Political Promise

America’s “Us and Them” Mentality towards Islam

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2010 at 11:23 am

Recent anti-Islam protest at Ground Zero

Nine years on, is America Islamophobic? Was it ever? Charlie Mole finds out.

Like many others on the blogosphere, I too have watched the development in the US with a sense of increasing unease over the past few weeks. Nine years after the epoch-changing events of 9/11 lies a country more religiously and philosophically divided than ever before, with book burning pastors, proselytising right-wing news anchors and controversial mosque building proposals dominating the headlines.

A strain of right-wing populism fuelled by sensationalist anti-Muslim sentiment has always been present in US society, but over the past month it has become much more conspicuous. Following the inauguration of President Obama and the introduction of his 3 trillion dollar welfare reforms, the movement, known as the Tea Party, has rapidly gathered momentum. Unsurprisingly, it is from within this small state and Christian minded conservatism that the voice of Islamophobia has found expression.

At a recent 100,000 strong rally, police were called as grass-roots elements from the crowd clashed with civil rights activists, accusing the movement of racist tendencies.

Although many in the party refute such accusations as a cheap jibe by the American left, it is not hard to see why the movement has attracted criticism. Placards bearing slogans accusing Obama of being a Muslim, as well as decrying the Koran, point to a more poisonous strain of thought underpinning their wholesome ‘all-American’ exterior.

The rally was fronted by Fox News anchor and right-wing poster boy Glenn Beck, who has gone on record to accuse Obama of a ‘deep-seated hatred for white America’. He has consistently courted controversy, once bullishly posing this question to a Muslim guest live on air:” How do we know the difference between you and those that are trying to kill us?”

Worryingly, it appears that such vitriolic views appear to be taking registering with the wider public.

Recently the backlash surrounding the much-documented Muslim community centre in New York led a small-town Florida pastor, Terry Jones, to announce a national Koran burning day. Although he has since backed down, the antipathy that he embodies along with the widespread horror and anti-Islamic demonstrations in the wake of the New York mosque, points to virulent public anger.

When Islamic blogger, Akbar Ahmed, posted a piece on CNN last week appealing for the pastor not to burn the Koran, he was inundated with angry responses. In an interview with the Sunday Times he said: “I got 6,000 to 7,000 comments of which about 80% were saying we should not only burn the Koran but also burn Muslims. The wounds of 9/11 which we thought had closed remained largely open.”

A number of recent polls have reinforced this underlying mood of discontent. A recent Pew Forum study found only 30% of Americans have a favourable opinion of Islam; 38% view it unfavourably and according to the Washington Post one in five of the population believes Barack Obama to be a Muslim.

Increasingly the language of American identity appears to be moving away from conciliation, understanding and tolerance to one of ignorance and fear; something that is being fuelled by the likes of Beck, Palin and Fox News.

As the polls suggest much of this is due to ignorance, but ignorance is a powerful force.

American ideals of freedom of expression and religious tolerance, embodied by the first amendment, are being slowly but surely undermined. It is understandable that following 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans have increasingly begun to develop an ‘us and them’ mentality, out if sync with traditional American ideals of liberty and freedom of thought.

But, with the election of Barack Obama, who became President on a mandate of change and reconciliation, in stark contrast to George Bush’s aggressive and divisive neo-conservatism, the world was filled with hope at a new dawn of balanced liberalism.

However Obama has conveyed a sense of detachment in recent weeks that is troubling. He vaguely supported the New York, mosque, whilst at the same trying also to appease its followers. He needs to confront the interfaith differences in America much more openly and to confront the politics of fear, perpetuated by the Tea Party, in a more explicit manner.

America prides itself on being a melting pot of different cultures and faiths, protected by the first amendment and the right of free speech. The events of the past week suggest that this is far from the case.

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  1. Awesome article – Might do a postgrad Dissertation on America’s ‘Us and Them’ mentality 🙂

    Between Bush and Obama, the presidential rhetoric has changed, but the substance has not and the media certainly hasn’t.

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