This article, by Bridge Initiative Director John L. Esposito, was originally published in Huffington Post.
Fear of Islam has become the new normal in American and European popular culture. Islamophobia, prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims, has grown exponentially as have hate crimes against Muslims and even Sikhs who are mistaken for Muslims and have been murdered.
The Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey found that: “no religious, social, or racial and ethnic group [is] perceived as facing greater discrimination in the U.S. than Muslims.”
Islam and the vast majority of Muslims have been brush-stroked by domestic & international terrorist attacks (Al Qaeda, ISIL). Reflecting and reinforcing this strong Islamophobic trend in America, candidate Donald Trump told Anderson Cooper of CNN, “Islam hates us.” The President believes, not ISIS or Muslim extremists, but Islam, the religion of 1.6 billion Muslims and the second largest religion in the world, hates America. Asked if he’s talking about radical Islam, he said “It’s very hard to separate, because you don’t know who’s who.” There are even recent reports that the Trump administration wants to change the name of the program “CVE”, Countering Violent Extremism to Countering Islamic Violence (CIV) even though the FBI and Department of Justice have identified US right wing extremists a bigger threat to America than ISIS.
Unlike Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, President Trump and Steve Bannon, the Counselor and Chief Strategist to the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and, until recently National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, make no distinction between the religion of Islam and Muslim terrorist ideologies. Bannon, and other members of the administration like ISIS and Al Qaeda believe in an impending clash of civilizations, warns: “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.”
The recent Muslim ban, the Presidential Executive Order: Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States, halting the refugee resettlement process and barring all immigration from seven Muslim majority countries is the radical result of these unfounded fears. What are the facts about these countries? Uri Friedman calls this “a phantom menace, pointing out: “Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015…. Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s”.
This Executive Order seriously compromises American values and critics believe that it is unconstitutional. Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy warns: “The decision to turn our backs on millions of men, women, and children attempting to flee torture and terror shrinks us as a nation, and marks an unconscionable abandonment of our founding principles.”
How have we forgotten that America is a nation founded by religious refugees, that we are a nation of immigrants, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty? Donald Trump’s mantra stresses the need for extreme vetting even though, in fact, the US already has an extremely stringent two-year vetting process.
How Have We Gotten To This Point?
Mass and social media that focus on explosive, headline events (“If it bleeds, it leads,”) have made Islamophobia a global constant. For example, in America, FOX stopped positive comments about Muslims four years ago. In 2016, their coverage of Muslims was 100% negative. Globally, in 2016, about 2/3 of all news regarding Muslims was critical or unfavorable. Moderate voices, calling for mutual understanding, and representatives of the great majority of peaceful Muslims and their contribution to society are hardly heard.
Over the past decade, an explosion of an Organized Islamophobia Network (OIN) has been feeding this negativity: a cottage industry of pundits, bloggers, authors, documentaries, lobbyists, elected officials, carefully cultivated by anti-Muslim polemicists, all supported by tremendous resources. According to the Center for American Progress $42.6 million flowed from seven foundations over 10 years to support Islamophobic authors and websites.
A 2016 CAIR report identified a total of $205,838,077 in total revenue between 2008 and 2013 supporting the inner core of the US based Islamophobia network.
After a bitter presidential election and with a divided nation, the first weeks of the Trump administration’s statements and policies are being watched and judged at home and abroad. They witness Steve Bannon and Muslim terrorists both proclaiming a “Clash of Civilizations” and “US at war with Islam,“ spreading more fear and hatred and risking an escalation of violence and terror.
No wonder then that The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2016 annual report on hate and extremism in America reported that the number of hate groups rose for a second year in a row. “As Donald Trump’s campaign electrified the radical right, the number of hate groups grew to 917 in 2016 – up from 892 in 2015…. The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.”