America’s trouble with Islam

By Bernd Debusmann
August 27, 2010

Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: “All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.”

As an example of wilful ignorance, it’s in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.

But for the people waving all-I-ever-need-to-know posters in front of national television cameras two blocks from “ground zero,” site of the biggest mass murder in American history, Islam equals terrorism. No need for nuance, no need for learning, no need for building bridges between the faiths. The mindset epitomized by the slogan mirrors the radical fringe of Islamic thought, equally doubt-free and self-righteous.

Both sides have data to back up their assertions. The Islam-equals-terrorism school of thought can point to 3,000 victims of the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those who preach that the U.S. is waging war on Islam itself, and terror acts are therefore a form of self-defence, can argue that Christian soldiers have been killing Muslims through history, from the Crusades to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The “ground zero mosque” affair began with a dispute over the center’s proximity to the hole where the Twin Towers once stood. Too close to hallowed ground, argue opponents, including family members of people who died in the attack. The question of location morphed into a national debate on religious tolerance and prompted demonstrations against planned mosques more than a thousand miles from New York.

Does all this add up to a rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry? Or is it more of the same, with the volume turned higher in advance of mid-term elections? There are no hard data to answer that question and it is worth looking back a few years at polls on American attitudes towards Muslims. In 2006, a Gallup survey found that 39 percent favoured rules requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification to better spot potential terrorists.

Callers to a Washington radio show host who followed up on the ID issue suggested identifying Muslims with a crescent-shaped tattoo on their foreheads, stamps on their driving licenses, passports and birth certificates, or special armbands.

THE ISLAMOPHOBIA MACHINE
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic relations, thinks the noise level of anti-Muslim statements has risen because the Tea Party movement has attracted Americans “more ready to speak out” than traditional political outlets. But at the core of the often ugly debate is what he calls “the Islamophobia machine – right-wing bloggers on the Internet, talk radio, and opinion columns in conservative newspapers.”

Like President George W. Bush before him, President Barack Obama has had little success in convincing his fellow Americans that al Qaeda and the Taliban do not represent Islam. In Obama’s case there is an added complication: 57 percent of Republicans, according to a poll in spring, think he is a Muslim. (He is not.)

Nationally and across party lines, 24 percent believe their president is a Muslim, according to a TIME poll taken after Obama stepped into the New York Islamic center debate by saying that Muslims had the same right as anyone else to practice their religion, including in a place of worship in Lower Manhattan. A day later he watered down his remark. It had been about the right to build the center, not the wisdom of doing so, he explained.

No such vacillation from Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and virtually the only leader who has spoken about the mosque without making politics look like a game reserved for panderers and demagogues. Newt Gingrich, a possible Republican presidential candidate for the 2012 elections likened backers of the New York mosque to Nazis and observed that “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington.”

Bloomberg, who is Jewish and not affiliated to any party, said this week that dropping plans to build the center or moving it elsewhere would undercut American values and principles and “feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen.

“And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – al Qaeda did.”

It’s an admirably clear message. Whether it can get through to the people with the “All I need to know about Islam” signs is another question.

119 comments

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Get out of your idealistic bubble, Bernd. The bigger issue is not the fear of terrorism.

All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned by looking at cultures dominated by Islam. Islam utterly fails as a force to promote prosperity and freedom for any culture it dominates.

And as far as domination goes, All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned by watching what’s happening in Western Europe. This is NOT a peaceful religion that assimilates and co-exists with others. It’s adherents are bent on taking over and imposing Sharia law.

Facts and evidence speak much louder than words. Look at what’s happening around the world and get a clue.

Posted by Pyotr | Report as abusive

I wonder what would happen if I wanted to build a Christian church or a Synagogue in Mecca, Medina, Hebron or anywhere in Iran,Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, et al

Would we be met with open arms and tolerance? Would we be left alone unmolested?

It seems to me from the actions of the radical and terrosit Islamists and the inaction “Islam” in general against these terrorists, the only people who are intolerant are Islamic apologists like yourself and the Islam in its totality.

Posted by DrewMN | Report as abusive

Islam does not project an image of trustworthyness and forgiveness because Islamic Nations do not punish their own when they commit horrendously grotesque acts of violence. More often than not they welcome them with open arms. Knowing that, it seems ridiculous in the extreme to riducule those with the will to speak out.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

Islam does not project an image of trustworthyness and forgiveness because Islamic Nations do not punish their own when they commit horrendously grotesque acts of violence. More often than not they welcome them with open arms. Knowing that, it seems ridiculous in the extreme to riducule those with the will to speak out.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

The problem with this commentary, and most of what I see coming from the left on the mosque issue, is an arrogant supposition that anyone who “fears” Islam is uneducated and only reacting to 9/11. It’s demeaning to anyone who has legitimate concerns. And there are plenty.

The more I learn about Islam (by examining the real-life practice of Islam around the world – see previous comment), the more I see that all Americans should be VERY concerned about the biased deference to Islam currently displayed at many levels.

Furthermore, the more I learn about Islam, the more it becomes clear that the liberal elite in this country either haven’t looked at what’s happening in Western Europe, or (shudder) they do understand and despise America so much that that welcome a takeover.

That last thought used to be reserved in my mind as an implausible conspiracy theory, but the more I see the once-unthinkable coming from the white house and other political leaders, I’m not so sure anymore.

Posted by Pyotr | Report as abusive

I love how these elite media types call everyone who disagrees with them: idiots, racists, bigots, Islamaphobes, Homophobes – the list goes on. To them, they are so smart that they can’t even fathom the idea that the other guy might actually have a point. What’s even better, this dude Bernd, actually quotes a CAIR spokesman who thinks the Tea Party has something to do with Islamaphobia. Partisan reporting? You bet!

Posted by ironman_az_3 | Report as abusive

Yes i agree with what you say.Islam cannot be compared with western culture.What do you propose?Invade as many Muslim countries as we can?Kill as many Muslims as we can?Put a sword on their head and convince them to denounce their fate?

Part of the problem is that the west does not want to accept that in Muslims countries Islam is still respected while in the west Christianity is not

Posted by TheGreenKing | Report as abusive

Absoutetly pathetic. Islam teaches violence in hadith (WORDS OF MUHAMMAD). You never even looked at what hadith had to say.

“One who dies but does not fight in the way of Allah, not does he express any desire or determination for Jihad, dies the death of a hypocrite” [Sahih Muslim hadith]

…Their is much more violence in hadith

http://www.wikiislam.net/wiki/Misinterpr eted_Quranic_Verses

Posted by Ahiu | Report as abusive

Great article! Completely agree with Mike Bloomberg!

Posted by pesheff | Report as abusive

I echo the comments so far. Just because you disagree with someone or a religion practices does not make you ignorant or a bigot.

Posted by DavidS95 | Report as abusive

I don’t think that ‘freedom’ is a goal of Islam. Admittedly I am but a poor student of the world’s religions, but I thought that ‘surrender’ to the will of God was one of it’s main points. The test will be if Democracy, which shows no preference for any religion will tolerate Islam’s very different views from those of Christianity. Or maybe that’s the choice we have to make now, are we a Democratic nation or a Christian nation. A Democratic nation will allow both and provide a way for them to coexist. If we are a Christian nation, I suspect that the Armageddon theorists will be proved right in fairly short order.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

So, all of you who are anti – mosque, anti-islam: I have one question for you:
– What happened to all the american purported values of freedom and liberty (including of religion!!!) that the US is spreading around the world? Are you suggesting (gasp!) that you are selective about what values you impose on others vs what you practice at home?
– How should I spell hypocracy? =)

Posted by pesheff | Report as abusive

All the people who attack Islam must propose an alternative instead of just attacking it.I know its unfortunate that in Muslim countries Islam is still respected, while in western “civilized” counties Christianity is not.What should we do about this?Invade more muslim countries?Kill more muslims?Ban Islam in the west?People who attack Islam cannot copy with the fact that in Muslim countries, a religion plays a key role

Posted by TheGreenKing | Report as abusive

Nothing personal to the 1.3 billion, but fact is there is no Allah. Religion is nothing more than a safety net or comfort zone for those who need something to believe in because they have no purpose otherwise. Do the math and show the real world some proof of your gods? You won’t find any because the Koran or a bible is just a book that some chap decided to write. Unfortunately, the masses of this world are easily brainwashed and in turn, brainwash others. 1.3 billion on the result of a domino effect.

All this killing in the name of the non-existent Allah, or for that matter any other god, is nothing more than representation of the way it’s been for thousands of years. Religion killing religion, country killing country, man killing man. Welcome to life on earth, where we are the uncivilized.

As for the mosque – it’s clearly in bad taste considering the location. You don’t need to be religious or a genius to figure that one out. Just use a little common-sense or borrow some from someone else.

Posted by somethingtosay | Report as abusive

So when the neocons win their “war” on Islam…what’s next? This story plays out over and over again. These folks just need desperately something to fight or something to complain about. If Islam disappeared from the planet, they would begin going after each other, or the Lutherans, or the Methodists, or the Babtists that allow their children to dance. IT NEVER ENDS WITH YOUR MINDSET. You are just as bad as the Islamic extremists, AND you fall for their strategy when you start to hate. Osama Bin Laden is laughing at us in a cave somewhere. Just like the Emperor in Star Wars.

Posted by Marius429 | Report as abusive

As a matter of fact, Islam is in all the countries of the world, not just 57.

The attitudes to Islam in America are similar to those in Western Europe to Jews in the 1930s.

If America doesn’t turn this around, they will be in very serious trouble.

Posted by Dafydd | Report as abusive

Speaking as a right wing blogger (or at least commentor), I say: Bloomberg and Debusmann are correct.

Islam is not, inherently and in and of itself, evil.

Allow me to qualify this- the cultural center of Islam has a very corrupt and vicious core. The sort of fundamentalist Islam that allows (note that I do not say “promotes,” I leave that judgement to the reader and will not make it myself) such things as the broad and deeply entrenched sex-slave trade and events such as driving 24 hot nails in a maid is dangerous.

At one time I lived close to a mosque, in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The Imam was arrested on charges of terrorism. The rest of the local Islamic community was A) convinced that Americans were out to get them (because some Americans are racist bigots), and that B) they could not turn to the police for assistance, because the five-oh would be unwilling to help, since they were Muslim.

I and my family disabused them of these notions, and while I do not agree with some of their cultural practices, at least they are beginning to understand that there should be only one ethnicity in America- American.

Pyotr, GLK- do you suppose that we begin branding Muslims or require them to register? Perhaps we should put them in camps, so that we can both keep an eye on them *and* protect them from dangerous bigots.

If you believe this is wise, then I recommend that you watch Schindler’s List. It’s a very good film starring Liam Neeson.

If you do not believe that such could ever happen in the land of the Free, I recommend looking up the concentration camps we maintained for the Japanese in World War II.

Ironman- The “tea party” movement isn’t a cohesive movement, as I understand it. It’s just a bunch of little stuff *happening.* People are speaking out. *That* movement to speak out *could* be related to the anti-muslim movement, simply because it has become chic to speak out, which is exactly what this article says CAIR said.

I will grant that the media is skewed, and often tends to misreport. However, do not misread the text simply to suit your own view.

Posted by ComeWhatMay | Report as abusive

I live in a country where the main aim of politicians is to use Muslims as a vote back and to do that they are ready to bend forward (not bed over backwards). Islam in itself may be the best religion in the world, however, can the same be said about Islam as interpreted by its followers?

Islam is not a religion, it is a nation, says the holy Quran. It tells, by the way of Sharia, how to run a nation. Unless Sharia is applied on a governance, it is not considered fit for a Muslim to follow it.

The situation is bad… in my humble opinion.. if a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu stands up and says I am proud of my religion he is considered bigot, if a Muslim says he believes in supremacy of Islam he is just exercising his human rights. We are living, unfortunately, in a world where being politically correct is more important then being correct.

What good is a mosque if it hurts even one person’s sentiments? By hurting a human being the very purpose of building a place of worship is defeated.

Posted by dangerouslydead | Report as abusive

Awesome commentary Bernd. The United States of America, sadly, has had an infectious smear of xenophobia running through it for some time, one which permeates today (the U.S. has a record number of active hate groups, for example, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and one that no doubt grew out of American slavery. People of color (especially blacks)–but also Jews and gay people–have historically been the target of American xenophobes, and while these groups still are targeted by hateful xenophobes, Muslims (and those perceived to be, such as Sikhs) have been added to the list. It’s tragic that America invaded two Islamic countries post-9/11, because those countries’ goverments had nothing to do with the terroristic attack on America on 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims have lost their lives in wars the United States created since 9/11, and so no thoughtful person should wonder why the United States has an image problem with those who practice Islam.

Are fundamentalist Muslims sexist and homophobic? Yes, but so are fundamentalist Christians and Jews.

Religious fundamentalism is the problem, not any specific religion itself.

Posted by 1AmericanGuy | Report as abusive

Awesome commentary Bernd. The United States of America, sadly, has had an infectious smear of xenophobia running through it for some time, one which permeates today (the U.S. has a record number of active hate groups, for example, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and one that no doubt grew out of American slavery. People of color (especially blacks)–but also Jews and gay people–have historically been the target of American xenophobes, and while these groups still are targeted by hateful xenophobes, Muslims (and those perceived to be, such as Sikhs) have been added to the list. It’s tragic that America invaded two Islamic countries post-9/11, because those countries’ goverments had nothing to do with the terroristic attack on America on 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims have lost their lives in wars the United States created since 9/11, and so no thoughtful person should wonder why the United States has an image problem with those who practice Islam.

Are fundamentalist Muslims sexist and homophobic? Yes, but so are fundamentalist Christians and Jews.

Religious fundamentalism is the problem, not any specific religion itself.

Posted by 1AmericanGuy | Report as abusive