Reasons for anti-Islamic sentiment in US
Thu Dec 23, 2010 5:14PM
Press TV interviews Massoud Shadjareh, Ibrahim Hooper, and Patrick Basham.
With rising Islamophobia in the US, Muslims and Islamic organizations have been worried that US citizens are supporting and buying propaganda of the media, internet hate sites, politicians and organizations that all Muslims are dangerous.
Press TV interviewed Head of Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh from London, and National Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Mr. Abraham Hooper, and from Washington, Founder and Director of the Democracy Institute, Patrick Basham regarding increasing anti-Islamic sentiment in the US and Europe.
Press TV: I would like to welcome my guests to the program. Head of Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh from London, and National Director of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Mr. Abraham Hooper, and from Washington, Founder and Director of the Democracy Institute, Patrick Basham. Thank you all for being with me. I'd like to start off with you Mr. Hooper. Can you explain what has taken place and what is it about all this that is CAIR concerned with?
Hooper: Well, we are obviously concerned when law enforcement authorities around the country are being trained almost on a daily basis by people who have a hate filled anti-Muslim agenda. That's been proven time and time again. You have a guy named Robert Spencer, the head of one of the most vicious anti-Muslim hate groups in the country, and a co-head of this group called Stop the Islamization of America, training FBI agents in Virginia. It's absolutely unbelievable. You have people like Walid Shoebat, a born against Christian who was a former Muslim, who said Islam is of the devil and he's training these people. We are seeing this more and more. So it's inevitable that the law enforcement, policies and practices will eventually reflect this anti-Muslim hatred.
Press TV: Mr. Shadjareh, in your perspective why would this even happen? Why do you think some law enforcement agencies would actually go to hire people that have anti-Islamic sentiments?
Shadjareh: Well, I think this is actually a symptom of a much wider problem. The reality is that there is a huge Islamophobia or hatred towards Muslims being promoted all around the world. Now it's gone beyond even hatred of Muslims, and has become the hatred of Islam. And it's targeting to change Islam and bring a new version of Islam, and I think this is not just an issue of employing a few cranks. The reality is that why is it that these institutions are going down that route? Why is it that even in Europe we are seeing that those who hate Islam and promote that hate are being brought in as consultants etc… Indeed, even institutions are supported and financed to promote this sort of hatred. The anti-terrorism has become an excuse for demonizing and criminalizing the whole of the Muslim community.
Press TV: Let me turn to Mr. Basham in Washington. Now allegedly isn't the symbol of the legal system in the United States (statue with the blindfold over the eyes) meaning that no differences will affect justice from being carried out fairly? Now how could this be the case of law enforcement, as people are being trained by individuals who are racist or anti-Islamic?
Basham: Well, these individuals cases have turned out to be quite well documented of training conducted as you've been discussing by those who have a very crude and largely ignorant view of the Muslim community here in America. It reflects a larger problem in terms of the conduct of the war on terror; hence, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other issues related to American relations with the Middle East, which is to say a lot of powerful people in America are still unable to distinguish between Islam and radical, fundamentalist, politicized Muslims. That means that it often takes these kinds of unfortunate occurrences, which fortunately are now being reported in the mainstream American media, for the average policy maker in this country to even begin to appreciate the extent to which they have not been aware of some sort of fundamental facts and knowledge about the Muslim community, about the Islamic faith etc… I think this is looking at the broad picture I would put this in the category of cultural and religious ignorance rather than a systemic campaign to harm or denigrate Muslims living here in America.
Press TV: Mr. Hooper, how do you see it? Is it basically as our previous guest said basically cultural ignorance or is it more systemic? Where does this fear of Muslims basically come from in the United States?
Hooper: Well, what you have now is a very vocal anti-Muslim minority promoting hatred of Islam and marginalization of American Muslims. They have an agenda, they are well coordinated, they are well financed, and they are relentless in their promotion of hate filled views. You've seen the group Stop the Islamization of America, you've got ACT for America, you've got any number of other local groups and activists who are mutually supportive and promoting this hate filled agenda. It's not the majority of Americans. The majority of Americans don't hate Islam and Muslims. But you have a sizeable minority, and a very vocal minority pushing these kinds of bigoted views.
Press TV: Mr. Shadjareh, do you see it as something that has happened naturally or is this the result of other things such as media creation, public relations or hate groups? Where do you see all this having its roots?
Shadjareh: Well, one could mainly identify three roots for this. One is those who hate religion and they actually become very convenient to ride this wave of Islamophobia and there are other groups of people who actually hate ethnic minorities and they are racist. They use this as an example. But there is also a political agenda. Those who will actually serve them well to demonize Muslims so they could implement their policies be it in Iraq or Palestine or elsewhere. There is a conversion of these. I'm afraid it's not just a small group of people in the United States or Europe. The reality is even the President is being targeted as being a possible Muslim, or an undercover Muslim because the demonization process is such an extent that by doing so they will actually remove his popularity. So really there is a huge wave of Islamophobia and demonization of Islam. Indeed these processes we are talking about have escalated. It is already reaching a very dangerous level. This level of demonization whether in Europe or the United States hasn't been seen since the twenties and thirties when Jewish communities were being demonized. We saw where that ended up. We say never again but we are going down the same route, and demonizing and criminalizing the whole innocent community. The result of it is going to be either genocide or ethnic cleansing. It happened in former Yugoslavia.
Hooper: Can I clarify one of my points he brought up?
Press TV: Go ahead.
Hooper: When I say a minority of Americans are promoting this hate filled view, I'm talking about twenty-five percent to 1/3 of Americans having an active hostility toward Islam and Muslims. Although it is a minority, you're still talking about 1/3 or 1/4 of Americans and 1/3 of 300mn people is a lot of people. That is what our research and polling has consistently shown as a level of anti-Muslim hostility in our nation.
Press TV: Well, how dangerous is this trend Mr. Hooper? Are we witnessing a consistent deterioration as far as dealing with Muslims in the United States since 9/11?
Hooper: Within the last year, we have really seen something we hadn't even seen after 9/11, the deterioration in the situation has really accelerated over the last year. A lot of factors went into that whether it was this fake controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan, the right-wing politicians using Islam as a tool to get political support or the bad economy and people seeking scapegoats. It was a kind of perfect storm of these things. We have really seen a downward-spiral in interfaith relations, which is very troubling because we are not seeing light at the end of the tunnel. If it's bad now, I can only see it getting worse as we go along here unless people in the mainstream really step up. People of all faiths in the mainstream should step up to marginalize the extremists who are promoting this kind of societal division.
Press TV: Mr. Basham, The Washington Post has reported the right-wing think tank, the Center for Security Policy has recently published a very biased and inflammatory report about American Muslims. Now members of the same group have also spoken at many law enforcement events. Why would these types of individuals even be hired by those in the law enforcement industry?
Basham: My understanding is that many of the individuals and groups who have spoken at these training seminars etc… have been hired by the local officials. I don't know that, that is always the case but a lot of it is. It reflects local issues and local particularities that may not be present nationally. It reflects two things. It reflects the fact that the views that have been expressed by some of these individuals and groups are views which have one of my fellow guests has already said are views held not by most Americans but by a reasonably sized minority of Americans. Therefore, they aren't immediately seen as necessary extreme or radical views. Secondly, the people at the top of the policy tree aren't themselves necessarily sufficiently well informed even about the Muslim community in their own country to necessarily be able to say that sounds wrong or that sound extreme. Is this the best kind of intelligence we can get? I will go back to my earlier point. You have the average American who would fit into the category those polls would put into 20 or 25 percent who have anti-Muslim views. They do not distinguish between your average Muslim, and your average Muslim terrorist. So when they are answering those polls, they are thinking about the people who attacked America on 9/11. They are not thinking about a Muslim family that lives down the street. So it reflects a colloquialism in America. It's the old saying that stereotypes may be bad but there is often some truth in them. The stereotypical American who doesn't know a lot about the world; thus, there is a lot of truth to that. I think we've seen it played out especially since 9/11 when it comes to our understanding or lack of understanding of the Islamic world and of the Muslim communities in our own countries.
Press TV: Mr. Shadjareh, what does this all come from? Basically what Mr. Basham has just said is that it's hard for some Americans or difficult for them to distinguish from the average Muslim and the Muslim terrorist. Where does this all come from and what will it take to move on beyond this time of perspective?
Shadjareh: Well, unfortunately this sentiment of hatred of Muslims or identifying Muslims as terrorists is something that comes all the way up from people like Bush when he declared a sort of holy war and considered Iraq as a holy war. And you see within the media how Muslims are always being portrayed as terrorists, bad guys and even in popular culture. You don't see in any films or cinemas good guy Muslims. They are all bad guys. They are terrorists, murderers or rapists etc… This level of demonization is very dangerous. Now we are in a situation where these guys are going and training law enforcement on how to deal with Muslims. When in reality it's like getting the Klu Klux Klan to go and train people on how to deal with the black community. We are disgusted by these sort of examples be it local or national. I think the issue is the level of demonization of Islam and hatred against Islam has reached to a level. A third of the population in the United States or more or less, as the fact is it's reaching a level, and in order to combat it you need great politicians and community leaders to actually stand up and say enough is enough. It's extremely dangerous. This is going to create demonization which only as I said earlier one can lead to genocide and ethnic cleansing. We need to stop it because it will destroy the fabric of society. Not only damaging the Muslim community, but it will damage the whole of society. We need to stop this internal conflict in the United States and Europe and elsewhere. And as Muslims have shown, the majority of Muslims are extremely law abiding and very good contributors to the society they live in.
Press TV: Let me get Mr. Hooper back in on this. Now CAIR has pointed out in a report that the writer has stated that there is what he termed the “great Islamophobic crusade” that is taking up lace with those who are upset about the alleged threat of Islamic influence in the US. Can you comment on that and explain it please?
Hooper: Yes, what this is, is what we also call the Islamophobia machine. It's this mutually supportive growing group of commentators, organizations, media outlets, internet hate sites that all actively promote the false notion that American Muslims somehow want to overthrow the constitution and take over the country. It would be laughable in other circumstances that you would say a tiny little minority in a nation of 300 and some million is somehow going to overthrow the country, but it's a symptom of the times we live in that people are actually entertaining this bizarre notion. So they are promoting this relentlessly. So much so just yesterday we saw an attack on a Muslim woman in Ohio outside a mosque. We see hate filled opposition to mosques around the country; arson, vandalism to mosques. It's really reaching a troubling level, and as the other guest said we need courageous leaders to speak out against it. And we are just not seeing that.
Press TV: We are almost out of time. In a minute could you just tell me something because a lot of Americans feel that the majority of American Muslims want to implement Islamic Sharia in that country? What would you say to such concerns as those?
Hooper: Sharia has become one of these hot button issues that is a litmus test now for American Muslims. When American Muslims pray, they follow Sharia, when they fast, they follow Sharia, and when they interact with their family and go to school. I mean nobody is asking for the constitution to go away. In fact the constitution is our last line of defense against these anti-Muslim bigots. So we are the first defenders of the constitution.
Press TV: Mr. Shadjereh, do you think in general with the type of situation that is happening in the US that overall, the freedom of religion itself could be threatened?
Shadjereh: Unfortunately the concept of democracy here is counterproductive because you know we have got more people who are anti-Muslim and Islamophobic than there are Muslims and those who are willing to stand up against this wave of demonization of Islam and Muslims. So I think we need to emphasize the timing is already getting too late. We really need to act now and have legislation to stop this bigotry as we have for other bigotry and racism. We need to force people to stand up and support the same principles of freedom of choice and freedom of religion.
Press TV: Mr. Basham, what is the answer? What do you think needs to be done in the United States to stop this deterioration of relations and negative perspectives towards Muslims?
Basham: I think the answer is primarily education and information and knowledge. That is not an overnight solution. I recognize that but I think it's the most effective solution. In the shorter term, where there are documented cases of persecution or active bigotry towards Muslims, then the perpetrators need to be found and prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law just as anyone who commits acts of hatred against Catholics or Jews or any other group such as African Americans who have been historically persecuted in this country need also to be punished. I think the coalition for the Muslim community are the same and other ethnic and racial groups who have a history of dealing with this and challenging problems within the system.
Press TV: We are out of time. I'd like to thank all of my guests for this program. The Head of the Human Rights, Mr. Massoud Shajreh in London, and National Communication Director of CAIR, Mr. Hooper from Washington, and Founder and Director of the Democracy Institute, Patrick Basham from Washington.