Five Questions on Islamophobia in the War on Terror

November 13, 2023

In Episode 9 of “Unpacking Islamophobia,” our guest is Spencer Ackerman, a Pulitzer Prize and National Magazine Award–winning reporter and author of the book Reign of Terror: How The 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump.

“We saw through the War on Terror that Islamophobia impacts everyone, whether you are Muslim or not,” began Mr. Ackerman as he analyzed many post-9/11 surveillance programs affecting millions of innocent people. He began by discussing the STELLARWIND program which involved mass data mining of a large database of the communications of American citizens- including email communications, telephone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity of millions of Americans.

Ackerman further discussed the global torture campaigns inflicted on countless Muslim and Arab men around the globe who were subjected to inhumane treatment in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. He also discussed “sexual abuse” at CIA black sites where Muslim detainees were victims of sexual torture around the world with very little government oversight.

Ackerman also touched on the media’s role in mainstreaming and normalizing Islamophobia. He noted  that media outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker and others “lustily engaged in Islamophobia” in their coverage of Muslims since 9/11. He also discussed political Islamophobia coming from both right-wing and progressive liberal circles throughout the Global War on Terror. Ackerman discussed the Park51 community center controversy (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”) and how that led to anti-mosque movements across America. 

Ackerman concluded by saying that “Barack Obama should have dismantled the Global War on Terror and should have made it a central political fight of his presidency” after the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Instead, he noted, Obama increased drone strikes targeting Muslim-majority countries, which Donald Trump continued making the Global War on Terror truly a “forever war” in his opinion.  



Spencer Ackerman is a Pulitzer Prize and National Magazine Award–winning reporter and author of the book Reign of Terror: How The 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. Mr. Ackerman is a longtime investigative journalist who serves as a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and previously served as senior national security correspondent there from 2017-2021. He was also former U.S. national security editor for The Guardian newspaper and he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations.

Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Researcher for the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Arsalan is a prominent human rights lawyer, an internationally recognized researcher on the topic of Islamophobia, and a global media commentator. He is the author of several books including FEAR OF A MUSLIM PLANET: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order and Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms which President Jimmy Carter called “an important book that shows Islamophobia must be addressed urgently”. Throughout his career, Arsalan has been a regular on-air commentator for National Public Radio (NPR) and his interviews have appeared on prominent global media outlets like CNN, Al-Jazeera English, BBC World News, The Economist, New York Times, Rolling Stone, NBC News “Meet The Press” & many more. A native of Chicago, Arsalan was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees.