Making Islamophobia Mainstream
How Muslim-bashers broadcast their bigotry
A remarkable thing happened at the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) nominations in February 2007: The normally highbrow and tolerant group nominated for best book in the field of criticism a book widely viewed as denigrating an entire religious group.
The nomination of Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within didn't pass without controversy. Past nominee Eliot Weinberger denounced the book at the NBCC's annual gathering, calling it ''racism as criticism'' (New York Times, 2/8/07). NBCC board president John Freeman wrote on the group's blog (Critical Mass, 2/4/07): ''I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept.... Its hyperventilated rhetoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia.''
Though it didn't ultimately win the award, While Europe Slept's recognition in the highest literary circles was emblematic of a mainstreaming of Islamophobia, not just in American publishing but in the broader media.
This report takes a fresh look at Islamophobia in today's media and its perpetrators, outlining some of the behind-the-scenes connections that are rarely explored in media. The report also provides four snapshots or "case studies" describing how Islamophobes continue to manipulate media to in order to paint Muslims with a broad, hateful brush. Our aim is to document smearcasting: the public writings and appearances of Islamophobic activists and pundits who intentionally and regularly spread fear, bigotry and misinformation.
The term "Islamophobia" refers to hostility toward Islam and Muslims that tends to dehumanize an entire faith, portraying it as fundamentally alien and attributing to it an inherent, essential set of negative traits such as irrationality, intolerance and violence. And not unlike the charges made in the classical document of anti-Semitism, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, some of Islamophobia's more virulent expressions--like While Europe Slept--include evocations of Islamic designs to dominate the West.
Islamic institutions and Muslims, of course, should be subject to the same kind of scrutiny and criticism as anyone else. For instance, when a Norwegian Islamic Council debates whether gay men and lesbians should be executed, one may forcefully condemn individuals or groups sharing that opinion without pulling all European Muslims into it, as did Bawer's Pajamas Media post (8/7/08), "European Muslims Debate: Should Gays Be Executed?"
Similarly, extremists who justify their violent actions by invoking some particular interpretation of Islam can be criticized without implicating the enormously diverse population of Muslims around the world. After all, reporters managed to cover the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh--an adherent of the racist Christian Identity sect--without resorting to generalized statements about "Christian terrorism." Likewise, media have covered acts of terrorism by fanatics who are Jewish--for instance the Hebron massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein (Extra!, 5/6/94)--without implicating the entirety of Judaism.