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.

118 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Sorry guys, he’s right. It’s total fear reaction. Who cares if they want to pray? It’s perfectly legal. Sharia Law? You have to be KIDDING me! That, my friends, is not legal, and will never hold up. Stop spreading the hate, put on your big-boy pants, and teach your kids the right life lessons.

Posted by THeRmoNukE | Report as abusive

Hmmmm….let’s see. Terrorist acts commited by Muslims in the name of Islam since 1980 (in no particular order):

Khobar Towers on June 25, 1996, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: 19 service men and women dead, 372 wounded

Beirut barracks bombing October 23, 1983, Lebanon: 241 American servicemen dead

Twin Towers, New York City, Sept. 11th, 2001: 2,995 civilian deaths

2002 Bali bombings, Bali, Indonesia: 202 dead (88 Australians, and 38 Indonesians)

7 August 1998, U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 224 dead, including 12 American citizens, over 4,000 injured

Attack on the USS Cole, October 12th, 2000: 17 American sailors were killed, 39 injured

Fort Hood shooting, on November 5, 2009, committed by US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 13 dead and 30 wounded

1993 World Trade Center bombing, February 26, 1993: six dead, 1,042 injured

Madrid train bombings, 11 March 2004, 191 dead and 1,800 wounded

I could go on and on but I’ll stop there. And never once, was there any sort of meaningful condemnation or outrage from Muslims. On the contrary, they either sat on their hands and said nothing or were dancing in the streets.

If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it must be a duck!

What a bunch of dribble Mr. Debusmann.

Posted by mredi42 | Report as abusive

9 years later, after reading tens of thousands of pages and watching hundreds of hours visual documentation, biting and testing every bit of the available information and filtering everything through my nearly 3 decades experience in the construction business, I still couldn’t find anything to proof the official story of the US regime. Then the obvious question is – what really happened at 9/11 and who did it? ( I know – it is a dumb question, but needs a very smart person to answer it!)

Posted by Saturn2000 | Report as abusive

pesheff, 100% contrary to your (overarching) comment, we’re stating that the values that are legislated in the US (not “imposed”) simply be applied fairly and without bias. In countless situations in the US, churches and other religious facilities have been denied building permits for a whole host of reasons. We’ve come to accept that some of these are fair an necessary in a pluralistic society.

What we are reacting to is _preferred_ treatment being given to the mosque developers that flies in the face of several _legitimate_ arguments and concerns over the building of this mosque. (I can outline them again if needed).

Those concerns are being dismissed with no regard and no valid intellectually honest discussion, and anyone who raises them is being labeled as an intolerant “islamaphobe.” As you can imagine, logic would suggest this clearly lines up with the pattern of dominance and takeover that Islam practices around the globe.

Posted by Pyotr | Report as abusive

Hmm. Go back to before the Crusades and you find Muslims killing Christians and Jews for refusing to convert to Islam.

How convenient that Muslims and Liberals remember the Crusades, but forget the Moors…

I disagree with somthingtosay on whether or not God exists, but I do have to agree that religion has been used as an excuse to kill a significant number of people over the millenia.

But then so have other excuses such as Race, Class, etc.

Let’s face it killing is just another way to express power in the pursuit of ones goals.

That’s what 9/11 was, the expression of power in the pursuit of someone’s goals.

Building the Mosque near Ground Zero would also be the expression of power in pursuit of someone’s goals.

The only question is: Is it appropriate to allow that expression to occur in this location?

Posted by bobw111 | Report as abusive

Sorry, but “legal” does not equal “right”. It is legal to kill unborn humans, but it does not make it right. Are there peaceful Muslims? Yes, but they are considered mediocre much like Christians who are deep in the word and deep in prayer consider benchwarming “Christians” who don’t do much but claim the title. Those who do as the Koran says, “Kill the infidels where they stand” are the real Muslims. This is why no one can ever truly defen Islam as a peaceful religion. Mohamed was a ruthless leader who accepted nothing short of complete conversion at the point of a sword. This was the first Muslim. Christ was led as a lamb to the slaughter and never once tried to fight. Even when his followers tried to defend them He said, “put away your sword”. Have there been some misguided Christians? Certainly, the crusades and wars among protestant/catholic lines show that Christians can and will forget themselves. However, a quick trip through the Bible will set them who are serious about serving God straight. A trip to the Koran will set a true Muslim up in arms. Read it for yourselves people, the Koran COMMANDS its followers to KILL. (Qur’an 2:191)

Posted by Texicano | Report as abusive

THeRmoNukE, I used to believe that too. But Sharia law is _already_ being imposed in certain public school districts in MI and FL. It’s happening now! In the US! A slippery slope, but that’s how Islamic domination works. Start small and build from there.

And yes, it’s unconstitutional, but the constitution is only as good as the people with enough backbone to fight for and enforce it.

Posted by Pyotr | Report as abusive

Anyone who has studied history knows that you could take the anti-islamic comments of posters like Pyotr and GLK, replace the word “Islam” with “Christianity”, and they would be equally accurate. The problem is not one religion or another. The problem is extremism. The problem is hatred. Those who protest against the Lower Manhattan Community Center are only adding more negativity to the world, more hate, more extremism. You’re making it worse. Only education (institutional and personal) can break the cycle. People who choose to shut down that self-improvement and march for hatred are part of the problem, even though they want to be part of the solution.

Posted by TrueIronPatriot | Report as abusive

QUOTE: ” wilful ignorance”???? “Islamophobia machine”???

Bernd – This is a religion with the core belief to kill YOU without hesitation or remorse if you do not convert. It is 100% exclusionary to ANY other religion. It main goal is to convert the world to their religion by any means, and prohibits one from ever changing from their religion under penalty of death. Globally it restricts access to media, libraries and any other source of information that can allow free thought. Here’s a challenge — name any Muslim country in the world which is a leader in any sense of economy or social freedom.

And please Bernt, spare the civilized persons of this world the bullsh*t about “religious freedom” when these medieval fanatics do not first practice the BASIC freedoms upon which OUR society is built – life, freedom, and liberty.

Tell you what Bernt – go do an interview with ANY Muslim leader in this country and just get them to state 1) ALL religions are equal including Muslim 2) EVERYONE has the inherent right to freely practice ANY religion they choose and 3) killing ANYONE for ANY reason is evil and wrong (as opposed to “innocents” which are defined as Muslims only). If you can do that, you will have accomplished what no B.S. media person has done to date.

Posted by cynicalme | Report as abusive

TrueIronPatriot, it’s a well-known liberal tactic to label anyone who has a legitimate, intellectual argument that is contrary to liberal dogma to raise the accusation of “hate,” “bigoty,” “extremism.” Common-sense people are raising serious concerns, and none of them are being adequately addressed.

Your whole broad-brush approach ignores the fact that the concerns being raised might actually be _legitimate_!

Posted by Pyotr | Report as abusive

Maybe what is happening is that some Americans have a pathological need for a big enemy. Now that the Red Menace is no longer red and its cousin, the Yellow Peril, has become America’s banker, Islam works just fine as the bogeyman of choice.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

One need not look far past the protesters in New York to see where in lies the true face of the immanent danger ahead-
If the religious founders of this mosque were truly of a kind heart and spiritual nature, then they would react accordingly by simply seeking another location as a peaceful response to the pain it is causing the still mourning and recovering families of the 9-11 tragedy.
This present situation could very likely incite a civil suit against several parties due to the high presence of Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder amongst the survivors as well as citizens.
“If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for anything”

Posted by harleypyrate02 | Report as abusive

The only problem with this article is its need to be written. No matter how much Pyotr protests, people who judge an entire population on limited and biased premises are best described by the word ‘bigot’. Now let them build their damned mosque-that’s-not-even-a-mosque, and worry about some of the real problems in the world.

Posted by RexMax46 | Report as abusive

It seems like Americans and Taliban have more in common than the differences. At least they both practice this religious bigotry. Why are you guys fighting Taliban? I think you can be good friends with them. You are Christian bigots and they are Muslim bigots. Let us just compare the people massacred by both of you.

Islam(Taliban) – 9/11(3 thousand people killed), Al-Qauida( may be another 3 thousand all over the world).

Christians(US,UK,Germans) – Iraq(3 million), Afghan(2 million), Vietnam(1.5 million), Holocaust(6 million).

Yeah..I got a ‘clear answer’ that Christianity is the ‘most peaceful’ religion…..LOL.
The facts speak for itself.

Posted by stand4peace | Report as abusive

Well done commentary overall. The folks against will never change because as the theme of the commentary reads, “all they ever needed to know… blah, blah, blah” is their touchstone and they will not be changed. Those for demonstrate they have a low level of tolerance for fellow citizens who exhibit traits we have hoped would be long grown out of.

The building in question is not “near” ground zero unless several hundred meters and a few city blocks is considered “near” and then perhaps “near” or “close by” might include anywhere on the island or maybe in the state or maybe somewhere between the oceans. The actual question it seems is how long do we have to tolerate being bludgeoned by this phenomena of the dimmest and least able dominating and steering the direction of our society?

The truth is the so-called Americans who are so enraged about a multi-cultural building located in one of the most diverse of cities need to remember their place. And keep to it. As their mamas told them when they were little children: Sit down and be quiet, the grownups are having a conversation.

Don’t wanna sit down and be quiet. Tough. Do so anyway. Oh, and eat your peas.

Posted by tangolimagolf | Report as abusive

Islam does not tell us to kill anyone infidels or otherwise.

In fact according to Muhammad (PBUH): “If you kill one person, it is as if you have killed the whole of Mankind.”

These extremists do not represent my religion Islam. They have there own twisted way of interpreting the religion which is clearly and utterly wrong.

Here is another quote of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH): “ One who hurts a non-Muslim, he hurts me and one who hurts me, hurts God.” (Hadith)

Also Qur’an says: “… and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” (16: 125)

So I urge everyone one to please be more open minded and tolerant and do your research before coming to conclusions.

Posted by ObjectiveGuy | Report as abusive

Ground cero to most, is holy land. In that regards those who want to built a mosque close to this site, should recondider based on respect to their fellow citizens.
As I ask respect from fellow islamic citizens, I ask the rest of us for forgiveness for ramsacking and destroying sacred and burial grounds of native americans. Is it not the same?

Posted by mucaro | Report as abusive

I am actually glad that you are recommending people to read the Koran so they can see how full of BS you are…look how easy it is to quote scripture without context..

“Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:16-18)

“And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and woman: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.” (Ezekiel 9:5-6)

Posted by aishenglong | Report as abusive

When I think another person is arrogant, how do I know I myself am not? Am I Almighty himself that knows? When I think that another is brainwashed, how do I know I myself am not by my own ignorance or blinded by my own pride? Someone would say that if you eat one sour apple from an apple tree, then you know that tree does not bear sweet apples. But then how do I know if it is that apple I had was not ripe, or the sweetness of the apples from an apple tree is not like the worms in the apples from that tree? If one apple from that tree has worms in it, does it mean all the apples in that tree has worms? Or maybe sometime that is true?

Posted by JoeAtLowell | Report as abusive

@Pyotr – “tactic”? I’m not a liberal (nor a conservative … gasp!) and I fully well see the ignorance, bigotry, racism, and hatred posed by these Islam-aphobists (hey a new word!). Reminds me of the “common-sense” people in the 50s who said “I don’t have a problem with [black people], but they ain’t a goin’ to the same school with my daughter!”.

“Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand.”

Posted by bobSmith | Report as abusive