‘What’s Really Going On’: Report Documents Spike in Anti-Muslim Incidents in U.S.

By Krissy Eliot

Evidence of Islamophobia has spiked in the United States—with 78 anti-Islam mosque incidents recorded last year alone—according to a new report that suggests the tone of the 2016 election has triggered anti-Muslim hostility.

In the final two months of last year, 17 mosque incidents were reported—that’s almost as many as were reported in all of 2014. They include the firebombing of a mosque in Coachella, California; the hacked-off pig head left in a Pennsylvania mosque; and the marring of a mosque in Austin, Texas, where vandals covered the door with feces and tossed torn pages from the Quran.

Islam has become a central issue in the 2016 election, perpetuated by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call for a ban to prevent all Muslims from coming to the United States “until we can figure out what’s really going on.” The report notes the correlation between the uptick in violence and the political rhetoric, and says Trump has played a role in boosting the influence of 74 groups and organizations forming inner and outer cores of what it refers to as the “U.S. Islamophobia Network.”

“Islamophobia has been monetized into votes at the ballot box, and right wing politicians for the most part understand the utility function of Islamophobia in political campaigns,” says Hatem Bazian, UC Berkeley professor of philosophy and Islamic Studies. He directs the university’s Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, which released the report this week along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He says he’s surprised to see political leaders who are supposed to be representative of civil society using anti-Muslim rhetoric “without even flinching.”

“I’m expecting that during the next four months up until the November election, we’re going to be on a roller coaster ride for the targeting and the use of Islamophobic rhetoric as a way to gain stable ground in the presidential and possibly congressional election,” he says.

More recorded mosque incidents happened in 2015 than any year since 2009, when the report made its debut. The last big flare-up in mosque incidents occurred in 2010, when Manhattan’s Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center became a point of controversy. The report noted that both spikes occurred during a time of election politicking, suggesting that “levels of anti-Muslim sentiment follow trends in domestic U.S. politics, not international terrorism.”

The report just issued by the UC Berkeley Islamalso calls out Florida and Tennessee for having passed laws revising which textbooks are allowed in classrooms as a “direct result of anti-Islam campaigns,” and it bemoans an increase in armed anti-Muslim demonstrations, and businesses that won’t hire or serve Muslims.

The “U.S. Islamophobia Network” it outlines contains an inner core of 33 organizations that the report claims produce content consisting of what Bazian calls “the systematic defamation of Muslims.” Those organizations include ACT! For America, American Public Policy Alliance, Clarion Project, David Horwitz Freedom Center, Jihad Watch, Citizens for National Security, and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The outer core—which shares inner-core content with a wider audience—includes media organizations such as Fox News, Glenn Beck Program, The Washington Times, World Net Daily, and FrontPage magazine.

Trump has appointed eight different advisers who have connections to the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that the report lists as part of the inner core of anti-Muslim activity. “You can see where the influence of the Islamophobia Network is also shaping a particular discourse from Trump,” Bazian says. “Now, whether Trump needs to be influenced or not on those issues is to be debated—but at least we could identify where the roots of the argument are coming from.”

Critics argue that labeling someone as Islamophobic or implying they are engaging in hate speech risks shutting down legitimate—even crucial—debate about the consequences of Islamic extremism.

“CAIR has a systematic campaign to go around and target anybody who speaks publicly about the threat of militant Islam as Islamophobic. And they do this time and time again,” said human rights attorney Brooke Goldstein in a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly. In the segment they discuss Honor Diaries, a film by the Clarion Project that documents Islam’s “systematic institutionalized misogyny” and female genital mutilation.

The Clarion Project is described in the Islamophobia report as a “nonprofit group that produces and distributes anti-Muslim propaganda films.”

“CAIR operates as the Islamic speech police, it goes around bullying and intimidating anyone who is brave enough to speak publicly about the threat of Islam and Islamic terrorism and violence in the Muslim world,” Goldstein says.

Another individual accused in the Islamophobia report is Bill Maher, who was cited in the study as a “broad-brush” attacker on Islam. “If we talk about them at all, or criticize them at all, it’s [as if we’re] somehow hurting or humiliating Muslims. It’s ridiculous,” Maher said in an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, where he interviewed Richard Dawkins. In that same episode, Dawkins also notes that Islam is often confused with racism and that “an incredible number of people think Islam is a race.”

The Islamophobia report itself acknowledges: “It is not appropriate to label all, or even the majority, of those who question Islam and Muslims as Islamophobes. Equally, it is not Islamophobic to denounce crimes committed by individual Muslims or those citing Islam as a motivation for their actions.” Nonetheless it says its authors have determined that the included incidents are, indeed, examples of Islamophobia, and it offers a four-point strategy to combat that, including uniting marginalized communities and doing outreach to society as a whole.

“Whether we talk about Islamophobia as identical to other forms of prejudice, or intersecting with them, or related to them—it’s clear that any commitment to combatting anti-Muslim racism must be substantive, significant, and structural,” contends Keith Feldman, professor of comparative and ethnic studies at Berkeley.

The report calls for eroding the Islamophobia Network in the same way that the “progressive erosion” of the Ku Klux Klan took place. “It took deliberate and systematic work to make sure the KKK no longer had any respectability in American society,” Bazian says. “And the civil rights movement made it possible to cause a shift.”

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Brooke Goldstein, the same women who said the following: This is shocking in its audacity…. “Why are we using the word Palestinian? There’s no such thing as a Palestinian person,” Brooke Goldstein declared to enthusiastic applause at a meeting of key Israel lobby operatives in New York earlier this month. Goldstein is the director of the Lawfare Project, a legal group that aims, in her words, to “make the enemy pay” – that “enemy” being mainly comprised of Palestine solidarity activists and students. The Lawfare Project was founded with the support of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an important forum for anti-Palestinian organizing in the US. The clip of Goldstein denying outright the existence of Palestinians can be seen above. At the event, she and other Israel lobby leaders revealed their latest strategies to try to defeat the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. A 58-minute edited video of the event was originally published on YouTube by the Jewish Broadcasting Service on 16 June, but was hidden a day after supporters of Palestinian rights began to circulate it on social media, drawing attention to Goldstein’s negation of Palestinian existence. The Electronic Intifada is republishing the whole video under the Fair Use doctrine of the US Copyright Act: In her presentation, Goldstein acknowledged that efforts to promote Israel as a democracy with “great beaches” had failed to stem the support for Palestinian rights, so “we have to focus on the offense, on Islamists and how they violate the basic civil rights that liberals hold very, very dear.” Efforts to exploit and promote Islamophobiaas a way to build support for Israel are not new, but the New York meeting heralded a renewed push in that direction. Following the advice of pro-Israel pollster Frank Luntz to appropriate leftist and human rights language, Goldstein said the anti-Muslim message would appeal to the sensibilities of liberal and progressive college students. She argued that pro-Israel advocates had to speak about the BDS movement “in the terminology that Millennials will understand, which is the civil rights terminology.” “[Students] want to be against apartheid? Let’s give them what to be against,” she said, “Let’s give them [sic] to be against Islamist gender, race and religious apartheid that is occurring in every single Muslim-majority country on the planet.” As its contribution, Goldstein explained that her organization would be launching what she called “Islamist Apartheid Week” on campuses across the US, an apparent effort to counter Israeli Apartheid Week. And while Goldstein markets herself as a “human rights attorney,” she proudly touts her friendship with Geert Wilders, the anti-Muslim Dutch politician who has been fundedby a key player in the US Islamophobia industry. Wilders’ anti-Muslim agenda is so extreme it has even been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, a major pro-Israel group. “Cancer” Goldstein was speaking at an event on 2 June titled “BDS: The new anti-Semitism?” Organized by the World Zionist Organization, the American Zionist Movement and the UJA-Federation of New York, it was addressed by Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. It came just days after Israel’s major anti-BDS conference held at UN headquarters. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents, told the meeting that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement was like a deadly disease. “We let this cancer metastasize until now on campuses across the United States,” Hoenlein said. He claimed that the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality was indistinguishable from the persecutions Jews had faced throughout history. “This started when the Romans changed the name of Judea to Philistia,” Hoenlein asserted in a bizarre appeal to ancient history and myth, “that was the beginning of BDS.” But he was clear that the purpose of the New York gathering was to create a movement “that uses all of our resources, all of our energies” in order to “put an end to this threat.” Hoenlein said that pro-Israel activists need to reach youth who “communicate in 140 letters,” an apparent reference to the social media site Twitter. Overlooking the fact that this is the most diverse and integrated generation of American college students ever, Hoenlein went on to insult the intelligence of the very youth he wants Israel to connect with. “This is an ignorant generation, a superficial generation,” Hoenlein said. Attacking students The Lawfare Project’s Brooke Goldstein also indicated that her legal group was preparing another Title VI challenge against US universities, naming San Francisco State University and the University of California, Irvine, as likely targets. In recent years, pro-Israel groups lodged complaints against several universities under Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act, alleging that administrators were failing to protect Jewish students from a hostile environment created by Palestine solidarity activists. But these complaints were thrown out by investigators from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Goldstein’s revelation casts the latest attacks by pro-Israel groups on Palestine solidarity activists at UC Irvine and San Francisco State University in a new light. Goldstein said her group was encouraging Jewish students on those campuses to file police complaints against Palestine solidarity activists, “so we can pressure the [district attorney] to bring criminal charges against those students, just like was done with Michael Oren’s speech.” She was referring to the Irvine 11 case, in which 10 students faced criminal charges for protesting a 2010 speech at UC Irvine by Orenwhen he was the Israeli ambassador to the US. These cases would also presumably be used as the pretext for the Title VI complaints. Goldstein also used the New York gathering to argue that contrary to the unanimous opinion of the international community, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are not illegal and that the EU was violating international law by requiring that products manufactured in Israeli settlements have accurate labels indicating their origin. In warlike language, Israeli ambassador Danon told the gathering that their efforts to suppress support for Palestinian rights had the full support of the Israeli state. “We will stand against our enemies. We will stand against the people who are going to boycott Israel, and we will win,” Danon said. The violent and dehumanizing language was echoed by Yuval Abrams, a student and activist against the Palestine solidarity movement at the CUNY Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “We need to raise the stakes for those who engage in this sort of behavior, let them know their nose is going to bleed,” Abrams said in reference to fellow students who had advocated for a boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in military occupation and violations of Palestinian rights. While speakers asserted several times that advocates should share positive messages about Israel and Zionism, Goldstein was frank that only repression of protest and BDS would shore up Israel’s eroding base of support. “The goal is to make the enemy pay,” Goldstein said, “and to send a message, a deterrent message, that similar actions such as those that they engage in will result in massive punishments.”