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Sun 11 Sep 2011 07:31 AM

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Feeding the hate

Anti-Muslim sentiment is as high today as at any point since 9/11. Why is Islamophobia so persistent?

Feeding the hate
Gallup Centre’s Dalia Mogahed notes that Islamophobia in the US was already high before 9/11
Feeding the hate
Muslim protesters march past an NYPD officer at a large anti-war rally in Union Square on April 9, 2011 in New York City. Thousands of protesters called for the U.S. to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a large Muslim contingent protested against war and Islamophobia. (Getty Images)
Feeding the hate
A July study says that half of respondents described Muslim Americans as “trustworthy” and “peaceful”

Few people had ever heard of Terry Jones until the obscure pastor from Florida threatened to burn copies of the Quran in his small church in September 2010. Pastor Jones, who very quickly became a household name, was responding to reports of a planned mosque near Ground Zero.

He never carried out the threat but the ripple effect he caused around the world reached fever-pitch as world leaders condemned his plan and thousands marched in protests in Afghanistan.

Pastor Jones demonstrates a growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Islamophobia and hate crime might have spiked in the twelve months following the September 11 attacks but never has it been more endemic in US culture than today.

A September 2010 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavourable view of Islam compared to 39 percent in October 2001.

“Islamophobia in the US has increased but the growing anti-Muslim sentiment is relatively recent and not, as many would assume, directly linked to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001,” says Eli Clifton, co-author of a recent report, Fear Inc, The roots of Islamophobia network in America.

Dalia Mogahed, who conducts research and statistics on Muslims throughout the world, notes that Islamophobia in the US was already high before 9/11.

“Today, Americans have a slightly worse view of Muslims than they did directly after the attacks. Whereas president Bush called on Americans to not judge all Muslims by the acts of a fringe immediately after the attacks, the steady drum beat of anti-Muslim rhetoric since then has taken away from this initial message,” says the director and senior analyst at Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre.

But it’s not just confined to the US. The Norwegian responsible for a bomb that killed eight people and a shooting of 68 people at a Labour Party youth camp on Norway’s Utoya Island, Anders Breivik, recently defended his attack as “necessary” to save Europe from Marxism and “Muslimisation”.

While Breivik’s justification represents only one man’s opinion, wider disconnect in Europe is evident. In the UK, where one in every ten Britons is expected to be Muslim by 2030, a 2010 study found that more than half of the population (55 percent) would be strongly opposed to a large mosque being built in their area compared to fifteen percent who would be opposed to a new church. Meanwhile, far right political parties across Europe have enjoyed increasing popularity and have continued to win a larger share of votes in parliamentary elections.

Who is to blame for this rising sentiment? Wars in Afghanistan, a campaign against Islamic extremists coupled with several strong political figures and the subsequent media coverage has done little to dispel anti-Muslim sentiment in the last decade.

Clifton’s report points to the emergence of a small networked group of “misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners, and grassroots organising”.

The report highlights the names of several political figures such as Republican Peter King (the man responsible for holding hearings on the radicalisation of American Muslims), that have become prominent for spreading misinformation as well as a number of wealthy foundations and wealthy donors that have provided direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups.

Clifton notes seven charitable groups, including the Russell Berrie Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, as providing $42.6m to Islamophobia think tanks between 2001 and 2009. These think tanks, it adds, supports the scholars and experts that have become prominent in mainstream media.

“The ability of this tightly knit network to drench the public with misinformation is greatly enhanced by elected officials at the state and national level — politicians who push these myths as “facts” and then craft political fundraising campaigns and get out-the-vote strategies based on debunked information about Muslims and Islam,” notes the report.

The media coverage of these political figures continues to exacerbate the situation, adds the report, who lists several news outlets such the main contributors. It’s a sentiment shared by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam charged with leading the cultural centre project at the former site of the Twin Towers.

“The radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world, feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they’ve been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem,” he told ABC News in September 2010.

Much has been made of president Obama’s highly anticipated speech in Cairo which he called for a “new beginning” in US-Muslim relations but in reality his appointment has done little to quell tensions. “Obama’s relationship with the Muslim world, three years into his term, could best be described as initially high expectations and strong favourability followed by disappointment,” says Clifton.

“President Obama has led the nation to include all Americans from his very first day in office. However, his influence on public opinion is limited in this regard due to the sheer volume of the far right’s anti-Muslim rhetoric,” adds Mogahed.

Rather than improve the image of American Muslims, the death of Osama Bin Laden in April this year, had little impact on the wider American public. A July study by researchers at a host of universities including Cornell University’s Survey Research Institute, found that half of respondents described Muslim Americans as “trustworthy” and “peaceful”. The same figure dropped to one-third of respondents following his death. Today may be the tenth anniversary of 9/11 but it looks like it could be some years before relationships between hardline entities in the West and the Muslim world can be improved.

Elizabeth Parry 8 years ago

Why is the cause of Islamaphobia in America unclear to Muslims? Why would non-Muslims NOT be fearful of those who promise 'Death to America' and who have already killed many Americans? Would Muslims not be fearful if someone promised death to them?

procan 8 years ago

excellent question why indeed! look forward to the comments Elizabeth

A.Nazar 8 years ago

The reasons for Islamophobia are unclear to the Muslims the same way that Ameriphobia was unclear to the Americans uptill recently. The average American citizen could not understand why the Great America is hated and reviled throughout the world. They could not understand that the behaviour of a few in the state department has put out an ugly picture of America for the whole world.

Tony 8 years ago

Careful analysis of events leading upto 9/11 and the aftermath will lead any rationale person to conclude that there are certain individuals that have greatly benefitted financially from spreading religious conflicts across the world. It is well known these were powerful figures in government. The cost however, is borne by the general public of all religions, wherein fear and mistrust grows to unfortunate levels and with severe consequences on lives of our fellow humans!

WJ 8 years ago

@Elizabeth. Have you heard of Operation Northwoods? If not, google it. You'll be shocked. Once you've read about it you'll realize that it is not the Muslims you should fear.

Jimmy Blue 8 years ago

why is there never any discussion about the hatred of Christianity in the Middle East and the ethnic cleansing of Christians from the middle east over the last 100 years? Turkish, Lebanese, Eygptian, Iranian Christians that have lived peacably for 100's of years have disappeared? Why? Why the focus on the hatred of Islam? Muslims are free and protected all over western europe and America to practice their religion. If AB want a real article look on the other side instead of this nonsense.