The fiercely contested 2012 US presidential election is gathering steam, with less than two months remaining until Election Day. While endless partisan bickering over policy issues typically dominates the echo chamber characterizing the summer news cycle, some of the major headlines this summer illustrate the growing antipathy toward religious minority groups – particularly Muslim Americans. With events such as the mosque burning in Joplin, Mo., the false allegations of infiltration against Muslim public servants, and the widespread political acquiesce toward the illegal surveillance of Muslims, the increasingly visible profile of Muslim life in America is being challenged. While some may dismiss this observation as alarmist, evidence suggests that these ideas of intolerance, hitherto espoused by fringe elements of society, are seeping unmistakably into mainstream politics.
No sooner had the Joplin mosque been burned to the ground than did support from the broader Muslim American and non-Muslim community pour in. Within a matter of days, the mosque was able to raise more money than it had anticipated. The rapid response toward this act of violence demonstrates the vitality of the Muslim community in responding to national tragedies targeting their places of worship. Although the arsonist hasn’t been caught, and the motives are unknown, the destruction of property in this case is part of a rising trend of hate crimes that have swept the nation since the election of Obama, as documented by anti-hate crime organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Amidst the dismaying reality of mosque burnings taking place in the year 2012, in other news, a positive turn of events have resulted after the two year struggle to open the mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Since the Islamophobic fallout from the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy in the summer of 2010, the Muslim community behind the Murfreesboro mosque has fought grassroots and national opposition in order to build and worship in their mosque. In a blow to religious intolerance, local authorities granted permission for the community to occupy the mosque. Across the nation, while the construction of Muslim places of worship continues to be challenged, the successful ending for the mosque in Murfreesboro illustrates that Islamophobia can only be confronted with a united Muslim front, the irrevocable commitment to not back down in the face of hate, and the hope that common sense will prevail in the justice system.
Not only have virulent attacks been waged at Muslim private property this summer, but even the participation of Muslim Americans in public life – particularly in government, has been contested. The most prominent victim of the right-wing’s fear mongering over the steady creep of “sharī‘ah” into the US government has been Huma Abedine, a longtime Hillary Clinton aid and wife of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. In June, Michele Bachmann, a conservative Tea Party congresswoman from Minnesota sent a letter to the State Department claiming that Abedine has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the flimsy accusation, high level government officials from across the aisle, such as president Obama and John McCain came to Abedine’s defense, citing her good character and stellar record as a government employee.
As can be recalled, this is not the first time Obama has been confronted with the opportunity to distance himself from Muslims (see here and here). Since the early days of his campaign, elements of the right wing and the mainstream Republican Party have wanted to label him as a foreigner, whose very legitimacy as president can be questioned. Since the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, coordinated efforts by well-funded right wing groups have been fanning the flames of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and if they continue to have their way, witch hunts such as those which have targeted Abedine and others will become more commonplace.
While the mosque burning in Joplin and the Abedine affair have received some attention in the mainstream media, one other issue of great consequence to Muslim Americans has gone under the radar. After it was revealed earlier this year that the NYPD had launched a six-year long surveillance of Muslim communities across the East Coast, this month the NYPD admitted that this spying program lead to no leads or useful intelligence on terrorism investigations. After secretly tracking the mundane activities of countless Muslims, including the activities of Muslim Student Associations, it is no surprise that the NYPD came up with no leads. That’s because numerous studies have found that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens who do not sympathize with terrorism.
Rather than devoting their resources toward combating the real threat of white supremacy movements, taxpayer money was wasted on the illegal surveillance of an innocent community. Imagine the outrage by politicians if any other community (read: those whose votes are of consequence to the reelection of politicians) would have been targeted by this extrajudicial spying. Take for example, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who in the past defended the appointment of Muslim judge Sohail Mohammed to the state bench against sharī‘ah fear-mongerers. However, almost a year later, with regards to the NYPD’s Muslim spying activities in his state, not only does Christie believe it to be legal, but the governor has only tepidly criticized the program. Unfortunately, the American political establishment remains slow in questioning the surveillance tactics being deployed by national security entities, which disproportionately target Muslims. For more on the shockingly public assault on Muslim civil liberties, listen to a segment of NPR’s ‘This American Life’ featuring a tell-all by an undercover FBI informant (aka “mosque crawler”) spying on Muslims in a Southern California mosque.
As it currently stands, Muslims have become fodder for both political parties in the US. For the Democrats, any factor connecting Obama to Muslims is political kryptonite, especially given that this is an election year. Meanwhile, the Republican Party establishment is becoming ever more co-opted by ultra-nationalist right wing personalities, who have benefited politically from engaging in Muslim bashing. For those doubting that these voices of intolerance are having success in mainstream parties, there is reason to believe that the GOP will include an anti-sharī‘ah stance in their party platform at this year’s Republican national convention. Extremist ideas are steadily morphing into acceptable political dogma, with no end in sight.
While the political marginalization of Muslim Americans is certainly bi-partisan, it comes as no surprise that a recent poll conducted by the Arab American Institute found that compared to Democrats, Republicans feel least favorable toward Muslims and Arabs, and are more troubled of the idea of these groups in government. The results of this poll illustrate that public opinion and the action of political leadership exist in tandem – so long as political leaders remain irresolute about protecting minority rights, the opinion of the masses will follow suit. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle continues to be fed during each election season.