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Hate in the Aftermath of Chapel Hill

In 2012, the American Muslim community experienced one of the biggest upticks of violence and harassment that the community has ever seen. Eleven years removed from 9/11, there was a seemingly unexplainable rash of attacks against mosques, including arson, vandalism and even shots being fired at different Islamic centers throughout the U.S. Much of this upswing in activity can be attributed to a continued flow of money and rhetoric into what’s termed “The Islamophobia Industry” – as outlined in Center For American Progress’ Fear, Inc., as well as CAIR’s 2013 report: Legislating Fear.

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Fast forward to February 2015. The news of a horrific execution-style murder of three young students in Chapel Hill, NC hit the Muslim community like a punch in the chest. The deaths of dental-student Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha saw three bright lights from our community have their lives cut short, in a crime that seemingly had a bias component to it. This came on the heals of the equally horrific murder of Mustafa Mattan, a well-respected Muslim community member who was shot dead while answering his door in Fort McMurray, Canada. But while the community grieved over these losses, an unprecedented string of hate crimes has swarmed not only Muslims, but other minorities who suffer from the epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment.  Here is a listing of confirmed anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place in recent days:

Dearborn, MI: February 12th – Muslim family attacked at Kroger

With anti-Muslim sentiment rising in the aftermath of recent ISIS attacks, an Arab-American family was assaulted while shopping at a local Kroger.

Houston, TX: February 13th – Arson at the Quba Islamic Institute

Early on February 13th, one of the buildings of this Islamic center burst into flames, completely destroying the structure.

El Paso, TX: February 13th – Multiple Muslim families targeted with slashed tires

Multiple families have the tires slashed on their vehicles, and now fear for their own safety.  Watch Here:

Warwick, RI: February 14th – Vandalism at Islamic School of Rhode Island

Red spray-painted hate messages were tagged throughout the exterior of the school. References included “pigs,” derogatory references to Islam as well as Nazi imagery.

Bothell, WA: February 16th – Vandalism at Hindu Temple and Anti-Muslim Graffiti at school.

A local Hindu temple was vandalized with red-spray painted swastikas, and the words “Go Home” – as well as a nearby school vandalized with “Muslims Go Home” on the building.

Columbus, OH: February 17th – Threats of violence at multiple mosques

Multiple mosques in Ohio have reported receiving threatening phone calls from the same individual, putting these communities on edge.  Warning: Graphic Language

Revere, MA: February 17th – Multiple threats of violence against Muslims posted throughout town

Disturbing notes threatening to kill Muslims “within 72 hours” were found throughout Revere.

Clearly, the amount of anti-Muslim activity throughout the U.S. has spiked significantly in the past week. Sadly, there are even more reports of incidents such as these that are emerging nationwide.

Here are some of the takeaways from these recent events:

Everything is BIGGER in Texas, even the hate: Much of the anti-Muslim activity taking place recently has come from Texas – a state with one of the largest Muslim populations in America. Last month, a Muslim event in Garland, TX was surrounded with swarms of anti-Muslim protestors – some of them carrying weapons. Protest signs decrying “Sharia Law” and mocking tenets of Islam were widespread throughout the event.

A few weeks later, the hate-fest replicated itself outside a scheduled Muslim Day at the State Capitol in Austin. The event garnered attention after a state legislator, Molly White posted on her Facebook page that Muslim constituents should be required to take a “loyalty oath.” Protestors flooded the Capitol, shouting hateful slogans, even interrupting the event by grabbing the microphone from scheduled speakers.

Texas has been an epicenter for Islamophobia since 9/11, however there has been a significant upswing in demonstrations and anti-Muslim incidents more recently. This upswing in hateful rhetoric has clearly contributed to the hate crimes of the past week.

Can we call it a hate crime?

The media reaction in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting has been very telling in terms of how crimes against Muslims, and crimes that are not committed by Muslims are perceived.

Within hours of the killings, details began emerging as to who exactly the shooter was, and what type of worldview he held. Based on his social media activities and consumer habits – it became clear that Craig Hicks was fixated on guns and gun-culture. He also turned out to hold militant new-atheist beliefs, and viewed all religions with distaste.

If we were to analyze a similar shooting where the perpetrator espoused an iota of Muslim identity on social media – the media narrative would somehow frame this as “terror.” In Craig Hicks’ case, however – the narrative took a different turn: Parking.

Never mind the implausibility of a parking issue resulting in the execution-style murder of an entire family – how is it possible to ignore the anti-Muslim sentiment that was pervading society at the moment of the killings? Many are attempting to paint Hicks as a person with contempt for ALL faiths – and he apparently even “defended the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in a 2012 social media posting.” Defending a religious liberty issue in 2012 does not preclude an individual from committing a crime based on hate in 2015.

Examine the case of Michael Enright, who traveled to Afghanistan to document the war – even smiling and posing with locals in photographs. He eventually returned to New York City, and slashed a cabbie’s throat after asking if the driver was Muslim.

Even though Hicks will spend the rest of his life behind bars, it is vital that law-enforcement investigate thoroughly as to whether bias contributed to this crime. This will provide much needed closure and justice to the families of the victims – who are certain that his was no mere “parking issue.”

Keeping Warm?

The mosque fire outside Houston has received similar treatment from many media outlets. It became clear, the day of the crime that this was an arson – as fire officials found accelerant at the scene.

Now, let’s pause here and look at the context of what was going on leading up to this fire. In Texas, the aforementioned hate-rallies in addition to the unchecked hateful rhetoric spewed by elected officials. Combine that the spike in hate-crimes nationwide, in addition to wall-to-wall coverage of ISIS being conflated with Islam.

As the mosque’s building lay in ruins, the narrative begins to emerge that the suspect Darryl Ferguson was “just trying to stay warm.”  Right-wing media outlets took this narrative, and ran with it:

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As the investigation continues to unfold, we are now finding out that Ferguson harbored anti-Muslim views to a convenience store clerk.  Although “parking disputes” and the need for warmth seem to be plausible for mainstream media outlets, it is clear that the coming days will reveal more as to the true nature of these crimes.

The past week has shown a sharp increase in Islamophobia – which has put many communities on edge.  As we have seen, this trend affects not only Muslims, but those perceived to be Muslims- such as Sikhs, Hindus, Arab Christians, and individuals from African origin.  Rather than helping squash this rhetoric, many elected officials and media outlets are using Islamophobia as a tool – which in turn is resulting in weeks like these.  It is hopeful that institutions from the Muslim community take note, and ensure that extra safety precautions are taken – along with constant awareness of surroundings.  Our community can’t afford any more “parking disputes.”

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“The Net Effect of Being an Islamophobia Industry Affiliate”

“The Net Effect of Being an Islamophobia Industry Affiliate”

With two great recent investigative reports  – Max Blumenthal along with Electronic Intifada have unearthed the shadowy ecosystem of multimillion dollar foundations, nonprofit groups, and even some Muslim organizations in helping perpetuate “the Islamophobia Industry.”  By highlighting the influence of these dark-money sources, many eyes across the world were opened as to the nature of the shady, back-door dealings of the industry.

Even though the overwhelming response to the articles has been positive – there has also been a noticeable backlash as well.  Interestingly, one of the first defenses of the American Islamic Congress was the Sheldon Adelson funded, anti-Islam conspiracy site “The Clarion Project,” (formerly RadicalIslam.org.)   Additionally, some critics and apologists are brushing off the links in funding as a stretch – asserting that these foundations are serving nothing more than the role of a bank in these cases.

So what’s the real answer here?  Are the critics who are brushing off these developments right?  Are these findings truly insignificant?  To put it bluntly, the answer to both questions is:  NO.  These findings are EXTREMELY significant.  For those of us who have been impacted by and have been researching the epidemic that Islamophobia for years, the fact is that there is a huge measurable impact that has and continues to be felt by not only Muslims – but all Americans as well.

Sheldon Adelson – The Money Man

First, let’s ask this question:  Why would any Muslim or Muslim-group willingly take money or support from Adelson – the world’s 12th richest person, who famously said this?  Or what about the time he referred to Palestinians as “an invented people?”

In fact, Sheldon Adelson is infamous for being the single-largest purchaser of influence in American politics– and he readily admits as much.  It is a known fact that his key reason for donating eight-figures to Newt Gingrich was to influence the national conversation on Israel.  So, when people come to defend beneficiaries of the casino magnate’s money as some sort of glorified bank transaction – they are being disingenuous. Sheldon Adelson’s money ALWAYS comes with a price.

Not only does the billionaire channel his immense assets in the area of promoting pro-Israel policy, he also channels it toward spreading anti-Muslim paranoia.  This is done via his Clarion Fund – which has produced anti-Islam propaganda films such as “Obsession” – which was distributed widely in newspapers nationwide.  The Clarion Fund made a follow up a few years later entitled “The Third Jihad,” an agitprop piece that outlines a scheme for a “cultural jihad” being waged on American soil using “Muslim Brotherhood front organizations.”  We’ll talk about that film in just a bit – but let’s take a look at some of Adelson’s primary operatives for accomplishing his dirty work.

Frank Gaffney – The Beltway Insider

Even though the Islamophobia Network includes more media-savvy hate mongers such as Pam Geller or Robert Spencer – there is perhaps no more influential figure in the spread of anti-Islam hate in the U.S. than the highly-connected Center for Security Policy head, Frank Gaffney.  His influence stems from his position in the Reagan Administration, which he has parlayed into a network of wealthy, paranoid conservative donors who lap up his litany of conspiracy theories.

The primary conspiracy theory peddled by Gaffney –is that of “creeping Sharia” – the irrational fear that Islamic law (known in Arabic as sharia) is being implemented via a stealth conspiracy, which involves the Muslim Brotherhood along with any major American Islamic organization.  Aside from the absolute absurdity of the claim – Muslims represent a maximum of 1.5% of the American population, along with the fact that there is not a single group that is talking about/attempting to implement sharia – conservatives continue to take this theory and run with it.  As of 2012, 78 anti-sharia bills had been introduced across 31 state and local legislatures in the U.S.  In 2013, we have seen this trend continue with bills introduced in Florida, Missouri, Kansas, and most recently – North Carolina.

Read the talking points that legislators in states like NC parrot out such as:

“”I’ve always wanted to depend on our own constitution, but we have seen that document put in, frankly, grave danger” – Rep. John Blust (R-NC)

Behind each one of these panicked quotes, lies Frank Gaffney and his close ally and front-man for authoring the anti-Islam bills, attorney David Yerushalmi.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed between Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and Yerushalmi with the express purpose of spreading anti-Islam panic throughout the U.S.

He is also the source of the smear campaign against any Muslims who happen to be working or affiliated with the administration – labeling names like Huma Abedin, Sohail Khan, Eboo Patel among others as “Muslim Brotherhood Operatives.”

With his influence among elected officials, we have seen a step up in the Islamophobic rhetoric being spewed from elected officials – on a local, state, and national level.  Most famously amongst these examples – is the anti-Muslim witch-hunt led by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  From 2010-2012, Bachmann, Louie Gohmert (R-TX,) Joe Walsh (R-IL,) and Allen West (R-FL) made up what was known as the “Islamophobia Caucus.”  Who is their tutor, you ask?  Frank Gaffney, of course.  Only Bachmann and Gohmert remain in Congress today, but all are active in attending conferences geared to the anti-Islam industry.  Oh by the way, there’s one coming up in November sponsored by David Horowitz, featuring Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Bachman among others – in case you’re interested.

In fact, Gaffney’s viewpoints are so extreme in nature, that he has been disinvited from a number of Conservative circles – including the influential “Weyrich lunch.”

Think about that for a second.   Frank Gaffney’s views are too extreme for the Republican Party.  In the aftermath of being shunned by the lunch, Gaffney then planted the rumor that tax reformer Grover Norquist (who’s married to an Arab-American) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.

Gaffney’s activities are narrowly focused upon degrading the public’s perception of Islam and Muslims in the U.S.  He has successfully peddled his influence among fringe lawmakers to help precipitate and foment anti-Islam hysteria in the U.S. – which as resulted in the absurd anti-Sharia bill movement across 60% of states in the union.  The introduction of these bills has effectively served as a “Trojan horse” for fostering a more hostile environment for Islam and Muslims within these states as well.  In Tennessee for example – the Muslim community is living under the persistent specter of Islamophobia in the aftermath of the bill’s introduction.  This includes a vitriolic attempt to block the establishment of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, to irrational fears about a mop-sink in the state legislature, to elected officials openly posting calls to violence against Muslims.

This has also resulted in the spewing of false allegations against individual Muslims and Muslim organizations, which has negatively impacted the lives of those affected.  One of Gaffney’s colleagues has been key in pushing forth this agenda.

Zuhdi Jasser – The Islamophobia Industry’s Favorite Muslim

As mentioned in Blumenthal’s article – Jasser is also affiliated with the American Islamic Congress – a group that has received immense funding from key members of the Islamophobia Industry – including Sheldon Adelson, the Klarman Foundation, and the Donor’s Capitol Fund.  He also sits on the Clarion Fund Board of Advisors alongside Gaffney, Walid Phares (former Ariel Sharon ally) – and the man known as the “Godfather of Islamophobia in the U.S.” – Daniel Pipes.  But even though critics of the investigation brush this off as “money changing hands” – the reality is that figures such as Jasser take a much more active role in the day to day activities of the “Islamophobia Industry.”

So how is it possible for someone who claims to be a devout Muslim to be an active participant in helping the promotion of anti-Islam sentiment?  Therein lies Dr. Jasser’s value to this multi-million dollar machine – to play the role of the “good Muslim.”  Conspiracy theorist and Islam-hater Glenn Beck terms Jasser as “the Muslim we have all been waiting for after 9/11.”  Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey (winner of Gaffney’s Freedom Flame Award) is also an admirer or Jasser.  Although seemingly unbecoming of a former AG, Mukasey subscribes to Gaffney’s Muslim Brotherhood takeover conspiracy theories – and takes every opportunity to highlight that Jasser is the only hope for American Muslims.  With glowing recommendations like these, it is no surprise that the Scottsdale physician is a frequent Fox contributor along with other conservative media.

In the 24 hour news-cycle, self-styled “experts” must forge a niche for themselves – Jasser has thrived off smearing and creating a shadowy narrative when it comes to the mainstream Muslim organizations in America.  Before Dr. Jasser’s emergence as the narrator of the Adelson funded propaganda film, “The Third Jihad” – the term “Islamist” was infrequently used in the media.   However, with the film’s extensive circulation, along with Jasser’s constant use of the word as an epithet in his interviews and writings – the word has jumped into the mainstream, almost becoming generic in nature.

Those who think the influence of such films is insignificant should think again.  The NYPD used “The Third Jihad” as a training video “on a continuous loop” for nearly 1,500 of its officers.  In fact, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly participated in the film – which only adds to the department’s horrendous record of spying on and mapping out innocent Muslims throughout the northeast.  In addition to Jasser’s active role in the film, he also held a pep rally alongside Rep. Peter King to support the NYPD’s invasive spying program on Muslims.

Smears Against Webb, MSA, CAIR, and other prominent Muslims

One of the most well known Muslim leaders in the U.S. – Suhaib Webb was slated to represent our community at the Boston interfaith service, featuring President Obama.  In reality, Webb likely the most recognizable Muslim cleric in the United States and his moderate perspective has gained a huge following among all segments of the Muslim community.  And although he was extremely gracious when the virtually unknown Weddady replaced him at the service – this was just the beginning of an attempt to defame and smear his good name.  As Jasser made the rounds in the aftermath of the tragedy, he also used this as an opportunity to deliberately cast shadows of doubt upon Webb – claiming “Up in Boston, this imam Webb has been linked to the (Muslim) Brotherhood”  – in addition to questioning the nature of the imam’s work.  It also completely ignores the fact that Webb has been a leading voice among Muslim clerics to condemn extremism for well over a decade.

This is nothing new for Jasser – who takes every opportunity to cast aspersions upon the major Muslim groups in America – such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA.)

Part of Jasser’s methodology of casting doubt upon individual organizations is utilizing whatever hyper-partisan, conspiracy-theory websites are available in this ultra-paranoid echo chamber in order to reinforce his viewpoint.  Here, he uses the birther-affiliated website “The Daily Caller” in order to create a false sense of causality between Dhzokhar Tsarnaev and the MSA.

In reality, the MSA is has been a great source of organizing and self-identity for American Muslim students for decades.  Students of all levels of religiosity utilize this platform to meet lifelong friends, compete in intramural sports, and organize events while exploring their own religious self-awareness.  And while every other religious and ethnic demographic are encouraged organizing in ways such as this – Jasser and his allies promote the falsehood that this is a “breeding ground for Islamism” and a “Muslim Brotherhood legacy group.”  By poisoning the well with discourse such as that of the Daily Caller article – the intent is to damage the reputation upon those law-abiding participants in these activities.  As mentioned earlier, the toxic law-enforcement environment actually resulted in an extensive spying program upon MSA’s, gathering information on their participants and events throughout the northeast.  The results of the investigation, you ask?  “Zero actionable intelligence.

Dr. Jasser, along with Gaffney take extra care to smear the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in America – CAIR.  You would be hard pressed to find an interview where he does not attempt to cast doubt upon CAIR (even though his father in law is also a Chapter President) and its chapters by labeling them with the buzzword “Islamist” or “Brotherhood front groups.”   As his media profile rose during the Boston devastation, his attacks on CAIR rose as well.  In an article for the Arizona Republic, Jasser claimed that CAIR was playing the victimization card – specifically cherry picking a single sentence quote by me, in order to frame his narrative that CAIR “was admonishing Americans not to seek retribution” against the Muslim community.  Let’s put aside the fact that there have been no less than half a dozen reports of violence and harassment reported against Muslims and those who appeared to be Muslim in the aftermath of the Boston tragedy.  Let’s also put aside the fact that in the last year, there was a sharp increase in attacks on mosques – including the arson that destroyed a mosque in Joplin, MO and nearly destroyed a mosque in Toledo, OH.  Let’s ignore the fact that the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric is so high, that it has resulted in violent backlash against or even murder of Sikh and  Hindu individuals.  Aside from these facts, let’s look at the reality of what was really said.

You want to know what CAIR spokespersons were really saying in the Boston aftermath?  Click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.  Sometimes, reality doesn’t conveniently fit into the pre-fabricated narratives that the Jasser’s, Gaffney’s and their allies attempt to present about American Muslims.  However – these guys are making a living selling their ideas to an audience (Fox News, WND, Daily Caller) who are known to be the least informed among the American public – even less informed than those who watch absolutely no news.

In the end, it is unsurprising that those such as Jasser ignore the good that the mainstream Muslim orgs are doing – and are focusing on reinforcing a false narrative of the Islamophobia industry.  In reality, they are linked inextricably with one another – as in the case with Jasser appearing in Steven Emerson’s “Grand Deception”, or sharing a stage and with known hate-group leader Robert Spencer at one of the aforementioned David Horowitz-funded retreats.  The pull, the power and the influence of the money provided by these foundations and shell organizations prove to be too tempting to pass up, apparently.

In the end, it is highly significant when ties to the key players in the Islamophobia Industry are uncovered –as in the case of Blumenthal’s expose.  When money and influence start making their way into legislative circles, we start seeing bitter fruits being harvested.  Some of these examples include a draconian spying program at the behest of the NYPD against segments of the Muslim community, specifically MSA members.  We see officers and homeland security personnel being trained by propaganda films such as “The Third Jihad” – which can create a monstrous view of Islam in the eyes of those who are there to protect and serve.  We have seen witch-hunts on Capitol Hill – such as the Gaffney-inspired Bachmann and Gohmert, along with the formation of the “Islamophobia Caucus.”  Finally, we have seen a sharp increase in the amount of bias related crimes targeting Muslims, Sikhs and persons of color since the influx of this dark money into the political and media sphere.  For those who think that the money and influence outlined in the previous EI articles is somehow insignificant – it is time to think again.

NY Post: Fueling Hate With Fake Headlines

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?

Immediate Reflections CNN’s Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door

Two words tell the whole story: Not Welcome.

The CNN Special :  Unwelcome – The Muslims Next Door premiered a few days back, and is one of the highest profile pieces in mainstream media regarding Islamophobia.  At first, I was sort of squeamish about tuning into the program, because even though we have become adept at reading endless emails, columns, and talk radio commentary that highlight anti-Muslim bias – seeing this on TV really tends to be heart-wrenching.

I went ahead and recorded the special on my DVR  – and subsequently spanned the full spectrum of emotions.  From pleasantly surprised at the very human (yes Muslims are human too!) portrayal of the Murfreesboro Muslim community, to concerned when hearing of the scope of the outcry against the mosque, to finally outraged in seeing the depths that some within the opposition would sink to in order to squash this project.  There was also surprise, in seeing how a personal connection existed in this mosque project as well.

From CNN’s perspective, I believe they did a fair job in attempting to not take sides – even though this is an issue of Constitutional right among the Muslim community.  From a journalistic standpoint, CNN played the role of ombudsman – however this real-life morality play was truly reflected in its characters.

The Muslims of Murfreesboro did an excellent job of representing an Islamic community to the rest of America by being strong, composed and sticking to the facts.  Although the documentary was filmed much earlier – it is airing in the shadows of the Peter King Radicalization hearings in Washington DC.  In the current climate that the Muslim community is facing – there is a narrative that the Muslim community is playing the role of victim, prone to shedding “crocodile tears” when they get in front of the TV cameras.  Don’t believe me?  Just click here. Rather than showing respect for the Muslim’s willingness to shed tears for their faith – the script is flipped, and the anti-Islam community uses these emotions as fodder.

A Show of Solidarity

With that being said, the Murfeesboro Muslims did a wonderful job of showing a strong and determined face – such as in the case of young college student Lema Sbenaty.  In witnessing her Islamic Center vandalized, her community demonized and the entire issue politicized – the sister had every reason to break down under the weight of the pressure.  As I sat next to my wife watching the show, I even at times felt tears welling up into my eyes, in witnessing the level of hatred that some harbor toward Muslims as a whole – one cannot help feel emotional in these circumstances.  The trolls among us in society unfortunately would have a field day.

We have seen a concerted effort in the Islamophobia business to dehumanize Muslims.  Talking heads such as Brigitte Gabriel and Michele Malkin have unconscionably stated that images of Muslim parents crying, holding their dead or wounded in bombed out Arab neighborhoods – are actually just random passers –by, just faking it.  The Islamophobic community also likes to state that Muslims are practicing the buzzword “taqiyya” in order to portray your smiling Muslim neighbor – as a lying, sleeper  terrorist-in-waiting.  As you see, in today’s political climate, Muslims are not allowed to express human emotions.  Either way, it is likely that those who didn’t like Muslims before the special – will still feel the same way.  Those who are neutral will see that this has to do with the inalienable rights that all Americans enjoy

On a personal level, I was pleasantly surprised to see the former imam of the mosque I attended in Irving, TX – Sheikh Ossama Bahloul.  When the imam came to the U.S, he could hardly speak any English – but you could see the true effort that he has made in learning the language and in order to become a more engaged member of the Islamic clergy.  He is now fluent in English, and did an excellent job of representing himself to a national audience.  The only error I caught was that Soledad O’Brien referred to the mosque in Irving, TX as “small” – which is not true.  It is actually pretty huge , but I guess O’Brien exercised editorial license on that one.

Hope For Muslims – from an Unlikely Source

In recent months, there has been a concerted effort in passing anti-Sharia legislation in states like Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida – and the state at the epicenter of this documentary, Tennessee.  With many candidates successfully running on a platform of fear-mongering, Muslims now find themselves wondering what implications that this has on them long-term.  Is it possible that a Muslim meat-store owner gets 15-20 years in prison, for processing halal meat?  Unlikely, however he is in effect practicing Sharia-law – which according to these half-brained bills would be illegal.  Needless to say, many Muslims are rightfully concerned.  That is why seeing this legal process adjudicated on the CNN documentary was especially helpful.

After the mosque opponents did everything within their power to protest the mosque’s building permit, they decided to move forward with a temporary injunction.  On what basis, you ask?  For that answer, we go to Murfreesboro’s racist legal council:  Joe Brandon.  Due to the fact that this house of worship is protected by the 1st Amendment, the councilor decided to attack from the angle that Islam is not a religion.  Therefore, he has set forth on a quixotic adventure in delegitimizing a faith with 1.5 billion adherents.

As a human being, it is very gut-wrenching to see your faith be twisted out of context, and for it to be used as political fodder.  Muslims love their faith, and to hear it being equated with suicide bombing and wife beating  – as in the case of Attorney Brandon, is completely unacceptable.  But however uncomfortable this situation gets, what has unfolded rings of hope for the Muslim community.  The appeal was denied.  Sure there was plenty of pomp, circumstance and shout-downs.  But the most telling moment came when the Department of Justice intervened in the proceedings and informed the participants that “Islam is plainly a religion,” and is therefore unequivocally protected by the 1st Amendment.

The appeal failed, so in the aftermath of the documentary – the opponents are still grasping to any legal straw that is available to them.  Although this promises to be a long, arduous process – Muslims can rest assured that they cannot be denied the right to practice their religion freely, just as the case with any other faith.  The same logic can be applied to what the opponents of Park 51 have attempted from a legal perspective – by trying to label the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory a “historical site” after the fact, among other last-ditch legal loopholes that they are attempting to exploit.  This will also be the ultimate downfall of those states who attempt to pass anti-Sharia legislation – as a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise Muslims.  Bottom line:  Muslims represent less than 2% of the entire U.S. population.  In “anti-Sharia” states like Oklahoma, the population of Muslims is more like .02% .  Please explain how buzzwords such as “creeping Sharia” have any precedent given these statistics.  In the end, there is absolutely no push for Sharia in the U.S, however the word has been politicized to foment a climate of fear/otherness of Muslims.  So thank you Joe Brandon, your failure and mockery of the legal profession just lifted the spirits America’s 7 million Muslims.

In closing, the documentary turned out to be a net positive for the American Muslim community.  While it may have been a bitter pill to swallow initially – in witnessing the rampant hate and fear-mongering taking place, it still highlighted many positive messages.  We were able to see the principled, steadfast stand of the Murfreesboro Muslims, along with just how our faith is protected by the U.S. Constitution.  As proud Americans, we will someday be able to look back and remember anti-Muslim resentment as a thing of the past, and will inshallah (God-willing) be accepted and respected as part of the fabric of America.

Imraan Siddiqi is an entrepreneur, freelance writer and MBA from Arizona State University.  He writes primarily on the subject of Islamophobia, and his articles can be found on www.stopislamophobianow.wordpress.com.  You can also find links to his articles at facebook.com/StopIslamophobiaNow