Law and Disorder Radio – Lizzy Ratner, Moustafa Bayoumi and Deepa Kumar on Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

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 Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic

In the last few weeks, eight places of worship connected with South Asians or Middle Easterners have been targets in the United States. As many listeners know, six people were murdered at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Later that evening a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned down. Other targets recently included mosques in Rhode Island, Southern California, Oklahoma City and Dearborn, Michigan. These tragic events mark another wave of Islamophobia, inciting fear and violence against Middle Eastern people while helping to justify the ongoing war on terror.

According to the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, between September 11, 2001 and 2010 there have been 155 terror incidents in the U.S., and exactly two of them, or 1.3 percent, have been attributed to international Islamist terror groups. The majority of events involved individuals such as anti-abortionists, right-wing extremists, or extreme animal rights activists.

The Nation magazine has highlighted the disproportional focus put on Muslim communities in a special issue titled “Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic.” We talk with journalist Lizzy Ratner and authors Deepa Kumar and Moustafa Bayoumi, who contributed articles to The Nation special issue.

Lizzy Ratner:

The Nation did a special issue about Islamophobia. It came out in the beginning of July. You can still find the majority of the articles online. The real credit has to go to Abdeen Jabara, whose idea this really was.

The civil rights attorney came to me last year and said the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim hysteria has reached a fever pitch.

So I began to do some research about what exactly was going on and very quickly compiled a massive roster of possible articles.

For the most part, the left and progressives have been far too quiet.

This bigotry that is flourishing right now has a real history, it’s not a just a product of 9/11 and the post-9/11 era.

Some of the seeds of bigotry have to do with the role of the United States historically in the Middle East.

Islamophobia serves an agenda and a number of purposes.

Guest – New York City journalist Lizzy Ratner has written extensively for The Nation and AlterNet on issues involving Islamophobia. Lizzy is also co-editor of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

Moustafa Bayoumi:

  • I was happy to see that The Nation was happy to take on the question of Islamophobia for a double issue.
  • There’s been a shift in the last ten years from paranoia around security to a paranoia about the basic facts of Muslim life in the United States.
  • In a way you can say it’s a shift from security to culture.
  • At any stage, anything that has to do with the daily concerns of living a life as a Muslim American, somehow now becomes charged with sedition. Part of the funding of the anti-Muslim movement in the United States is basic conservative politics and extreme conservative politics.
  • And also due to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel will make a very distorted picture of what Muslim life is like.
  • The NYPD has now a decade long history of “othering” the Muslim-American community.
  • The NYPD had been screening The New Jihad for its new recruits.
  • It’s a crazy film saying that all of the American Muslims are here as a fifth column ready to pounce. It’s a training film for new recruits. That’s true for the Pentagon and the FBI.
  • Muslim Americans are still seen as perpetual foreigners, that Muslim American rights are different than everyone else’s rights.
  • You’re average American consumer of media does not relate to the victims of the Oak Creek massacre because they don’t see them as being part of the American family.
  • They asked Americans in a poll, and 62 percent of the population has never met a Muslim.
  • If you’ve never met a Muslim then it’s very easy to believe all these boogeyman ideas. That’s why media plays an important role in this issue.
  • The FBI training manual said that it was in the nature of Muslims to try to take over this country.

Guest – Author Moustafa Bayoumi wrote the article “Fear and Loathing of Islam” in The Nation special issue. His book How Does It Feel to be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America won an American Book Award and the Arab-American Book Award for non-fiction. He is also a professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

Deepa Kumar:

  • As of late, because of the anti-Muslim statements coming from Michele Bachmann, Joe Walsh, all of whom are Republicans, there is a sense that it is the Republicans who are responsible for Islamophobia, for the demonization of Muslims and so on.
  • This brand of the war on terror gets hatched, and part of the was language developed in the 1990s, called the “Clash of Civilizations.” It was a man named Bernard Lewis who first penned this term.
  • It’s not so much “we’re going to carry out revenge on Osama Bin Laden” but “we’re going to rescue Afghan women.” In the case of Iraq, “we’re going to bring democracy” when no weapons of mass destruction were found.
  • This rhetoric has a long history; it goes back to the 19th century.
  • Both presidents need Islamophobia. They need to generate this fear and hatred of the “Muslim other.”
  • Operation Boulder
  • The Jonathan Institute holds this conference in Jerusalem on “Islamofascism,” the roots are sown at that conference.
  • The idea of this menacing Muslim enemy is not new. It was not something created after 9/11 but in fact it goes back a millennium.
  • It’s about political goals but religious rhetoric gets used. Same thing with the re-conquest of Spain.
  • The Islamophobic rhetoric is one that’s mobilized by the elite.
  • I hold both Republicans and Democrats responsible. These rabid right-wingers get their confidence from mainstream figures like Walsh, like Bachmann and others.
  • The sad reality is that the Democrats have done nothing to counter this.
  • The Democrats are not an ally in this fight.
  • I take inspiration from two movements in the sixties, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement. I think these two strategies need to come together in fighting Islamophobia.
  • We have to take on both the far right and challenge the priorities of empire, and bring together a multiracial coalition that can actually change a generation.
  • It was President Clinton with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 which made it legal to actually deport people with secret evidence. We know this lays the basis for the Patriot Act. This has really been a bipartisan project in the interest of empire.

Guest – Deepa Kumar, an Associate Professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. Her work is driven by an active engagement with the key issues that characterize our era–neoliberalism and imperialism. Her first book, Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike (University of Illinois Press, 2007), is about the power of collective struggle in effectively challenging the priorities of neoliberalism.