Resurging bigotry against Muslims

The shocking and offensive words and proposals that Donald Trump has used about American Muslims reminds us all that there is a virulent strand of anti-Muslim bigotry on the right in the United States. This voice has become loud and influential through conservative media and political action groups, and it offers a wholly prejudicial and bigoted narrative of the nature of Muslim communities in the United States. This narrative in turn encourages repressive and violent actions against American Muslims. What is fueling this particular strand of hatred within the American right today?

Part of the answer is provided by two important recent publications by the Center for American Progress, Fear Inc and Fear Inc 2.0. In a few words, these reports find that a small number of Islamophobic foundations, think tanks, and “experts” are wielding extraordinary influence on the public depiction of the Muslim community today. And this is particularly toxic for our polity, given the stresses created by the Paris and Beirut attacks earlier in November.

The Center for American Progress is a reputable and trustworthy organization contributing to a better understanding of many of the social and international issues facing our country. It describes its mission in these terms:

The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.

Recent distinguished senior fellows at the Center include Tom Daschle, Larry Summers, and Austan Goolsbee. The Center takes up dozens of important issues every year, in many different areas of our social and political lives; and it has given attention to the deeply toxic effects of Islamophobia on our civic culture.

These two reports provide careful documentation of the money trail — the funding that is provided by a small number of conservative foundations, the think tanks and advocacy organizations that promulgate false and provocative beliefs about Muslims, the “experts” who lend their reputations to these efforts, and the media channels through which these messages are promulgated. The two reports represent a spectacular example of careful, fact-based research demonstrating the mechanisms of hate in our country. And the influence that these institutions have had on the national consciousness is entirely disproportionate to the funding and credibility of the organizations and individuals who are conveying these messages.

Here is the executive summary of the Fear Inc report:

Both reports are important reading for everyone who cares about maintaining the inclusive and civil community that our American democracy is devoted to.

Another important resource for better understanding the spread of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry in our public discourse is the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University (link). The Bridge serves as an “observatory” of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States and abroad. Particularly interesting is a recent report on twenty years of public opinion surveys on US public attitudes towards Islam and Muslims. This extensive report is important reading as well.

What is the social effect of bigotry? In all too frequent circumstances it is violence and the threat of violence. And in fact violent crimes against Muslims (and Sikhs) have increased worryingly in the past five years. Here is a Southern Poverty Law Center report on religion-based crimes against Muslims, based on FBI crime data from 2010 and 2011 (link).

So it is important for all Americans who care about equality, inclusiveness, and mutual respect to stand up against hate, and to find ways of counteracting this powerful extremist campaign against the American Muslim community. As a start, Americans of all political parties should demand that their leaders and candidates be steadfast in rejecting the anti-Muslim propaganda that is being articulated by some candidates and commentators.