Tag Archives: founding fathers

Exposing the infrastructure of anti-Muslim hate

First published by the Washington Post

By Frankie Martin

The dismissal of Juan Williams’ from NPR once again exposes the difficulty America is having discussing Islam in a cool or rational manner. Williams’ exchange with Bill O’Reilly featured much of the usual ignorance, with both agreeing that, although undefined “good Muslims” do exist, all Muslims must be considered potential soldiers in an Islamic war against America. This ludicrous belief is not only a distortion of reality, but also poses a serious threat to the well-being and security of the United States. In adopting this position, Williams and O’Reilly were reflecting the climate of hatred against Muslims that is fueled by prejudice and lack of knowledge.

The controversy comes in the context of the conflict around the Islamic center near Ground Zero, Pastor Terry Jones’ desire to burn the Quran, a growing belief that sharia law is being imposed on America by Muslims, and increasing attacks on mosques in the United States. The interminable wars in Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the upcoming midterm elections, in which campaigns have employed heavy doses of anti-Muslim bile, also contribute to the darkening storm.

Today’s high anti-Muslim antipathy is the latest wave of xenophobia in a nation that has seen many, especially when a threat was perceived to the country. While current anti-Islamic voices, like the hatemongers of previous eras, frequently attempt to co-opt the Founding Fathers’ ideals to support their agenda, there can be no reconciling the vision of a pluralistic nation with the spewing of hate against a particular ethnic or religious group, in this case Muslims. While the debate stirred by these hateful voices is on one level about Islam and how to depict and understand it, it is also about the very definition of American identity.

Much of this bigotry and misinformation can be traced directly to what I am calling the infrastructure of hate, an industry which connects venomous anti-Islamic blogs, wealthy donors, powerful think tanks, and influential media commentators, journalists, and politicians. The most visible component of the infrastructure is the hate blogs, which have recently grown exponentially in number, influence, and stature.

From my position as a research fellow working with American University’s Chair of Islamic Studies, Professor Akbar Ahmed, I have watched with horror as the hate blogs have begun to diffuse from their online cesspool to infect mainstream media, political rhetoric, and the larger discussion about Islam in America. There are hundreds, if not thousands of such blogs on the Internet.

To the hate bloggers, the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims represent an insidious, inherently violent force seeking to enslave the United States by overthrowing the government and jettisoning the Constitution in favor of sharia law. Frequently the bloggers include caveats such as claiming that they are only talking about “Islamists,” “Islamofascists,” or those supporting “sharia,” but by tying terrorism explicitly to the Prophet Muhammad and to the Quran, they equate it with Islam. Under this simplistic, warped logic, every Muslim is a potential, if not-fully formed, terrorist and every one of America’s seven million Muslims a potentially treasonous enemy. Such crass, demonizing generalizations constitute hate speech.

I will focus on one such blog post to illustrate how the infrastructure of hate works, and how easily lies and slander can spread rapidly to achieve influence.
Last month, Laura Rubenfeld, an analyst at the Investigative Project on Terrorism headed by Steven Emerson, published an article in Pajamas Media tiitled “No, Professor Ahmed, the Founders Were Not So Fond of Islam.” In it, Rubenfeld attacks Professor Akbar Ahmed, who has been speaking in the media about his new book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, for which he traveled to over 100 mosques in 75 U.S. cities. I participated in this study with Ahmed, traversing the country during fieldwork and spending weeks in the library researching the history of Islam in America. Since Ahmed’s media statements reflect the contents of the book, Rubenfeld not only impugns the scholarship of Ahmed, whom the BBC calls the “world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam,” but also myself and the other four researchers who spent several years working on this project, three of whom are continuing on to PhD programs. Continue reading

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Two Editorials in the Omaha World Herald

From the Sunday July 11 edition of the Omaha World Herald:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s pronouncement that his “foremost” mission as the head of America’s space exploration agency is to improve relations with the Muslim world not only is bizarre.

It also distracts from the welcome fact that an impressive new book has just come out explaining the diversity, opportunities and challenges of this country’s Muslim population.

Read the entire editorial here.

And from the July 17 edition:

Word this week that Omaha’s Tri-Faith Initiative continues its laudable work in seeking a common site for Jewish, Muslim and Episcopal facilities provides a springboard for further comment on Dr. Akbar Ahmed’s important new book, “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.”

Ahmed, a scholar of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and his team traveled to Omaha and other U.S. cities during 2008-09 to study the experiences of Muslims in America.

The pursuit of constructive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in this country makes sense for many reasons. Our country rejects a caste system: Each citizen is fully American, regardless of one’s race or religious belief (or whether one is a 10th-generation American or a first-generation one).

Our nation’s founders stressed religious liberty. “The state has no right to force religious opinions on the free conscience,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. And the federal Constitution states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Read the entire article here.

Journey into America at the National Cathedral: A Testament to the Interfaith Vision of the Founding Fathers

by Frankie Martin: On June 10, the Washington National Cathedral hosted an extraordinary event. The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, launched the new book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Akbar Ahmed, which is published this month by the Brookings Institution Press.

Participating in a roundtable discussion in the Cathedral’s gothic library was a powerful assortment people in different fields, including a priest from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a top Jewish interfaith leader, a representative from the Turkish Embassy, and prominent Washington journalists including the London Times Washington Bureau Chief, Christina Lamb, and Sally Quinn, the co-moderator of the Washington Post‘s On Faith. Also attending was one of President Obama’s liaisons to America’s Muslim community, several American Muslim journalists, a member of the Rumi Forum, and representatives from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

They had all come together to hear the results of a two-year project in which Professor Ahmed, American University’s Chair of Islamic Studies, and a team of researchers including myself, went on a grueling journey to 75 US cities and 100 mosques to study Islam in America and its relationship to American identity. The diverse attendees wanted to understand the important issue of Islam in America, discover ways to better build bridges between members of different faiths, and seek solutions to problems like homegrown terrorism.

Speaking about the book, Bishop Chane described it as an remarkable work on Islam in America and also American history, which everyone should read “not once, but twice.” The Rev. Dr. Carol Flett, the Cathedral’s Interfaith Programs Coordinator said she “learned so much about America” from the book and in a glowing review on the Cathedral’s website wrote that “the book will open your eyes and hearts into the lives of Muslim Americans.”

I was especially proud that Journey into America was launched at the National Cathedral because I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Reaching out to members of other faiths has always been extremely important to me and I was inspired on our journey to find Muslims and non-Muslims making great strides in interfaith dialogue at a time of great tension and misunderstanding.

We learned of church members surrounding mosques to protect them after 9/11 and met a rabbi in Los Angeles who prays with Muslims to reinforce the notion that they are worshipping the same God. The Jewish vice mayor of Chicago, Berny Stone, named a street in the city after Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and said that he actually has more support among local Muslims than Jews. In Omaha, we met members of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities who have assembled in an organization called Tri-Faith to build a synagogue, church, and mosque on the same property. And in the small town of Columbia, Tennessee, we heard the inspiring story of a Presbyterian pastor who gave the town’s tiny Muslim community the keys to his church to pray in after Christian white supremacists firebombed their mosque. The destruction of the mosque was a reminder of what can occur when people of different faiths and cultures fail to reach out to one another.

For the Founding Fathers, interfaith dialogue and pluralism was the very definition of what it meant to be American. That a book on Islam in America by a world-renowned Pakistani anthropologist could be launched at the National Cathedral by Washington’s Episcopal Bishop is a testament to this vision.

For me, the setting and theme of the event was both familiar and inspiring. It was in the same Cathedral where Professor Ahmed, joined by the Bishop and Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, had first announced his plans to study US-Muslim relations and I had committed to joining him. I was pleased to see that the project had concluded in that same atmosphere of support, understanding, and hope.

Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam

The most comprehensive study ever done on the American Muslim community, Journey into America explores and documents how Muslims are fitting into U.S. society, seeking to place the Muslim experience in the U.S. within the larger context of American identity.In doing so, it is a major contribution to the study of American history and culture. 

Renowned scholar Akbar Ahmed and his team of young researchers traveled through over seventy-five cities across the United States—from New York City to Salt Lake City; from Las Vegas to Miami; from large enclaves such as Dearborn, Michigan, to small towns like Arab, Alabama. They visited over one hundred mosques and visited homes and schools to discover what Muslims are thinking, what they are reading, and how they are living every day in America. Continue reading