On September 11, 2001 the world watched as a series of attacks struck the United States, killing hundreds of thousands, and forever reshaping the world’s view of Islam and Muslims. Eleven years after the attacks, and Islamophobia, the prejudice and irrational fear of Muslims is still going strong. As many analysts have pointed out, American politics are now using this to their advantage.
Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He believes that Islamophobia in America is deeply entrenched into the political platform of American politics, and as a result, American’s are paying the price.
“Islamophobia in America is not innate. Rather, it's the fruit of a decade-long hysteria against Muslims generated by a largely Republican machine – a machine comprising of Republican pundits, conservative funders, media conglomerates and fiery politicians,” he said.
He goes on to explain that “by pundits, I mean the likes of Ann Coulter who boldly asked Muslims to ‘take a camel’ instead of flying on a plane, and Sean Hannity who compared Islam with Nazism. Others such as media personality Glenn Beck, Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes, televangelist Pat Robertson, Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer, and activist Pamela Geller also mesmerized millions with their imagery of the Muslim terrorist next door.”
However, some experts believe that the problem is deeper than just the racialization of Muslims in American politics. Nazneen Akbari, a freelance reporter for Thomson Reuters, insists that the cause of Islamophobia is deeply rooted in the role the media plays in ‘educating’ millions of viewers nationwide.
“Prejudice against Muslims in the West continues to mushroom under the umbrella of ignorance and stereotypes… [and] what’s troubling is that the West is cultivating ill feelings toward a community they do not know much about ,” she said.
To explain her point, Akbari used the example of the Norway massacre that happened in 2011. Minutes after the shooting rampage at a summer camp on the Island of Utoya, Norway, “several news outlets reported the crime as an attack by ‘Islamist extremists’” she said.
“The New York Times highlighted ‘expert’ comments from Terrorism Analyst, Will McCants, who blamed the attack on a terror group, [called the] ‘Helpers of the Global Jihad’. Fox News tagged it as ‘some sort of al-Qaeda-related incident,’” she further explained.
However, reports later changed when Norwegian police arrested 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik.
“The problem is not usually with the stories being reported in media, it’s the unbalanced and sensationalist treatment of stories, within an anti- Muslim environment which stokes fear of a radical Islam among majority, who now believe their Muslim mates represent deceitful jihadists” – Nazneen Akbari
A 2009 CNN report titled “US Split on Muslim Allies” claimed that 53% of Americans don’t personally know a Muslim, and 55% lack the basic understanding of Islam, yet according to a 2010 Gallup poll, 43% (4 in 10 Americans) admit to feeling some form of prejudice towards followers of Islam.
While these numbers highlight an imbalance in citizen engagement, Akbari sees the problem as being bigger than this.
“The problem is not usually with the stories being reported in media, it’s the unbalanced and sensationalist treatment of stories, within an anti- Muslim environment which stokes fear of a radical Islam among majority, who now believe their Muslim mates represent deceitful jihadists,” she said.
Thus, with Americans buying into these ideas and media outlets continuing to promote these messages, writer Safia Farole sees politics as the binding between these two gaps, further pushing the Islamophobic agenda , even after 11 years.
“As it currently stands, Muslims have become fodder for both political parties in the US. For the Democrats, any factor connecting Obama to Muslims is political kryptonite, especially given that this is an election year. Meanwhile, the Republican Party establishment is becoming ever more co-opted by ultra-nationalist right wing personalities, who have benefited politically from engaging in Muslim bashing… Extremist ideas are steadily morphing into acceptable political dogma, with no end in sight,” she said.
With the 2012 American presidential election just a few weeks away, Islamophobia has only played a minor role in directing the presidential campaigns thus far. But, with the eleventh memorial for the September 11 attacks underway, and the last stage of election campaigning hitting full swing this month, Duke University Chaplin Abdullah Antepli speculates that Islamophobia will be the leading strategy to gain citizen votes.
“I am sure we will all witness similar scare tactics by the same group of people that did this during the 2008 presidential election. They have everything they need in their hands: a fertile post-9/11 ground to scare people, a lot of money, and irresponsible and unwise media and public figures who are willing to be mouthpieces for their fabricated message,” he said.
However, he leaves the tactic speculations aside, ending with a question that perhaps many Americans want their candidates to answer: “when will enough be enough and when are we going to put an end to this nonsense, with common sense and civility directing our attention to more real and substantial issues in the face of a presidential election?”
This remains the question that is yet unanswered.