslims who are being targeted because of their faith, noting that Muslims are “People of the Book.” It is obviously that it was her use of an Islamic phrase that upset the rule mongers in the administration. But then does this mean that Jews do not worship the same God? What about Catholics or Orthodox or Mormons? The problem that the extreme edges of evangelical theology needs to overcome is the idea that only the “Bible Believers” are true Christians. Wheaton used to be better than that.
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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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An interview with Tariq Ramadan

Interviewed by Hasan Azad, The Islamic Monthly, April 15, 2015

Hasan Azad: Muslims in the West are facing a great deal of scrutiny and questioning as to their “loyalty” to the countries of their citizenship and belonging. You have argued that the greatest challenge to such rhetoric is a committed citizenship on the part of Muslims that is engaged and contributes to the welfare of the wider community. And yet, there is a prevalent narrative amongst Muslims—which seems to me to be a vestige of old narratives of “us” vs. “them”—that makes many Muslims prefer to help Muslims in other countries, than help local communities and people in need, who may or may not be Muslim: as you have noted, poverty and suffering knows no religion or creed. How can Muslims reclaim the Prophetic imperative of caring for the neighbor, over and above identitarian-pettiness, which will only exacerbate the waves of Islamophobia that Muslims are experiencing?

Tariq Ramadan: This is what I’ve been saying for almost twenty-five years: we have to come back to the fundamentals and the principles of Islam. Understanding that there is something very important in our way of dealing with space: that anything that has to do with practicing religion has to do with where you are, and it is related to your neighborhood. For example, when the Quran refers to: “Those who, if We settle them in the land, establish prayer and give regular charity, promoting what is good and resisting what is bad” (Quran 22:41), what is important is that with the vertical dimension of prayer it means that when you pray somewhere you signify in symbolic terms, which are also practical, that this is home for you. This is what the sociologist Jocelyne Cesari has argued regarding the misunderstanding started in the West when people saw Muslims building mosques, and saw them as colonizing the space. It was in fact the opposite. It was an acknowledgement that we are home. It’s not to colonize, it’s to settle down, it’s to be part of the landscape.

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My friend Amir Hussain is featured in this Mike Epps episode. Check it out.

By Amir Hussain, UCObserver

So, what do you think about ISIS?” The question was posed at the end of September by an agnostic colleague at the Jesuit university in Los Angeles. The query was directed at me, no doubt, because I’m the lone Muslim theology professor on staff. And I’m not sure how to respond or what else I can say except that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are horrific. I also can’t imagine my colleague asking me a comparable question — “What do you think about the Nazis?” or “What do you think of clergy who sexually abuse children?” — and expecting any kind of nuanced answer. I put his question aside.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving home from visiting friends in Santa Barbara when I heard that Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent had been deliberately run over and killed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Two days after that, while I was in an airline lounge in Chicago, word flashed across the TV monitors that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo had been shot dead while he guarded the National War Memorial in Ottawa and that the assailant was killed in a hail of gunfire in the corridors of the Parliament Buildings. It turned out that both murderers were self-radicalized converts to Islam. I was horrified.

The October attacks brought back to mind my colleague’s question about ISIS. Perhaps, when he asked, he wasn’t looking for nuance but context. Perhaps he wanted to better understand what motivates and inspires their evil, where the movement came from, how they are able to export their ideologies to troubled young men and women around the world, and how worried we North Americans should be about their threat to us.

My response is the same now as it was before. As shocking and frightening as incidents of “homegrown terrorism” may be, we must keep one fact in mind: the primary targets of Muslim fanatics are much more likely to be other Muslims than non-Muslims. Their main purpose is to force their own skewed version of Islam onto other Muslims. In the same way that Ebola is a serious threat to West Africans, not to North Americans, ISIS is a serious threat in Iraq and Syria, not here in North America. Personally, I’m much more concerned about Islamic fundamentalism in general than I am about ISIS specifically. (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…)

Anyone who has watched NFL or NCAA football or listened to interviews with major football players will find a large amount of talking about Jesus. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback went so far as to inscribe Bible verses on his forehead. Jesus talk, like trash talk, is as much a part of the game as fighting in hockey. But heaven (and you know which one I mean) forbid if you have a Muslim name, pick off a pass by a Patriot like Tom Brady, scoot into the endzone and slide into a position that for literally three seconds looks like the Muslim prayer position. This happened to Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah in Sunday’s game. If he had raised his hands and said “Thank you, Jesus” the refs would not have batted an eye, but if he has a Muslim name he must not be allowed to look like he might be praying. Who knows how many ISIL terrorists would be inspired by such an act! Thus, a 15 yard penalty, but it is more than that.

On top of the prejudice, whether premediated or not, the ref has a very poor understanding of how Muslims pray. The most important part of prayer is intention. A Muslim prepares for prayer with ablutions and with a mindset that is focused on the spiritual. Running into the endzone is a thrill and one can understand the excitement of Husain as he slid on his knees. But anyone who looks at the video can see that he was not actually praying. Prayer is a ritual with stages, not what position you end up in at the end of a slide. It was no more a literal religious act than a “Thank you Jesus” would be. (more…)

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