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Islamophobia

Understanding the Declining Public Opinion of Islam

By Abdul Malik Mujahid


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A recent Pew survey revealed that positive opinions about Muslims and Islam have declined substantially in the United States.

A Pew survey released in August 2010 revealed that only 30 percent of Americans today have a favorable opinion about Muslims and Islam. This is compared to—surprisingly—the 59 percent of Americans who had a favorable opinion of Islam just two months after 9-11, according to a November 2001 Pew survey.

What explains this 29% drop in public opinion?

Muslims have done more outreach in the last 10 years than probably they ever did in American history. And thank God no major terrorist attack of the magnitude of 9/11 has occurred since. Then why the negative opinion?

The drop in favorable opinion has not been sudden. It has been a gradual, consistent decline, influenced by many variables.

Some important factors are discussed here:

  • the ongoing war and cycle of terrorism keeps the news about Muslims mostly negative
  • the well-orchestrated, institutionalized campaign organized by hatemongers
  • making Islamophobia mainstream
  • right-wing media provide consistent, anti-Muslim messaging
  • periodic plots hatched by the FBI agents, which are later “discovered”

War has always been connected with the demonization of the enemy. The war on terror is ongoing. So is terrorism. Both of these factors feed off of each other. This has resulted in a ten- year-long negative news cycle for the Muslim community in the US, hammering bad news about us to our neighbors 24/7. The cases of the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the London bombing and Major Nidal Hasan’s attack continue to add to the negativity.

It is not just some Southern Baptists and other evangelicals who speak against Muslims. There are dedicated, well-funded individuals and institutions whose job is to smear Islam and Muslims. FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) has identified “The Dirty Dozen: Who’s Who Among America’s Leading Islamophobes”. These are the people who plan regular campaigns of bigotry and intolerance against Muslims in this country. David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Michael Savage top their lists. These individuals and the institutions they support or represent have mailed millions of anti-Muslim books to churches and 28 million hate films to voters in swing states during the 2008 presidential election. They also run major anti-Muslim hate websites, and their books dominate the bestseller lists when it comes to books on Islam on Amazon.com.

In today’s mainstream media you can make openly bigoted and intolerant remarks and comments against Muslims and get away with it. Similar statements against Jews and African-Americans would be considered racist. Any media anchor or commentator who would dare make them would quickly be fired. 

The mainstream media has by and large also allowed hatemongers against Muslims to come on air unchallenged. Although misinformation towards Muslims has long been a part of American culture, as the late Dr. Edward Said noted in his books Orientalism and Covering Islam, the mainstream media has become more welcoming to hatemongers of late. http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3648

The right-wind media outlets and personalities like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, among others, have been powerful enough to allow the Tea Party crowd, many of whom have expressed open bigotry against Muslims, to actually flourish.  They have also made a Christian, African-American President a “secret Muslim“. Just like the first person killed after 9/11 was a Sikh-American, President Obama seems to be a victim of Islamophobia, as only 34 percent of Americans believe he is a Christian, according to Pew survey.

Although public statements by President Bush and President Obama have emphasized that  the U.S. is not fighting Islam and have stopped attaching the name Islam with terrorism, certain government policies have nevertheless helped create and sustain the negative image of Muslims. The famous cases of “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, who was never charged for terrorism, like many other high profile cases, provide credence to the hatemongers’ propaganda against Islam and Muslims. Special registration of people from Muslim countries, checking mosques for nuclear bombs, raids on Muslim families, and bans on Muslim charities without trial have all contributed to this image. The FBI also periodically “uncovers their own plots.” These cases are essentially FBI agents encouraging and facilitating some people towards terrorism, then arresting them in a flood of media publicity. This lends to the authenticity of ethnic and religious bigotry which has already gone mainstream.

Islamophobia like other forms of racism and religious or ethnic intolerance, is not the problem of its victims It is a societal problem. Unless we as a nation speak out against it, educate others about it, and fight, it will continue to perpetuate.


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