The perpetual election season is in full-swing, as we are now past Iowa and New Hampshire. With November seemingly around the corner, the GOP candidates have honed in on cultivating Islamophobia as a sound strategy for drumming up their base.
While the media focuses on the demagoguery of Donald Trump, the war-mongering of Ted Cruz and the sheer-unhinged nature of Ben Carson – the reality is that even “moderate” candidates, such as Marco Rubio are riding a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, in order to seem tough on national security.
Global Islamophobia continues to reach its crescendo, with anti-refugee and thereby anti-Muslim sentiment spreading like wildfire across Europe. This rhetoric has also continued to grow in the U.S. – with record numbers of Islamophobic incidents reported in 2015 against mosques. For American Muslims, it is now almost 15 years post-9/11 – yet the question remains on whether the continual scapegoating and marginalization of this community within the political sphere will ever end.
Obama’s Mosque Speech
Last week, President Obama finally visited a mosque – the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and gave a speech addressing the undeniable rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. Now I have been critical of POTUS’ notable absence from U.S. mosques for some time, as have been many inside and outside the Muslim community. Additionally, it is impossible to overlook his administration’s use of drones, support for Israeli aggression against civilian populations, as well as its continual framing of terror to be a Muslim-centric issue.
At the same time, it is also undeniable that Obama’s speech at the mosque did hold major importance for American Muslims. In the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric has risen globally, to what some are saying is an all-time high. Since San Bernardino alone, the number of hate-crimes stemming from Islamophobia has numbered over two dozen, in the U.S. alone. This includes violent attacks against Muslims and Sikhs, as well as arsons at mosques and multiple cases of vandalism at Muslim institutions.
What we don’t see amongst these statistics and news reports is the immense damage that has been done to the psyche of Muslims living in the West. Lost in all these numbers is the impact the venomous rhetoric is having upon everyday Muslims. This includes harassment, profiling, dirty looks, or just overall bigoted sentiment that is permeating society at the moment. For example, in a New Hampshire Primary exit poll, 2/3 of GOP respondents believe Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.
So while there were some inherent flaws with Obama’s speech – most American Muslims viewed this, at the very least – as being a little relief and validation during a time of heightened tension. The spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric has been an extension of Obama’s very existence in the most powerful position in the land. Since his election, hate group membership has spiked, along with “birther” and “creeping sharia” narratives permeating the political discourse. The perception amongst many American Muslims has been that Obama has been evasive on the issue of Islamophobia, as not to lose political points.
The “Moderate” Candidate Responds
Unsurprisingly, the right-wing met the news of the speech with their usual hyperbole and distortion of facts. It was expected that staunch neoconservatives and Islamophobia Industry operatives would take this opportunity to sling mud at one of the rare opportunities to depict Muslims in a semi-positive light. The so-called “moderate” GOP candidate Marco Rubio also saw this as an opening to weigh in, via The Huffington Post:
“I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” Rubio said at a Wednesday campaign stop in Dover, New Hampshire. “Always pitting people against each other. Always! Look at today: He gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”
Rubio added: “Of course there’s discrimination in America, of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves. They argue that. They’ll tell you that. But again, it’s this constant pitting people against each other. I can’t stand that. It’s hurting our country badly.”
The assertion that Islamophobia is a innocuous or non-existant, points to Rubio’s absurd level of ignorance, as well as his penchant for spitting out robot-like talking points, with disregard for actual facts.
In the past 2 months, there have been:
- Arsons that have destroyed a mosque in Coachella, CA and a Muslim-owned restaurant in North Dakota
- Mosques that have been vandalized from coast to coast.
- Individuals who have been physically attacked and sent to the hospital for speaking Arabic or wearing Muslim garb.
- Multiple attacks against Sikhs and their institutions, for being perceived as “Islamic.”
Add this to the fact that the Presidential candidate with the most face-time (Trump) has proposed banning Muslims from entering the country, or that the 2nd place candidate (Cruz) proposed carpet-bombing Iraq to “make the desert glow.” Previous frontrunner Ben Carson went heavy on the Islamophobic rhetoric early in the race, and was able to raise a massive amount of funds in doing so.
The fact that the leading candidates in the GOP race are succeeding with extremist, and some might even say fascist rhetoric – allows the “establishment” candidates appear to be centrist in nature. In reality, middle-of-the-road candidates such as Rubio are pushing very extreme, bigoted rhetoric as well.
In November, in response to Trump’s assertion that he would “close down mosques,” – Rubio took it a step further: Close down anywhere Muslims meet:
It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired. The bigger problem we have is our inability to find out where these places are, because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor, in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.
So whatever facility is being used — it’s not just a mosque — any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at.
The initial premise that individuals in the U.S. are being radicalized at mosques simply has no foundation. In the relatively few cases that have been prosecuted pertaining to ISIS, many have involved FBI informants or have involved online radicalization. The narrative that is being driven by many politicians and mainstream media outlets however, is that mosques are responsible for radicalization. Part of the reason that Trump, Cruz, Rubio are advancing this narrative ties into the fact that they’re being advised by one of the Islamophobia Industry’s foremost wingnuts: Frank Gaffney. Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy is responsible for advancing conspiracy theories, such as “all Muslims in public-life are Muslim Brotherhood operatives,” and that “80% of America’s mosques are radicalized.”
Even though candidates such as Rubio have been quoted as saying “I value every human life” – he has taken a hardline against taking in Syrian refugees during the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The fear-mongering around taking in refugees is Islamophobic at its core, as a faulty narrative that there are terrorists among them has now polluted the conversation. Rubio is also a staunch advocate for keeping Guantanamo Bay open, in a near nod to continuing keeping prisoners (all Muslim) in inhumane conditions.
Vying For Adelson’s Money?
American elections have sadly become a horse-race where candidates vie for the seemingly unlimited stream of funds from the nation’s wealthiest .01%. In the 2012 election, casino magnate and one of the world’s ten richest people, Sheldon Adelson had an immense impact on the discourse. Adelson, who is a staunch supporter of Israel, spent $15 million propping up a fringe candidate in Newt Gingrich throughout the election. In exchange, Gingrich help shift the Republican conversation to the extreme-right when it came to issues such as Israel and Islam. Even though Gingrich floundered in the polls throughout the race, the influx of Adelson’s money kept him in the game long beyond where he deserved to be. The tycoon has also famously said “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Islamic” – as well as being a well-known contributor to prominent Islamophobic projects. The question is, who will he look to in this election cycle to push forth his agenda?
In the 2016 election cycle, many say that Marco Rubio is that guy. With over $93 million spent during the last election, it’s plausible that Adelson may spend well over $100 million this time around. This could explain at least partially, why the supposed “moderate” candidate is pushing such extreme rhetoric during the debates. After the New Hampshire primary, however – his campaign may be in a free-fall. Either way, the amped up rhetoric bodes badly for American Muslims.
The Never-Ending Cycle of Bigotry
As we plod forward to November, Muslim Americans are bracing themselves for what promises to be a campaign season full of unabashed bigotry. We now live in a time when white supremacist groups are openly making robocalls advocating for Trump, saying “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, educated white people.” Ted Cruz, who has openly appeared at Islamophobia Industry events – continues to use the dog-whistle of “let’s call radical Islam by its name” – in order to froth up his extreme base. Some of them even show up armed, demonstrating with AR-15 assault rifles outside mosques.
This never ending cycle of demagoguery, from extreme right and “centrist” candidates is having an effect on public opinion and is contributing to polarization in the country. It is the hope of the Muslim community, that elected officials and those in positions of influence continue to call out and denounce this vicious and divisive rhetoric.