Islam in America: Pardon Me, But Your Hate Is Showing
Riad Z. Abdelkarim, MD, is Western Region Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Much to the dismay of American Muslims, verbal attacks on Islam and Muslims by conservative commentators, religious clergy, and elected officials are increasing in our nation at an alarming rate. These recent attacks on the faith of Islam and American Muslims--which have escalated dramatically since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--threaten to overshadow the repeated statements of President George W. Bush and other administration officials that the current campaign against terrorism is not a war on Islam. American Muslims also worry that these verbal attacks may rekindle the post-Sept. 11 backlash which resulted in over 1,000 hate incidents and crimes reported against Muslims, Arab-Americans, and South Asians.
Ironically, on many political and social issues, American Muslims and Christian conservatives should be natural allies. However, the two communities differ sharply over attitudes toward Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The markedly divergent views on this single issue have led some conservatives to condemn Islam and Muslims quite broadly, in the process attempting to exclude American Muslims from policy-making discussions and debates. Several recent remarks and commentaries by conservatives illustrate a disturbing degree of Islamophobia and have clearly ventured beyond the limits of reasonable debate into the realm of hate speech and neo-McCarthyism.
For example, Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, recently told Georgia law enforcement personnel they should "just turn [the sheriff] loose and have him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line" (Washington Post, Nov. 20).
In the Washington Times (Nov. 21), commentator Cal Thomas mocked Muslim prayers offered at an event marking the fast of Ramadan held recently at the White House. Thomas wrote: "The [Muslim] ambassadors knelt and touched their foreheads to the floor...It's unlikely they were praying Lee Greenwood's lyrics for `God Bless the USA.'" Thomas also recently has written that Muslims "take their faith in a false god more seriously than we take our faith in the true one."
Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter made perhaps some of the most vicious comments, writing that America "should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." She also called for the "mass deportation" of Muslims. And Paul Craig Roberts wrote: "Of all the hyphenated-Americans, Muslims pose the greatest challenge" (Washington Times, Nov. 16). Roberts also objected to "persons of Middle Eastern origin searching the personal effects of native-born blue-eyed blond mothers," in a thinly-veiled racist reference to Middle Eastern-appearing airport security screeners (Washington Times, Nov. 8).
Some evangelical clergymen have also joined in the fray. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, is refusing to retract inflammatory remarks in which he claimed: "The God of Islam is not the same God...It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." In the NBC report, Graham (who delivered the benediction at President Bush's inauguration) said, "I don't believe this [Islam] is this wonderful, peaceful religion." Concurring with Graham's comments, Rev. Chuck Colson, former Nixon aide and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said: "I agree that Islam is a religion, which, if taken seriously, promotes violence" (USA Today, Nov. …