Former Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson recently called Islam “demonic,” saying that, “[Islam] is more an economic and political system with a religious veneer.” Robertson’s comments are of course ignorant and wildly offensive, but unfortunately are not out of line with the way many Americans feel about Islam.
In the past decade, there has been a growing tide of Islamophobia in the United States. After Sept. 11, hate crimes against Muslims saw a growth rate of a staggering 1,600 percent. Rhetoric similar to that of Robertson’s is commonplace. Members of Congress frequently warn of the moral threat Islam poses to America. In May 2012, the Kansas Senate even overwhelmingly passed a measure banning Shariah law.
The disparity between the truth about Islam and Americans’ perception of it is jarring. A 2009 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans have a “not favorable at all” or “not too favorable” view of Muslims. Americans perceive all Muslims as violent, a stark contrast from the actual teachings of the Quran. In fact, many notable Muslims condemn the violence of Muslim extremists, such as Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America. He writes, “Hate undermines the righteousness of our cause. Muslim Americans are devout in their faith toward God and at the same time they are good citizens who believe in and are willing to defend America and its freedoms.”
The mistrust targeted at Muslims in the U.S. is not borne of fact, but of intolerance and xenophobia. Islam is grossly misrepresented in political spheres and the media at the expense of the safety of Muslims living in America. The violence associated with radical fundamentalists is attributed to the fabric of the religion itself. Such assertions perpetuate the notion that Islam is inherently a violent, anti-Western religion, which could not be more false.
Manifestations of Islamophobia are everywhere. The virulent response to the proposed Park51 Islamic community center, also known as the “ground zero mosque,” typifies the way Islam is perceived in the U.S.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich referred to the planned community center as “a kind of triumphalism that we should not tolerate.” That Gingrich would associate the radical politics of the Sept. 11 hijackers with mainstream Islam is troubling to say the least.
There is a widespread network of propagandists working in the U.S. to imbue Americans with a distrust of Islam as well. The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney has essentially built his career around spreading falsehoods about Islam, specifically in relation to President Barack Obama. He has accused the president of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and of identifying as Muslim himself. In 2010, he began a smear campaign against a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on the grounds that mosques help foster Shariah law.
The mainstream media provides a vehicle for the anti-Islam propaganda espoused by Gaffney and others. Radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose program is the most popular radio talk show in America, consistently insinuates that Obama identifies as a Muslim. Fox News provides a forum for the extreme rhetoric of Gaffney and his cohorts.
Islam is a religion of an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide, 2.6 million of whom are Americans. To think that it is a uniformly anti-Western religion is just foolish. Like every other major religion, there are varying sects, some of which happen to be extreme to a violent degree. Casting the entire religion as inherently violent is not only unjust and offensive, but it presents the threat of undue violent retaliation that cannot be tolerated.