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Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Fuels Violence

August 27, 2010, 11:14 am | Posted by John Gehring

A church in Florida will burn Korans on September 11th. Angry protestors opposing the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero wave signs warning of Sharia law taking over America. Communities across the country are embroiled in fierce debates over proposed mosques. More stories are popping up every day about mosques being vandalized and Muslims facing threats. A young man consumed by anti-Islam fury brutally stabbed a Muslim taxi driver in New York City.

While it may be convenient to dismiss these incidents as aberrations, there is clearly a disturbing trend emerging that can’t be easily dismissed. Anti-Muslim fervor is even creeping into mainstream commentary and political races. Listen to syndicated political columnist Cal Thomas writing for the Washington Post “On Faith” blog:

Our enemies are using our Constitution and religious pluralism against us. They have a plan to infiltrate us, build mosques and ultimately impose Sharia Law. They say so. They mean so. People who are in denial about this are dupes and self-deluded. ..Go ahead and call me names. That won’t change the reality that the Muslims are coming. In fact, they are already here.

This kind of toxic rhetoric creates a climate that can easily lead to violence. Edina Lekovic, the communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, has it right in an interview with Talking Points Memo: “The hateful rhetoric that is being spewed by people like Newt Gingrich and then being amplified by mainstream media outlets poses a grave danger to the safety and well-being of everyday Muslim Americans like this cab driver, an innocent person,” she said.

Conservative activists and politicians have also been quick to wield the verbal weapons of demagoguery, and many liberals have failed to stand up to them. A new political ad from the American Future Fund goes after Rep. Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat, for supporting the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. The ad ominously warns that, “for centuries, Muslims built mosques where they won military victories. Now, they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero…It’s like the Japanese building at Pearl Harbor.” Watch it:

Considered in historical context, this recent wave of xenophobia, ignorance and simmering violence is deeply disturbing but hardly new. The “other” in American culture has always been demonized and faced accusations of disloyalty. As Catholic News Service recently pointed out:

“No Irish Need Apply” signs common in Massachusetts early in the 19th century were rooted in fears over how American society might be changed by immigrants, but particularly by their Catholic faith and culture…The Catholic Encyclopedia describes mobs descending upon a cathedral in Cincinnati in 1853, on churches in New Jersey, New York, Maine and New Hampshire the following year. It tells of a Maine priest who was dragged from his church, robbed, tarred and feathered; of Ohio churches being blown up and convents burned in Massachusetts and Texas.

As in years past, the public mood is swirling in sinister directions as economic anxiety, rising xenophobia and a new generation of demagogues create a combustible mix. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the ugly torrent of fear and scapegoating is overcome by a spirited defense of our nation’s core values and highest ideals. The bloody and shameful alternative is already written in our history books.

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