A little background on political Islamophobia. Many folks have a mistaken perception that the growth of Islamophobia is the happenstance result of 9/11 & the London train bombings, the rise of IS, the refugee crisis, and electoral sensationalism. While these are certainly contributing factors, they do not come remotely close to the full picture.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there was only one public protest of a mosque which became that accidentally. In Chicago, there was a “patriotism” protest on 9/13 that ended up going past a mosque, and the crowd stopped there and rallied outside the mosque. Since then, there were incidents of vandalism of mosques and hate crimes against Muslims (and other brown people), but no organized protests explicitly against Islam until 2010. In the intervening years, two major things happened.
One was Pamela Geller founding her right wing blog “Atlas Shrugs” in 2006 which attracted libertarians to nationalist Islamophobia. Geller would later team up with Robert Spencer (who runs the Islamophobic blog “Jihad Watch” — not accidentally a play on the SPLC’s “Hate Watch” and the ADL’s “Right Wing Watch”) to found SION (Stop Islamization of Nations — not accidentally an alternative transliteration of “Zion,” a biblical name for Jerusalem) and AFDI (the American Freedom Defense Initiative). These organizations built coalitions with European nationalist movements such as the EDL (English Defence League) and other white nationalist organizations that were not outwardly antisemitic.
The other thing that happened was an incident at the US-based white nationalist American Renaissance conference in 2006 (warning: hate video). Guillaume Faye, a prominent figure of the French New Right and Identitarian movements (both explicitly white nationalist movements). Faye gave a lecture outlining the “danger” of Muslim “invasion” of Europe and North America. He explained how immigration, by changing religious and ethnic demographics, served to undermine the sovereignty of European and North American countries and that this was enabled by what he called “xenophilia” — the love of foreign culture.
During the Q&A session Faye was asked a long-winded question by former Klansman and Louisiana state representative David Duke that boiled down to “What about the Jews?” Michael Hart — a Jewish white nationalist who apparently didn’t know who his friends actually are — stormed out calling Duke a fucking Nazi and as he left was chided with statements from the crowd expressing the sentiment “good riddance.”
Faye explained what would soon become the most effective praxis of the white hate movement since then. He said that, although he thought that Jews themselves could be redeemed as white people, European peoples suffered from being “Jews in the mind” — a mentality of openness, acceptance, and generally being a decent fucking human being. He further launched into a racial slur laden tirade explaining that he would talk about Black and Arab folks, but that European hate speech laws prevent him from doing so. “Criticizing” religion, however, is fair game under these laws.
Since that time, the white nationalist movement has used Islamophobia as a means of galvanizing the radical right and organizing internationally. Further, they have used it to reach out to more mainstream conservatives who, while not explicitly white nationalist themselves, believe the fear mongering about Islam being a violent religion or at least that “Islamo-fascism” posed a threat to the West.
In 2010, Geller and Spencer, having taken advantage of colorblind advertising policies of municipal public transportation administrations (enforced by the courts) to plaster city buses and subway walls with their anti-Muslim hate speech, organized a protest against the opening of an Islamic Community Center on Park Place, labeling it the “ground zero mosque” despite it not being a mosque and the plot of land being a good two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center.
In 2011, the National Policy Institute — an explicitly white nationalist and antisemitic non-profit — organized their first conference that united nationalists and reactionaries of all stripes from around the world. Unlike in Europe and Canada, the United States has no hate speech laws, and has been able to serve as a hub of the international white hate movement. Since that time, NPI has put on four conferences in the US (two in conjunction/opposition to CPAC) and attempted an illegal conference in Hungary with an additional conference coming up this month in DC.
These organizations have actively been outreaching to unsuspecting conservative organizations to push their message of hate — often veiled as protecting domestic jobs and safety. The recent wave of mosque protests which now encourages attendees to be armed — likely contravening the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act which prohibits threats of physical violence against places of religious worship — have been organized by white nationalist and military veteran Jon Ritzheimer.
Media accounts and attendees often portray neo-Nazis who show up in SS shirts and with Klan and Confederate flags as uninvited. The reality is that these are in fact the very people who are sending the invitations. Resisting Islamophobia is not only the right thing to do, it is crucial to resisting a movement that has a strategy in mind to push an agenda of ethnic cleansing, homophobia, and misogyny.