United States: Behind anti-Muslim hysteria

Anti-Muslim protest, New York, August 22.

Good and evil is back in vogue with the US far right.

Former president George W. Bush and the Republican Party attacked opponents of his invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as aiding the “evil doers”. And such evil should be tackled by whatever means necessary, no matter what the US constitution or international law says.

This tactic sent the many liberals and Democratic Party politicians running to the corners and lining up behind the war mongers.

At the time of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, President Barack Obama was an Illinois state representative who openly opposed the invasion and “evil-doer” rhetoric. He rejected the “terrorism-mongering” tactic of the right used to whip-up fear.

Since his election as President in 2008 Obama rarely uses the phrase “war on terrorism”.

For this shift in rhetoric, Obama is attacked as a Muslim sympathiser or a secret Muslim because of his father’s Kenyan origins.

The reality is Obama’s policies are a continuation of Bush’s. More US drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan took place in the last 18 months than the entire Bush war effort.

In his speech to the country on August 31, where he announced the end of the US military occupation of Iraq, Obama went out of his way to salute Bush as a patriot, rather than the war criminal he is.

So why is there so much hatred of Obama by the right when his administration clearly defends US domination and aggression in the world?

And why is the right using such high levels of anti-Islamic rhetoric — directed not just against Obama but in hysterical campaigns against the proposal to build an Islamic centre two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York?

Is it simply old-fashioned electoral politics or something else?

Right-wing television and radio talk show demagogues assert Obama is a “racist” and anti-white. They refuse to challenge the most extreme elements of the racist wing of the Tea Party movement.

A right-wing demonstration, organised under the slogan “Restoring Honour”, took place in Washington on August 29. Addressed by former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and far-right Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, it took place on the anniversary of African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech to a protest in Washington.

The right asserted it was “honouring” King in its campaign to protect the interests of “real Americans”. King’s views were the opposite — he advocated equality and social justice for the working poor.

Historically, racism is a divisive tool used by the white power structure in the US. The right is forcibly pushing anti-Islamic and anti-Obama rhetoric in a bid to push the country further right — to roll-back social gains and prepare for new wars of aggression.

The objective is to demonise liberals and progressives and convince white workers to give up any support for the first African American president.

That’s the context of the organised drive by mainstream conservatives against the plan to an Islamic centre near “Ground Zero”. Even though the site was vacant and can’t be seen from Ground Zero, the right decided it is an insult to the survivors of September 11.

Opponents of the plan never mention the fact that hundreds of Muslims also died on September 11 or that many families of September 11 victims support the centre.

This campaign ties in with the current anti-immigrant campaign. It plays on fears minorities will take over the country by 2050 and seek revenge for decades of legal and extra-legal white skin privilege.

Thus, there is an alliance of Christian fundamentalists, white trade unionists, Republican politicians and conservative Democrats opposing the constitutional right of Muslim Americans to build an Islamic center on land they own.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Jewish Republican-turned-independent continues to defend the constitutional right of all religious groups who own private property to build a religious institution.

The right ignores the fact that another mosque is only four blocks away. When asked how far away enough to show respect, no answer is given.

Nearby, an Orthodox Christian church is applying to rebuild. It is also only two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. Politicians who see a mosque as an “insult” back the Christian church.

A racist Florida preacher went further. He is setting up a new “church” near Ground Zero and planning a nationwide burning of Korans on September 11. Other “Christian” leaders say Islam is a “terrorist’ religion.

Whether the Islamic centre is built is still an open issue as the developer must raise money to do so. Opponents are now targeting the fundraising by the center’s Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf, saying he’s getting foreign funds.

Many construction workers have said they will not work the job, even in a time of high unemployment.

In late August, a group of teenagers in western New York harassed members of a mosque during evening Ramadan prayers. They sideswiped a vehicle and fired a shotgun outside the World Sufi Foundation mosque in Carlton.

The police have so far said it wasn’t a hate crime — just misguided young people.

At the end of August in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, arsonists burned construction equipment building an Islamic centre. The next day, when local leaders of the centre were looking over the destruction, gun shots were fired nearby.

The FBI and other police agencies are investigating for arson, but refuse to call it a hate crime.

“Whoever did this, they are terrorists. What’s the difference between them and Al Qaeda?” asked Imam Mohamed Ahmed of the Islamic Center of Nashville, Tennessee.

In New York City, a Muslim cab driver from Bangladesh was carrying a young white passenger who asked if he was a Muslim. He said “yes”, the passenger slashed his throat with a knife.

The far right smells blood. They see an opportunity to shift politics further to the right. They have begun with Muslims and anyone who doesn’t agree with their campaign are targets.

This was how the build-up to the invasion of Iraq took place — amid claims “you are with us or against the country”.

When it is pointed out that Rauf worked for the Bush administration and now the Obama administration to spread a moderate version of Islam, the opponents simply reject it.

For them, all Muslims are potential if not actual “terrorist" conduits.

Rauf, who follows the Sufi branch of Islam, rejects the hard line philosophy of Sunni Wahhabism practiced by Saudi Arabia’s religious elite and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also rejects the Shi’ia Islam practiced in Iran.

Sufi’ism has millions of followers in South Asia. Followers of Sufi’ism believe in reaching out not only to all Muslims but other religions. Orthodox Sunnis and Shi’ias consider Sufis heretics.

For that reason, many of the mosques attacked by Taliban and Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan are Sufi for that reason.

The fact that US right-wingers don’t care about such differences shows that all Muslims are the target.

The root of the attacks is really about the foreign and domestic policies (and racial politics) of the Obama administration. The Obama administration is in fact a right-of-centre liberal administration — not “socialist” as claimed by the right-wing Tea Party movement.

Overall his domestic policies have been more pro-Wall Street than his critics claim.

Unfortunately for working people, the reality of not having an energised counter-movement to the right will likely lead to a more extreme Republican Party takeover of the US Congress in the November elections.

As occurred in the 1990s with President Bill Clinton, there will be a further shift to the right by the Obama administration. The “hope” for gays, women, minorities and the labour movement will once again not be met.

This is why there is little enthusiasm in the Democratic Party base for the Obama administration and its candidates.

The weakness of the progressive movement and left is the reality of US politics today. Opposition to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq grows, but it is complicated by the fact that the right supports Obama’s Afghan war, but hates him because he is an “other”.

The anti-Islamic debate, like the anti-immigrant hysteria, is a way to whip-up fearful whites and advance the right-wing agenda. The winner if the Sufi centre in New York is shut down will not just be the far right but opponents of moderate and secular Islam.

[Malik Miah is an editor of the US socialist magazine Against The Current.]