Archive for the ‘ Muslims ’ Category

Syria Steps Up Crackdown; International Outcry Grows

As Reported by Voice of America

Syria has intensified its bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, as international criticism against the government’s action mounts. Gunfire continued Tuesday in the flashpoint city of Daraa, where an armed assault to end anti-government protests was in its second day.

Human rights activists say at least 34 people have been killed and dozens more arrested since Syrian troops and tanks entered the city at dawn Monday to crush the demonstrations.

Residents were said to be too afraid to venture out in Daraa. Electricity, water and telecommunications to the city remain cut.

Also Tuesday, thousands of riot police deployed near the coastal city of Banias and in two areas on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Activists say clashes have been especially brutal near the town of Douma. Demonstrators who attempted to enter Damascus from there during the last two weeks were met with bullets.

More than 400 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last month. The Syrian rights organization Sawasiah said Tuesday the government has arrested at least 500 people during the ensuing crackdown.

Also Tuesday, the international response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown intensified. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused the Syrian leader of “disingenuously blaming outsiders” for the protests.

Susan Rice also reiterated that Washington has evidence of active Iranian support for what she called Syria’s “abhorrent and deplorable” crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. She said the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests” must end now.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned “the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators,” including the use of tanks and live fire that have “killed and injured hundreds of people.” The U.N. chief has called for an independent inquiry into the violence.

But Syria’s U.N. envoy said Damascus is capable of undertaking its own transparent investigation into the deaths of anti-government protesters, rejecting outside assistance.

Bashar Ja’afari also said the U.N. Security Council “should not rely on media reports” when making its decisions. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal asked the council to condemn Syria’s crackdown in a draft statement circulated on Tuesday.

Ja’afari told reporters Syria regrets civilian casualties, but said the unrest has “hidden agendas,” adding that some foreign governments are attempting to destabilize the country.

Earlier Tuesday, ltalian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Syria to “show moderation” and halt the “violent repression” of peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Mr. Assad and urged him to show restraint. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the European Union is exploring possibilities for action against Syria, including asset freezes and targeted travel bans on the country’s leadership.

While U.S. officials have condemned the violence against Syrian citizens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his British counterpart, Liam Fox, played down the likelihood of a Libya-style intervention in Syria.

At a joint news conference in Washington Tuesday, Fox said the world’s response to popular revolts across the Middle East and North Africa must reflect the circumstances in each country. Gates made a similar point, saying that although the U.S. applies its values to all countries in the region, its actions will not always be the same.

A U.S. State Department official said Tuesday that, for now, Washington will limit its response to diplomacy and possible sanctions.

Terry Jones Jailed for Dearborn Mosque Protests

By Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben for Yahoo News

Terry Jones, outspoken pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and host of “Burn a Quran Day” was jailed in Detroit on Friday for protesting outside a Dearborn, Mich., mosque. Jones refused to pay his $1 peace bond.

Jones operates Dove World Outreach Center, a mission that proclaims to spread the word of God. Dove World Outreach was started by Don Northrup in 1986 as an apostolic, evangelical Christian ministry.

The DWOC history page reads like many fundamental protestant ministries. It talks about apostolic anointing, teaching and training missionaries to spread the gospel.

DWOC discusses a five-fold plan for bringing God’s Word into the world. It wasn’t outlined clearly, but the five prongs likely included mission work, Bible reading, prayer, teaching and preaching.

This five-fold ministry was the focus of DWOC. Since Jones has taken over, there is less talk about the five-fold plan. DWOC has morphed into one main mission: to take out Muslims and the Islamic faith. Instead of the gospel, DWOC preaches a straw man doctrine of fear. The site is funded by sales of Muslim-bashing paraphernalia in their store. T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs all sport one legend: “Islam is of the Devil.” The “bookstore” sells one book only, written by Jones, called “Islam is of the Devil.”

The website is coated with fear-mongering, anti-Muslim propaganda. Followers are exhorted to erect wooden yard signs reading “Islam is of the Devil.” There are scheduled protests at mosques, like Dearborn’s Islamic Institute of Knowledge and American Moslem Bekkha Center. Jones’ hosts his annual inflammatory (term used literally and figuratively) “Burn a Quran Day”.

I am opposed on many grounds to Jones and DWOC’s activities, not the least of which is constitutional. Jones has a right to protest, guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States. He does not have a right to slander or libel. Muslims have a right to worship as they chose, also guaranteed them by the Constitution.

I am a Catholic Christian. I do not see it as my Christian vocation to hate Muslims. Quite the opposite. It will likely be said, by activists like Jones, that I must not be a Christian if I defend Islam. My faith is based in love, not fear, however, and my God loves the whole world. I refuse to retaliate and say that Terry Jones can’t call himself a Christian and hate Muslims. I don’t believe it’s my place to judge whether a person has faith or not. However, I do question the tenets of said faith. Look at the name of Terry Jones’ ministry:

Dove: The dove is a Biblical symbol of peace, sacrifice and of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, believers of many nations where there and heard in their own tongue. The Holy Spirit ignited a fire, but it was a fire of love, not hate.

World: from the Latin, “mundi”; comprised of people of all race, creed, color, religion or lack thereof.

Outreach: If I reach out to hit and hurt someone, they will shy away. In order for an out-stretched hand to be accepted, it must come in love. True outreach (or mission work) is done in compassion, nurturing, ministerial and loving way. I exhort Terry Jones to check out St. Paul on the subject.

I don’t see how wearing a hat and tee-shirt saying “Islam is of the Devil”, is promoting peace or promulgating any doctrine but hate. I smell ignorance-based fear in Terry Jones and DWOC.

Jones is starting to show a lot of similarities to Westboro Baptist Church. These are the nice people who brought you “God Hates Jews”, “Priests Rape Boys”, God Hates Fags and Beast Obama.

Low-key Easter Preparations for Pakistan’s Christians

By Kamran Haider for Reuters

Christians in the small Pakistani town of Gojra are making low-key preparations for Easter this year.

Residents of the neighbourhood, known as Christian Colony, in the town in Punjab province, are haunted by memories of a 2009 attack by a Muslim mob in which seven members of a family were killed and dozens of houses torched.

A few days before Easter, which Christians believe marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion, bare-foot children played cricket in the town’s dusty alleys while some men chatted on a bench under a tree.

“If we celebrate it with a fanfare, we fear somebody might get annoyed and attack us,” said Khalid Anjum, 45, the owner of a small snooker hall. The only sign of the approach of Easter was a few young men rehearsing hymns in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“Fear is there but we cannot give up our religion,” said Wilson Rafiq, the leader of the group of singers, who plays a traditional drum set known as a tabla.

Pakistan was founded in 1947 as a home for the Muslims of South Asia at the end of British colonial rule, with the country’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, promising that all communities would be able to worship freely.

But today, Jinnah’s pledge of religious tolerance often seems hollow as religious violence increases. Religious minorities account for about 4 percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people, with about three quarters of members of religious minorities Christian.

The independent Human Rights Commission said at least 100 people from minority communities were killed in 2010. The bloodiest attack was on Ahmadis, a sect that mainstream Muslims consider heretical, when 86 people were killed.

This year, the liberal Muslim governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed in separate shootings for speaking out against a blasphemy law aimed at defending Islam.

Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but human rights activists say the law’s vague wording has led to its misuse, often against members of minority religions.

Compounding a climate of fear, Islamist militants, angered by Pakistan’s alliance with the United States since 2001, have carried periodic attacks on minorities as part of a campaign to destabilise the state.

“FEAR IN THEIR HEARTS”

In Gojra’s Christian Colony, the level of fear has increased since the sentencing Monday of a Muslim to death for shooting dead two Christians who had been accused of blasphemy.

Rather then welcoming what some people might see as justice, Christians fear that if the sentence is carried out, it will only mean more trouble for them. “Things will only get worse. If one is punished, someone else will stand up to take revenge for him,” said housewife Shahida Kashif.

“My kids still get scared whenever there’s a small disturbance. They says ‘mother, they’ve come. They’ll set fire to our houses again’. They still have fear in their hearts,” she said, referring to memories of the 2009 riot.

A mob of about 1,000 Muslims, incensed by rumours that a Christian had desecrated the Koran, rampaged through the neighborhood, firing guns and throwing petrol bombs.

Hameed Pannum Khan was shot dead and six members of his family, including two women and two children, were burnt to death when their hut was torched.

Authorities blamed militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban for the violence. Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a Muslim prayer leader, was locked up for 15 months on charges of inciting the attack.

He was recently released after Christians, fearing his continued detention would only make things worse for them, told authorities they had no proof of his involvement. Kashmiri denied any part in it and appealed for tolerance.

“Everybody should follow their own religion and should stop slinging mud at others,” he said. Christian Allah Rakha, a relative of the family killed in 2009 said the hatred had to stop for the sake of future generations.

“We all should get rid of this evil,” said Rakha, 70, sitting on a threadbare sofa in the drawing room of his single story home. “If we talk of revenge we’ll never have peace.”

Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority

By Omar Waraich for Time

Although Pakistan’s headlines are dominated by the violent excesses of Taliban extremists, the majority of Pakistanis subscribe to the more mystical Sufi tradition of the country’s Barelvi school of Islam. And attacks on their places of worship are becoming depressingly familiar. Last Sunday, two bombers attacked the 13th Century Sakhi Sarwar shrine, near the southern Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan, slaughtering 50 people and injuring twice as many. Mercifully, two other bombers failed to detonate their devices, preventing even higher casualties. Still, it was the deadliest assault yet on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan — and the sixteenth in the last two years.

The Pakistani Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, as they have done for each previous one. Pakistan’s Taliban claims the mantle of the hardline Deobandi tradition, with many beliefs in common with the austere Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. They regard the Barelvi, who comprise more than three quarters of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims, as irredeemable heretics. The Barelvis favor a more tolerant approach to Islam, promoting a cult of the Prophet and incorporate folkloric traditions such as seeking intercession from rural saints. Sakhi Sarwar, a mystic who is also revered by some Hindus and Sikhs, is said to grant women a son — a local legend that rouses anger among Islam’s more literalist adherents, who ascribe such powers only to Allah.

Tensions between Deobandis and Barelvis have punctuated most of Pakistan’s history. But with the arrival of al-Qaeda in the country a decade ago, local militants forged links with the global jihadists, their sectarianism sharpened to accept al-Qaeda’s “takfiri” worldview that deems adherents of other strains of Islam as deviant apostates worthy of death.

One reason for the uptick in sectarian-based terror attacks may be that the militants’ ability to strike the high profile urban targets that once grabbed global headlines has been diminished by Pakistani military offensives in their strongholds over the past two years. “It has become harder for the militants to strike hard targets,” says security analyst Ejaz Haider. “Some lessons have been learned from the previous attacks.”

So, the militants have, over the past two years, more keenly focused on sectarian attacks. Traditional Shi’ite processions are now routinely targeted by suicide bombers. In May 2010, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were targeted in Lahore, killing 93 people. And there’s been an escalation of bombings directed against the majority Barelvis. After attacks on two of their most prominent shrines, Data Darbar in Lahore’s old city and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Barelvis came out on to the streets, wielding weapons and vowing revenge against the Taliban. They did not extend blame to the broader spectrum of Deobandis, perhaps wisely evading the beginnings of a more gruesome sectarian conflict that Pakistan can ill-afford.

Not all Barelvis are the models of peace and tolerance that some have portrayed them to be. It was a Barelvi, Mumtaz Qadri, that assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January, for his opposition to Pakistan’s prejudicial blasphemy laws. The assassination was applauded by 500 Barelvi scholars in a joint statement. And the Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi militant outfit, rewarded Qadri’s family and threatened Taseer’s daughter. While they may favor a more permissive vision of Islam, certain Barelvis are quite capable of violence where they feel the Prophet has been dishonored.

The campaign to defend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws from reform has, in fact, united Barelvis and Deobandis since last November. Barelvi anti-Taliban rhetoric was also put on pause. “We had seen the Barelvis getting ready to organize a campaign against the Taliban,” observes analyst Nasim Zehra, “but they got sidetracked by the blasphemy issue and this was forgotten.” Until last month’s assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the religious right was able to frequently draw tens of thousands on to the streets.

Sectarian hatred aside, rural shrines are a far easier terror target than the more heavily guarded state and economic targets in the cities. Suicide bombers, especially the teenage boys favored by militants, can often evade notice before they reach the target. A crowded space helps secure the militants’ aim of causing high casualties. In the case of the Sakhi Sarwar bombers, they only had travel to a relatively short and unimpeded distance from North Waziristan to the edge of Punjab.

The bombings may also be an attempt to relieve pressure from sporadic Army actions against militants in the northern tip of the tribal areas. “Just to remain alive there, the militants have to try and force the government’s hand into diminishing pressure,” says analyst Haider. “To counter that pressure, they mount attacks in the mainland in the hope of securing some deal back in the tribal areas.” By targeting shrines across the country, the militants are able to demonstrate their enduring geographical reach and expose the state’s vulnerabilities.

The bad news is that the state is in a poor position to respond. After the latest bombings, Barelvi leaders denounced the Punjab provincial government for failing to provide security at shrines. The Punjab government dismisses the charge. “It’s happening all over,” says Ahsan Iqbal, a leading politician from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the ruling party in Punjab. “This is not something that is province-specific.” Iqbal casts blame on the federal government for failing to share intelligence. The federal government reverses the charge, and argues that the law and order is a provincial responsibility. What no one seems to be focusing on is the desperate need to enhance the police’s capacity, with better equipment, counterterrorism training and an intelligence gathering network that reaches deep into Pakistan’s remote areas.

‘Quran on trial’ more despicable than book burning

By Douglas Sharp for Protestants for the Common Good

Given the global attention received last fall by the Florida pastor who announced that he would burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11, I was frankly surprised to learn that he had found a way to break his promise and burn one anyway.

Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation at Dove World Outreach Center had managed to stay below the national media radar; most people probably forgot about them in places other than their community of Gainesville, Florida. But they have certainly been caught in the radar now, having done something even more daring and despicable than the demeaning act of burning a copy of the Quran.

The pastor held court with the Quran as the defendant. On March 20, 2011, he set himself up as the judge, invited a Muslim who had converted to Christianity to serve as prosecuting attorney and the president of the Islamic Center of Texas to act as defense attorney. “Expert” witnesses included other Muslims who had converted to Christianity.

What were the charges? In his video on the Stand Up America website, Pastor Jones said, “We are accusing the Quran of murder, rape, deception, being responsible for terrorist activities all around the world. We are accusing the Koran of these violent acts.”

Anticipating a “guilty” verdict, the question announced in advance on the lawn of the church’s property was whether the Quran should be burned, drowned, shredded, or shot. Following the jury’s rendering of the verdict, the Quran was soaked in kerosene and ignited, like charcoal in a barbeque pit.

In spite of all the absurdity and chicanery of this “mock trial” and the sophomoric behavior of its master-mind, I find this whole affair to be not at all amusing. To the contrary, it is not only a shameful display of religious bigotry and ignorance, but also a burlesque-like mockery of our system of jurisprudence. All things considered, it is frighteningly childish act.

What I find so alarming about this act is the extent to which Jones and his flock have gone to accomplish now what they set out to do last fall. All the reasons given then for not burning a copy of the Quran still apply: inflaming the Muslim world, aiding and abetting Al-Qaeda’s recruitment, putting U.S. military personnel forces at greater risk, etc.

But surrounding oneself with the accoutrements of justice and feigning to sit in judgment on the sacred literature of 23 percent of the world’s population, about whom you really—and evidently—know next to nothing, is a most disturbing demonstration of antipathy in search of a venue in order to attract attention and stoke further the barbeque pit of mind-numbing evil.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified, burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al-Jazeera and YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet knew it was only a matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaida kept increasing.

“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him on the cross,” said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

“When I’m leading this campaign against the sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me. … I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.”

The last straw was almost certainly the Catholic statesman’s defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last November for the crime of blasphemy after she publicly defended her faith in a village argument. The verdict — which must be upheld by a higher court — further polarized a tense nation and sparked a global firestorm.

Then again, in 2009 Bhatti received the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first medallion for the promotion of religious freedom. A year later, he met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interfaith work and religious liberty in Pakistan. Bhatti was not hiding his convictions.

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the use of “derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

These blasphemy laws have been used against hundreds of Muslim dissenters and Ahmadi sect members, whose approach to Islam is specifically attacked in the laws. In practice, conversion from Islam to another faith is considered blasphemy, as are attempts to advocate or defend minority faiths, such as Christianity or Hinduism.

Vigilantes often kill those formally or informally accused of blasphemy — making trials irrelevant.

This was the case with Bhatti’s death in a wave of machine-gun fire into his unarmored car. Pakistani officials had denied his request for an armored car, despite the constant threat of drive-by shootings.

Formalities were also irrelevant on Jan. 4, when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. This outspoken Muslim also defended Bibi and called for reform in the use of blasphemy laws.

Adoring crowds showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals and garlands as he arrived to face a magistrate, while moderate Muslim leaders remained silent. Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.

After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani conference of Catholic bishops is preparing to render a judgment of its own. Later this month the bishops will review a proposal to ask the Vatican to designate Bhatti as a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan told a Vatican news agency. “It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

-Terry Mattingly is director of the Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Islamophobia and Radicalization

By James Zogby for Counter Punch

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States than Anwar Al-Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

On one level, Al-Awlaqi, from his cave hide out in Yemen, can only prey off alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self- assured and assertive — all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, Al-Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited: a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously and rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalisation.

I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to “migrants” — a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent living in her country — regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats, without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.

America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America”. Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed, the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.

Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history, they are learning their host’s history. In the US, from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” — that it includes all of us, and has included us all, from the beginning.

It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with world wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.

They lose, but they don’t always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry”, on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism”, “radicalisation” or “national security concerns”, despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews rallied against any and all Jewish organisations).

If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites, and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented decent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes, and produced fear in the Muslim community.

In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party, who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.

In the past, only obscure or outrageous members of congress (like North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11’s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the US.

The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Some 54 per cent of Democrats have a favourable attitude towards Muslims, while 34 per cent do not. Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12 per cent hold a favourable view of Muslims, with 85 per cent saying they have unfavourable views. Additionally, 74 per cent of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60 per cent believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.

The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan — and in some cases a proven vote getter — issue for the Republican Party, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them, and they will feel like aliens in their own country.

It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organisations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalisation of American Muslims later this week. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.

What they should also know is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way, and engaging in this most “un-American activity”, King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalisation. Al-Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

-Dr James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute and is a Roman Catholic of Lebanese descent and brother of prominent American political pollster and founder of Zogby Polls, John Zogby.

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