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September 19, 2011

Islamophobia: Paranoia infects North America

Haroon Siddiqui

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One legacy of the decade since 9/11 has been the growing fear of Muslims and Islam.

Many Europeans dread “Eurabia,” the ostensibly imminent Arab/Muslim takeover of the continent, even though its Muslim population is less than 3 per cent. Among those convinced of the coming apocalypse was Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Other believers express themselves peacefully but no less fervently.

Americans have come to share this European paranoia.

Many dread “New Yorkistan” and the takeover of America by Muslims, who constitute only 0.8 per cent of the population.

Nearly half of the 50 states have taken legislative steps to stop sharia, Muslim personal law.

Nearly a fifth of Americans believe that Barack Obama is Muslim or Arab or both. He fretted so much over this that during the 2008 election his organizers ejected two hijabi women from camera range. At a Republican rally, a woman called out to John McCain that Obama was an Arab; the Republican candidate responded: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen.”

Last year, Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg tamped down the hysteria over “Ground Zero mosque” but they could not persuade a Florida pastor from commanding national attention for weeks before burning a copy of the Qur’an.

This year Peter King, chair of the security committee of the House of Representatives, held hearings into “the homegrown radicalization” of American Muslims. He believes that “80-85 per cent” of America’s 1,900 mosques are “controlled by Islamic fundamentalists. This is an enemy living amongst us.” In fact, a study this year by Duke University found that American Muslims have been the biggest source of tips to the FBI in disrupting terror plots. Attorney General Eric Holder lauded the Muslim community for it.

In Oklahoma, Republicans are accusing Democrats of plotting an Islamic state on the Plains. Elsewhere, school texts are being challenged as being pro-Islamic, meaning, they are neutral and do not condemn Islam.

Among the 23 anti-sharia states, the Tennessee Assembly said sharia promotes “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.”

Newt Gingrich believes, or at least says he does, that “sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” Sarah Palin says sharia is going to be “the downfall of America.” Michele Bachman says sharia means Muslim “totalitarian control” over America.

This is “is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation in 19th-century Europe that Jewish religious law was seditious,” writes Eliyahu Stern, professor of Judaic studies at Yale.

It turns out that the sharia panic is not a grassroots movement but rather an orchestrated campaign by one man backed by anti-Islamic think tanks and private funders.

David Yerushalmi, a Brooklyn lawyer, works in collaboration with anti-Muslim groups to stoke the anti-sharia hysteria and distribute model legislation for states to adopt.

The Anti-Defamation League, a leading American Jewish agency, has lambasted Yerushalmi for his “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.”

He’s among five individuals named recently by the Washington-based Center for American Progress in its report Fear Inc.: Exposing the Islamophobic Network in America.

It names him along with Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy; Daniel Pipes of Middle East Forum; Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America; and Steve Emerson of Investigative Project on Terrorism. Their propaganda is parroted by Rep. King and other Republicans as part of their wedge politics. It is also repeated ad nauseum by such media outlets as Fox-TV.

The report also lists seven foundations that since 9/11 have dispersed $42.6 million to individuals and groups that work with the Tea Party’s state chapters: Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! for America; Pamela Geller’s (and Spencer’s) Stop Islamization of America; etc.

Some of them were behind the “Ground Zero mosque” protests, and are part of the agitation against the building of mosques and Islamic centres, 35 of which have been held up or delayed across the U.S.

The American Civil Liberties Union said:

“While mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking and noise levels, those asserted concerns are often pretexts masking anti-Muslim sentiment. Government officials in some areas have yielded to this religious bigotry.”

As in most things, Canada is somewhere in between Europe and the U.S. in dealing with its 850,000 Muslims, both in the battle against terrorism and in the public discourse about Islam.

There was the bungled case of Maher Arar, tortured in Syria with Canadian complicity. There was the 2003 case of 23 Indian and Pakistani students accused of plotting terror acts, though not one was ever charged. There are the lingering cases of three Canadian Arabs who, too, got tortured in the Middle East with Canadian complicity. There’s the ongoing legal battle of five Arab-Canadians over security certificates that permit indefinite detention of non-Canadians.

On the other side of the ledger, there was the successful prosecution of 11 of the “Toronto 18” charged with terrorism, and that of an Ottawa man for his involvement in a British bomb plot.

Canada has not imported European aversion to Muslim immigration, yet. But our debate on multiculturalism has also become a smokescreen for attacking Muslims and Islam.

“Almost every reason for toleration’s apparent fall into disrepute concerns Islam,” notes Prof. Charles Taylor of McGill University, one of the inventors of our constitutional multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism was blamed during the noisy 2005-06 debate over sharia in Ontario, and also during Quebec’s 2008-09 debate on reasonable accommodation that preceded the anti-niqab legislation to deny all public services, including health services, to those wearing it.

Mind you, Quebec has long resisted the term multiculturalism and preferred inter-culturalism, with its implied primacy of not only the French language but also French culture. This year, the Parti Quebecois baldly asserted that “multiculturalism is not a Quebec value,” even though it is the law of the land (Section 27 of the Charter and the Multiculturalism Act).

Of the five high-profile Canadian cases of hijabis barred from soccer, judo and taekwondo tournaments, three were in Quebec. And in 2007, a Quebec corrections officer was fired for wearing a hijab. Opposition to the hijab is highest in Quebec, according to an Environics poll.

Across Canada, mosques in Hamilton, Montreal and the Vancouver area have been firebombed and vandalized since 2010.

European and American Islamophobes do have fans in Canada.

Geert Wilders, the anti-Muslim MP from the Netherlands, was here last year on a three-city tour, to much fanfare in the right-wing media. Among those applauding him was the virulently anti-Muslim group Canadian Hindu Advocacy. It is in the forefront of the protest against Friday prayers at Valley Park Middle School.

Another pro-Wilders group is the Jewish Defence League of Canada, which has an alliance with Britain’s anti-Muslim and racist English Defence League.

Among the anti-Islamic writers quoted by Breivik in his 1,500-page anti-Muslim manifesto were two Canadians — Mark Steyn and Salim Mansur.

Steyn, author and columnist, was the subject of a 2006-07 controversy when Maclean’s magazine ran his 4,800-word rant that Muslims pose a demographic, cultural and security threat to the West. When a group of Canadian Muslims complained to the human rights commission, they were vilified by Steyn supporters as well as free speech advocates in a way not seen before against any anti-hate complainants.

Mansur, a professor at University of Western Ontario and a columnist for the Toronto Sun, is a frequent critic of fellow Muslims and Islam. He is a member of the academic council of Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, and much used by Islamophobes in the U.S. and Canada.

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