Islamophobia in America is the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims prevailing among Christian and Jewish Americans. (Atheists who question the very notion of religion are perhaps less likely to select Islam as a special target of disparagement.) A majority of American Christians and Jews do not fear or hate Islam or Muslims. In fact, many Christian and Jewish interfaith organizations are actively engaged in repelling Islamophobia. American Jews understand that they too will be a prime target, as recent cemetery vandalism and bomb threats demonstrate, if Islamophobia gains intensity and momentum. Likewise, Mormons, Hindus, Sikhs, and other minority religious groups living in America fear for their safety as the hatred of Islam sweeps the nation.
The ugliest American Islamophobes that occupy prominent social, political, and intellectual fields are well known to the world if not to the people of the United States: They are Steve Bannon (Irish Catholic), Robert Spencer (Greek Catholic), David Horowitz (Jewish), Pamela Geller (Jewish), David Yerushalmi (Jewish), Frank Gaffney (Irish Catholic), Steven Emerson (unknown heritage), Daniel Pipes (Jewish), Sean Hannity (Irish Catholic), and Bill O’Reilly (Irish Catholic). There are scores of other Islamophobes, less highflying but no less vicious, firmly occupying posts in the media, legislatures, television, and academia.
These garrulous Islamophobes write books, sponsor seminars, and write op-eds; some prompt states to enact anti-Sharia legislation, some finance anti-Islamic political movements in Europe and the United States, some provide radio and television commentaries sensationalizing the perils of Islam, and some outright advocate the persecution and expulsion of American Muslims.
A quick overview of the ugliest Islamophobes listed above demonstrates that they are mostly white males, and mostly Irish Catholic or Jewish. It is ironic how these ugliest Islamophobes conveniently forget that Jews, Catholics, and the Irish — their own communities — have experienced sorrowful histories of discrimination, prejudice, hatred, and refusal to enter the United States. Anti-Semitism is the fear and hatred of the Jews. Hibernophobia is the fear and hatred of the Irish. It is a question of psychiatry, if not psychosis, why the descendants of the victims of Anti-Semitism and Hibernophobia have turned into malicious Islamophobes.
Profiling is inherently obnoxious and a questionable generalization from both moral and empirical viewpoints. Profiling is stereotyping, maybe carrying a trace of truth but almost always over-inclusive – a fishing net catching the blameless and the blameworthy. Stereotypes such as African-Americans are violent, Native-Americans are alcoholics, and Muslims are terrorists – all are odious and wrong. To this questionable list of stereotypes, I am in no hurry to add Irish Catholics and Jews as Islamophobes.
But I wonder. When Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly fume against Islam or Muslims with the intent to poison hearts and minds of the FOX viewers, do they ever simultaneously think about the Irish, the Catholic, or the Irish Catholic communities? When Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz intellectualize hatred against Islam and Muslims, do they ever simultaneously think about similar intellectualization of hatred against the European Jews who faced expulsion and extermination? At this point, in a free flowing stream of consciousness, I am thinking of Ben Carson, an African-American, speaking in vivid delirium against Syrian refugees and discounting African slavery as a form of illegal immigration.
Producers of Islamophobia may be distinguished from consumers of Islamophobia. The producers are highly educated or highly power individuals, such as Steve Bannon. The individuals identified in this commentary are the producers of Islamophobia. For example, David Yerushalmi markets his Islamophobia to state legislatures, Sean Hannity to his television viewers. The consumers of Islamophobia are frequently less educated or less powerful, who can be easily swayed into hating Islam or Muslims. A person pulling the hijab off a Muslim woman walking in the street is a consumer of Islamophobia as is the person shooting “Iranians” (who were indeed Indians) in a Kansas bar. By every standard, the producers of hatred are worse foes of humanity than the consumers of hatred.
Over the centuries, Islamophobes have trashed Islam, persecuted and even killed Muslims. But there is a great irony in Islamic history. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad but their children embraced Islam. Even the Prophet’s own uncle (Abu Lahb) was a vicious Islamophobe, and Mecca, now the citadel of Islam, was once an Islamophobic city. American Islamophobes, the ugliest and the less ugly, need to know that American Muslims and their progeny, even if persecuted, will continue to contribute to the economic, social, moral, and intellectual good of America as they have in Malaysia and Indonesia, nations as far away from the Middle East as are the United States.
L. Ali Khan is the founder of Legal Scholar Academy and a professor of law at Washburn University, Kansas. He writes for Counter Punch, where this article first appeared.