We are now 3 days in the aftermath of the horrific Boston Marathon bombing – where at least 3 people were killed, and over 170 injured. As search continues for who exactly is behind the attack – we are also in the midst of a full-on media meltdown, as they pursue the scoop on this story.
And while we take a reprieve from the air of tragedy, to laugh at (and rightfully so) at the likes of CNN for their ongoing comedy of errors – there is a much more egregious and reckless form of reporting done by the right wing media – specifically the New York Post.
But Wait….It’s the New York Post.
Nobody considers the Post to be anything more than the paper-manifestation of the xenophobic, right-wing echo-chamber – as this is their stock and trade. However – the publication somehow continues to outdo itself, profiteering and fear-mongering off a national tragedy. The race-baiting began before the smoke was literally even clearing from the crime scene – as the Post was the first to perpetuate the fallacious story about a “20 year old Saudi national” who roused suspicion because he was running away from the explosion – like everyone else. As it turns out, the Saudi was not a suspect – nor a person of interest in the bombing. Rather – he was a victim of the horrific attack, being treated for injuries at a local hospital. Those are the real facts.
Facts don’t matter though – for all intents and purposes, once the Post ran with the Saudi story, Islamophobes smelled blood in the water. The equally repulsive Drudge Report kept the false Saudi story up for the next 2 days. Glenn Beck told his legions of tinfoil-cap wearing fans that “this is likely the work of Islamists.” This fervor has caused one of the “godfathers” of Islamophobia in the U.S. – self-desribed terrorism expert Steve Emerson to emerge from the woodworks.
After other mainstream outlets put the silly “Saudi” rumor to sleep – NY Post and Emerson continue to double down on their conspiracy theories. Add that to the fervor that CNN caused – citing that an arrest had been made of a “dark-skinned male” in the case, and we are now seeing the seeds being planed for a whole new backlash against Muslim and Arab-Americans.
Have The Islamophobic Backlash Started?
So far, in the last 2 days – there have been reports of a Bangladeshi man being attacked and left semiconscious with a dislocated shoulder in the Bronx. A Palestinian-American was also assaulted and harassed in Boston. Less than 72 hours in, the seeds of “dark skinned” or Arab suspicion have now started to bear their bitter fruit.
We’re not done yet. The Post has committed its most egregious and reckless piece of “journalism” yet – when it decided to double-down on the “Saudi” conspiracy and publish the photos of a so-called “potential suspect” – who turned out to be an innocent 17 year old track athlete at a local high school. Now, young Salah Barhoun – whose image has been put out there in the most horrendous context, for the entire world to see – is now doing everything he can to clear his name.
This gets to the heart of the matter of just how irresponsible and detrimental to society those who fan the flames of Islamophobia in the U.S. are. There is no punitive action – other than in the “court of public opinion” for those who are willing to jeopardize the safety of individuals or communities for the sake of generating headlines. Fox News contributor Erik Rush sent out a tweet that alluded to “killing all Muslims“ in the direct aftermath of the attacks – and has not yet received any type of reprimand or removal from his role with the network. Rush has now doubled-down on his comments, evoking jargon such as “dhimmi” that has made Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer household names. While these hate-mongers continually spew misinformation (Geller and Spencer are loving the Saudi conspiracy theories, btw) – they take shelter under the guise of free-speech. While they can surely claim freedom of speech, it is also known that hate-speech can manifest itself in violent endings – as Geller, Spencer and Emerson were all cited in Norway killer Anders Breivik’s anti-Islam manifesto prior to his murder of 77 innocent individuals.
Violent Effects of Unchecked Rhetoric
Last year, we saw the same cause and effect relationship between Islamophobia and violent action for a man who was just sentenced to 20 years in prison for the arson of a Toledo, Ohio mosque. After Randy Linn was apprehended for the blaze that almost destroyed the Muslim house of worship – he stated that the only information he knew about Islam – he got from Fox News, which happens to be the New York Post’s sister company. We saw a violent wave of attacks on Muslim houses of worship as well as a hate-fueled, murderous attack on the Oak Creek, WI Sikh Temple. As we move forward from this heightened state of fear-mongering and finger-pointing, do we have more of the same to fear?
And what about 17-year old Salah, who undoubtedly has faced xenophobia and bullying even prior to his image being blasted into millions of homes – falsely labeled as a suspect in a terror attack? Will he be able to put the pieces of his life back together? For young Arab and Muslim immigrants trying to fit into the school system over here – the environment of bullying and racism has never been higher. It is commonplace to be heckled, be labeled a terrorist, and to be alienated from other classmates and even teammates. Having your name thrown out there with no fact-checking or journalistic principles during a time of such heightened emotions can have a devastating effect on a young child. We can only hope and pray that he is able to recover his good name from this.
As we can see, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim wagons are circling – facts be damned. We will continue to see the echo-chamber, headed by the NY Post – whose irresponsible reporting is adding fuel to an already heated situation. The reports of attacks on brown-skinned and Muslim individuals in the aftermath of the marathon bombing are a harsh reminder of the effects of such poisonous rhetoric and yellow journalism. Now we must ask ourselves, what lies in the coming days ahead of us?
In case you missed the first episode – check it out here:
This will be an exciting new format to explore moving forward – as there are so many personalities out there who are contributing positively to fighting racism, hate and Islamophobia in the U.S & abroad. This type of format gives us a chance to tell their stories, what paths they took & highlighting their great works.
Even though Islamophobia hasn’t been dominating the headlines nationally in the past few months – it doesn’t mean that the hate has died down…one…bit.
Just check out headlines from today in Tennessee - they’re so afraid of “creeping sharia” over there, that lawmakers mistook a mop-sink for a Muslim “foot-bath” for making wud’u (ablution before prayers.)
In NYC, SF and Chicago – Islamophobes are ramping up their anti-Islam bus and subway ad campaigns; the amount of money pouring into this industry is astonishing. How is the community standing up to this hate? We plan to highlight these type of stories moving forward – so stay tuned!
by Imraan Siddiqi
On Tuesday night, the stormy skies that many Muslims faced in the political spectrum started to clear up a bit. We saw the defeat of two well-known sitting members of Congress – Allen West (R-FL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL), while a third – Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was taken down to the wire, and eventually prevailed. All three politicians were purveyors of far-flung conspiracy theories involving a purported “Muslim takeover of America” – and all three were huge beneficiaries of Islamophobic money. Along with the more-established candidates, we saw the defeat of a litany of Islamophobic challengers in many congressional races.
One of the most respected Progressive members of congress – Raul Grijalva was being challenged tooth-and-nail by right-wing foe Gabriela Saucedo-Mercer. The challenger was renowned for being an immigrant from Mexico herself – yet harboring what could only be described as shocking set of views toward immigration. In an interview last year, Mercer stated that Middle-Easterners should not be able to migrate to the U.S. – “Either legally, or illegally.” In the same interview, she alluded to the fact that “prayer rugs and Qurans” were found in the Sonoran desert, along with headless bodies – which she seemingly attributed to Middle Easterners or Muslims sneaking through the border. Thankfully for Arizonans – Grijalva was able to retain his seat with ease, defeating Mercer by a wide margin.
The positive trend continued in races across the nation – as Minnesota’s Chip Cravaack and Florida challenger Adam Hasner were all sent packing in their races. So the question is: Is there hope that we will see the level of Islamophobia subside within the American political sphere, specifically in the Republican Party? The reality is, that for years the GOP has given this bigotry sanction, and that the party’s more established members have done almost nothing to speak out against it. On Tuesday, America spoke out against it at the polls.
Since the 2010 mid-term elections – Islam has been used as a wedge issue. Newcomers into the fray – namely among the Tea Party movement made it a specific part of their platform to essentially drum up and create a national panic on Shari’ah Law. Within this theater of the absurd, we saw 78 bills or amendments introduced across 31 states that aimed to thwart the “looming Shari’ah threat.” The well-documented Islamophobia industry now had a foothold in our national and state legislatures – and was only growing in influence.
Within this new overtly Islamophobic set of legislators – Allen West, Joe Walsh and Michele Bachmann stood out as its most unhinged and high profile members. Along with TX Rep Louie Gohmert (who remains in Congress,) the group has focused less upon bring the country forward – and more upon sound bytes (“terror-babies,” anyone?) and divisive rhetoric (Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to take over America.)
This poisonous rhetoric has unfortunately progressed from the dark corners of the GOP, to becoming an actual part of the Party Platform for the Presidential election of 2012. In the past few months, we saw Muslim-Americans who have dedicated their lives to civic duty – such as Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, targeted as being part of a Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate politics – their names smeared, and their careers being put on the line – just for being a Muslim American in the political realm. The echo-chamber of hate in the Islamophobic blogosphere and right-wing media has perpetuated these absurdist conspiracies, questioning the “loyalty” and “patriotism” of American Muslims. What we saw on Tuesday – a rejection of many of those candidates and principles shows a great deal of hope for civically engaged Muslims moving forward.
Applying this same framework to the Presidential election – in some ways I was happier that Obama got re-elected in 2012, than I was in 2008. Policy-wise, I – along with many in the Muslim community have many unresolved issues with how he governed in his first term – namely in the area of drone warfare, civilian casualties caused by said drones, the failure to close Guantanamo, the failure to prosecute torturers and the passage of the NDAA. As we move forward into his second term, Americans will be charged with holding him accountable and scrutinizing him on his promises. These issues will persist forward, but at the very least – the election of Obama speaks well to the fact that America was able to withstand some of the nastiest and most divisive racially charged rhetoric since the Civil Rights Movement.
Obama’s legitimacy as the President has been challenged by many bigots and Islamophobes since his inauguration in 2009. He has been labeled as a “un-American,” a Muslim, a Kenyan, a Socialist – and this was all before he stepped foot inside the White House. The epithets that were lobbied at him prior to governing were merely thinly veiled resistance to having an African-American govern this country. As I have said many times before – they call him ‘Muslim’ because the ‘n-word’ is not socially acceptable anymore. Or is it???
And although the Romney campaign thankfully did not engage in the birtherism and delegitimization of the President’s patriotism – nearly all of the GOP candidates vying for the nominee walked that line. Although Obama hasn’t visited a single mosque – yes a single mosque in his first term – at the very least, he knows what it is like to live under the murky cloud of Islamophobia. And in spite of the upswing in racism, xenophobia, and hate that has engulfed the national conversation – he was still re-elected. From that standpoint, it looks like minorities have a lot to look forward to in our country’s future.
There is a great deal of hope in seeing other traditionally non-represented minorities continue to break through into national politics. The first Hindu was elected into Congress – Tulsi Gabbard, from Hawaii. Mazie Hirono became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate. Many other minorities are finally seeing their communities find their voice in this election cycle.
The Muslim community has seen its two Congressmen – Keith Ellison and Andre Carson re-elected in landslide victories this past Tuesday – all in spite of the fact that there was a concerted effort by the Islamophobia industry to unseat them. A 3rd potential Muslim – Syed Taj was defeated in his Michigan district, however we see that there is definitely hope for our community’s future in holding and retaining elected office.
As we move on from this contentious election cycle – the hope is that the specter of Islamophobia will slowly dissipate once and for all. Is it gone, with the defeat of West, Walsh and the rest of the crew? Definitely not- however we do see that the amount of money and resources spent on fanning the flames of Islamophobia do not translate into success on the political scale. The hope is that the Bachmann’s and Gohmert’s of the world will move away from their divisive rhetoric (not likely) and focus on the real issues. There are still a great deal of elected officials who harbor anti-Islam sentiment – too many to even name in this article. With that being the case, our community has to replicate its effort from this last election – speak up in condemnation of hate, and remain steadfast and unafraid to speak to truth and justice within the political realm.
Hate’s Busy Week
by Imraan Siddiqi
For the Muslim community – as the song goes: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Almost everyone now knows that we are in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan. Within this blessed month, the last 10 nights are the most blessed nights of the entire year –and this is the time where you find Muslims locking down even further: Praying more in the night, reading more of the Quran, spending more time in reflection. Muslims pray in the hope of receiving the blessings of Layl-at-ul-Qadr, or The Night of Decree, which is outlined in the 97th Surah in the Quran:
Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.
Narrated through the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we are told that this blessed night occurs within the last 10 nights, likely to be one of the odd nights, i.e. 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th. As the surah above tells us, worshipping on this night carries more credit than worshipping continuously for 1000 months – almost 84 years. To put it simply – the last 10 days of Ramadan are like the Olympics of worship in Islam.
With that being said, the lead-up to this last portion of our holy month has been riddled with a sharp upswing in hate, violence and intolerance – which for many, is putting a damper on such a blessed time of year. Within the last few days alone, mosques across the American landscape have been hit with bullets, paintballs, lemons, pigs’ legs, and acid, along with being the subject of vandalism:
A Rhode Island mosque is vandalized when an assailant damages the center’s sign.
The lone mosque in Joplin, MO was burned to the ground in an apparent arson
Ontario, California – pigs legs were thrown out on the driveway of a future Islamic Center – where worshippers gathered to observe prayers at the mosque site. Witnesses say two women in a pickup truck were the perpetrators of the crime.
Shots were fired outside a Morton Grove, IL mosque – luckily nobody was injured. Authorities have arrested a 51 year old white male named David Conrad – who allegedly fired his high-powered air-rifle at the house of worship.
An Oklahoma City mosque was shot by an assailant with a paintball gun in the late night hours.
*All these attacks come in the aftermath of the devastating attacks in Wisconsin, where half a dozen Sikh worshippers were killed in cold blood by white-supremacist, Wade Michael Page.
*This also comes in the aftermath of the Hayward, CA Mosque attack, where teens were arrested for throwing lemons at the Muslim center: http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_21266516
A Spike in Rhetoric, a Spike in Attacks
Within the last 2 years, we have seen the level of Islamophobia spike to unprecedented grounds. Starting with the Park 51 controversy in 2010, the level of vitriol and anti-Muslim rhetoric has risen to levels unseen even in the aftermath of 9/11. Additionally, the amount of money put into feeding the Islamophobia industry has grown into the tens of millions of dollars. As we have seen from comments made by elected officials such as Reps Michele Bachmann and Joe Walsh, Islamophobia is not a tactic for those on the fringe anymore – it is now mainstream.
Candidates and politicians utilize this tactic in order to stir up their base, in order to get a short-term bump in the polls – and to increase fundraising. And this tactic seems to work – as seen by Michele Bachmann’s $1 Million fundraising spike, in the aftermath of her Muslim Brotherhood government infiltration comments last month. As we can see by the actions of the last week alone – these irresponsible comments have a larger, more negative impact on society.
It is a sad truth that Islamic centers in the U.S have become accustomed to vandalism in some way, shape or form within the last few years. Any disrespect to a house of worship should be considered a threat to religious freedom in this nation – but there is a demarcation point between acts like teens throwing lemons – as in the Hayward case, and the gun violence that has now rocked the faith community for the last week. The Oak Creek case, along with Joplin and Morton Grove are key examples of how the rhetoric is allowing some deranged segments of society to justify lethal tactics as a manifestation of their hate.
It remains to be seen whether the same right-wing leadership that stokes fear of Islam in America will come out in defense of our community in the wake of this ever-growing cluster of attacks – but we’re not holding our breath. There is no doubt that there is some sort of correlation between the elected officials’ comments and the upswing in violence – but rather than taking a step back from this dangerous rhetoric, the lunatic fringe is doubling down.
Reviving the Spirit of the Last Ten Days
One can’t help think morbid thoughts when faced with a cluster of such hateful actions within such a short timeframe. Thankfully within this seemingly endless string of bad news – arose some good news – in the hardest hit of all the mosques – Joplin, Missouri. If there was any community that desperately needed some good news – this would be the one. The town entered the nation’s conscience last year when it was hit by a deadly tornado, killing nearly 200 residents. As they continue to rebuild the city, the community has now been struck with a new plague: Hate. The Muslim community was targeted just over a month ago, when an individual was caught on surveillance throwing an incendiary device on the roof of the mosque, causing damage to the building. The perpetrator was never caught, and the community seemingly would put this scary event behind them. Last Monday, the mosque was once again targeted – this time burnt to its foundations. Even though this looks to be a time of despair and grief for Joplin’s Muslims – we have seen the true spirit of community arise from all over America to help rebuild this house of worship.
Within a few days of the attack, a donation site was put up in order to help raise funds to rebuild Joplin’s mosque. The fundraising goal for the project serving this small community was ambitious – raise $250,000 within 45 days. In the old days, it took more along the lines of 45 months for small communities to raise such a large amount of money. However this cause has struck a chord within the American landscape – and the fundraising goal was met in a mere 60 hours – 2.5 days. You can view the donation site here – as you can see the great outpouring of love and generosity has helped push their project forward and up to now has nearly raised $350k. Joplin churches have come together to host the Muslim community for an iftar (breaking the fast at sundown) – in a sign of solidarity.
As the American Sikh community still recovers from the Wisconsin shooting, there has also been an outpouring of compassion from Americans of all faiths in order to show unity. Candlelight vigils and interfaith memorial services have been held in many major cities throughout the nation. As we can see, the spirit of love and shared humanity can overcome the most unthinkable acts.
But the question is, how do we stop this endless cycle of hate and disrespect for our houses of worship? The true American spirit is one of tolerance, religious freedom and embracing of differences. However, throughout this nation’s history there have always been those forces that have rebelled against this concept – whether that is with rhetoric or violence. Those previous dark chapters were thought to have been put to bed – but as we can see, hatred does not sleep easily. In these most blessed nights of the year, it is worth our prayers to put an end to all these senseless attacks for good.
Imraan Siddiqi is a CAIR-Arizona Board Member, Editor of StopIslamophobiaNow.com, & an Entrepreneur. He writes on the experiences of Muslim Americans as well as the subject of Islamophobia. He has been published in outlets such as The Dallas Morning News, The Oregonian, Huffington Post, CounterPunch, SuhaibWebb.com, altMuslim, among many other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @imraansiddiqi.
By Imraan Siddiqi Part Two of “When Interfaith Goes Sideways”
That’s right, if you are taken prisoner in a war and you fear that you will be killed – then you can lie, and it won’t count as a sin on your behalf. And by the way, I believe lying in this case is acceptable in Christianity, Judaism – and is encouraged in the military as well. To their defense – I can only give my Sunni viewpoint of this concept – which only represents 85% of the Muslims these guys hate. Although the concept is thought to be more prevalent among Shi’a, it also refers to extreme duress situations. Historically, the example of the Prophet’s companion – Ammar bin Yasir has been used – where as a young convert to Islam, he found himself in a life or death situation. Both his parents (also converts) were captured, tortured and eventually killed. His mother, Summaya is considered to be the first martyr in Islam. This brave teenager was now faced with a decision by his captures: renounce Islam – and give allegiance to their deity – or die. Under duress, Ammar renounced Islam – and his life was eventually spared. When he returned back to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he was told that this was not considered any wrongdoing on his part, because Islam was still in his heart. That – my friends is the extreme case that we are talking about.