via IPS News
Faced with a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and a well-funded campaign to promote Islamophobia, a coalition of faith and religious freedom groups Thursday said it will circulate a new pamphlet on frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Islam and U.S. Muslims to elected officials across the United States.
The initiative, which coincides with the appearance in subway stations in New York City and Washington of pro-Israel ads equating the Jewish state with “civilised man” and “Jihad” with “savages”, is designed to rebut the notion that Muslims pose a threat to U.S. values and way of life.
“Nothing gives weight to bigotry more than ignorance,” said Rev. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister who is president of the Interfaith Alliance, a grassroots organisation of leaders representing 75 faith traditions. “The FAQ enables people to be spared of an agenda-driven fear and to be done with a negative movement born of misinformation…”
Gaddy was joined by Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Project of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center which co-sponsored the new 13-page pamphlet, entitled “What is the Truth About American Muslims?”
“In my view,” Haynes said in reference to the so-called “Stop Islamisation of America” (SIOA) movement that, among other things, has sponsored the subway ads, “this campaign to spread hate and fear is the most significant threat to religious freedom in America today.”
“Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the anti-Muslim narrative has migrated from the right-wing fringe into the mainstream political arena – and is now parroted by a growing number of political and religious leaders,” he said.
Indeed, public opinion polls have shown a gradual rise in Islamophobia here over the past 11 years, most recently in the wake of last month’s anti-U.S. demonstrations across the Islamic world that were triggered by a vulgar internet video mocking the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The video, supposedly a trailer for a longer movie, was reportedly produced by a California-based, Egyptian-born Copt, although the source of its funding remains unclear.
While a majority (53 percent) of U.S. respondents say they believe that it is possible to find “common ground” between Muslims and the West, that majority has shrunk since 9/11, according to a poll released earlier this week by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). Only one year ago, it stood at 59 percent, and in November 2001 – just two months after 9/11 – it was 68 percent.
Conversely, the minority that agreed with the notion that “Islamic religious and social traditions are intolerant and fundamentally incompatible with Western culture” rose from 26 percent in 2001, to 37 percent last year, and 42 percent when the latest PIPA poll was conducted two weeks ago.
In another poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year which asked respondents “how much support for extremism is there among Muslim Americans”, 40 percent said there was either a “great deal” or a “fair amount”, while only a narrow plurality (45 percent) disagreed.
In addition to the violent images of conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Islamic world that have been beamed onto U.S. television screens and home computers since 9/11, popular beliefs that Muslims are inherently more hostile and dangerous have been propagated by a small network of funders, bloggers, pundits and groups documented in a 2011 report, entitled “Fear, Inc.,” by the Center for American Progress (CAP).
It identified seven foundations – most of them associated with the far-right in the U.S., as well as several Jewish family foundations that have supported right-wing and settler groups in Israel – that provided more than 42 million dollars between 2001 and 2009 to key individuals and organisations who have spread an Islamophobic message through, among other means, videos, newspaper op-eds, radio and television talk shows, paid ads, and local demonstrations against mosques.
Among the most prominent recipients have been the Center for Security Policy, the Middle East Forum, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the Society of Americans for National Existence, as well as SIOA, the group, which, along with the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), is sponsoring the current subway ad campaign.
“Together, this core group of deeply intertwined individuals and organizations manufacture and exaggerate threats of ‘creeping Sharia’, Islamic domination of the West, and purported obligatory calls to violence against all non-Muslims by the Quran,” according to the CAP report.
It noted that their message was also echoed by leaders of the Christian Right and some Republican politicians, including several who ran for president this year, such as former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.
Leaders of many mainstream Jewish and Christian denominations have denounced specific aspects of the network’s initiatives, such as its efforts to derail the construction of a Muslim community center near the so-called “Ground Zero” site where Manhattan’s Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11; distribute Islamophobic videos, such as ‘Obsession’; and to lobby state legislatures to ban the application of “Sharia”, or Islamic law, in their jurisdictions.
The new pamphlet, however, marks the first effort by faith groups and religious freedom advocates to directly rebut common misconceptions and claims made against Muslims and their theology by, among other things, explaining the meaning of “jihad”, and the sources, practice, and aims of Sharia.
“In a time when misinformation about and misunderstandings of Islam and of the American Muslim community are widespread, our goal is to provide the public with accurate answers to understandable questions,” said Gaddy, who noted that the authors consulted closely with well-recognised Muslim scholars in drafting the document.
Twenty-one religious and secular organisations, including the Disciples of Christ, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America endorsed the pamphlet, as did several major Muslim and Sikh organisations.
Six people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last summer by an individual who had mistakenly believed he was attacking Muslims.
Haynes stressed that the response to the Islamophobia campaign was late. “We have left the field to the people who demonised Muslims, and they have won the day,” he said. “We’re playing catch-up on this nonsense.”
In bold black-and-white lettering, the subway ad that first appeared in New York last month and then in Washington this week states: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
A coalition of 157 local religious groups have formally objected to the transit authority over the ad, and demanded that it issue disclaimers alongside the ads as the San Francisco transit authority did when the same groups took out ads on buses this summer.
A number of religious groups, including Sojourners, an evangelical group, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the United Methodist Church are running counter-ads in New York and Washington.