Nathan Lean, editor-in-chief of Asian Media, has written a lively and disturbing account of the right-wing network of fear mongers in the United States. These activities are dedicated to convincing Americans that Islam is inherently a violent and dangerous religion, that Muslims as a whole adhere to such violence, and that both Islam and Muslims should be marginalized in this country. Lean sees this network as dominating the religious, political and media right wing in the United States, bringing together "bigoted bloggers, racist politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders, Fox News pundits and religious Zionists" in an "industry of hate."
Lean cites Richard Hofstadter's 1952 book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, to point out that the pattern of creating images of dangerous "monsters" who are on the verge of "taking over" American life and destroying our "way of life" has a long history in American public culture. He refers to waves of fear of the Enlightenment Illuminati in the Revolutionary War era, anti-Catholicism in the period of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigration, and anti-communism in the McCarthy era as earlier examples of this "monster" creation in the United States. Anti-semitism in American and European culture also bore much similarity to the present fear-mongering of Muslims and Islam, although ironically the current wave of hostility to Islam professes its dedication to Jews, provided they are Zionists and move to Israel.
The popular electronic media have provided a means for the widespread dissemination of an anti-Islamic message that would not have found its place in more established journals or academic life. Pamela Geller founded her anti-Muslim Atlas Shrugs, an online journal named for arch-conservative Ayn Rand's novel, in 2005. In May 2010, its monthly visitors averaged more than 200,000. The number rose after she launched a vehement attack on plans to build, near the site of the bombed twin towers, a community center that would include a mosque. These plans had been uncontroversial and generally supported in New York, before the crusade by Geller and others to label the "monster mosque" an offense to those who died in the 9/11 bombing.
Anti-mosque campaigns also erupted in various locales around the United States, when a Muslim community announced plans to build a worship center. Christian neighbors were activated to shout down such plans, claiming that mosques were not places for worshiping the true God and would be an offense to religious values. No such movement would have occured in response to plans to build a church or a religious building of a religion other than Islam.
An example of the ability of the Islamophobe media to create widespread fear, based on no existent reality, has been the crusade against the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, on the American legal system. Not a shred of evidence exists that any group, locally, regionally or nationally, has had any intention of establishing sharia in American legal systems or that it would even be possible to do so. But since 2009, there have been periodic campaigns against the supposed advent of sharia in one or another American court. In Oklahoma, a drive emerged to ban sharia law in state courts. Sharia was purportedly being pushed by a "large Muslim population" in the state, even though Muslims in Oklahoma number less than 1 percent of the population and there was no evidence any of them were trying to implement Islamic law. Republican politician Newt Gingrich picked up the issue. He told the audience at a Value Voters Summit in 2010 that the United States should pass a federal law banning recognition of sharia in courtrooms, and removing any judge from office who "tried to use sharia law," even though no such thing had ever occurred.
In the anti-Muslim movement, Christian religious fundamentalism and Tea Party political conservativism largely overlap, both professing fear and loathing of Islam and suspicion of all Muslims. Most anti-Muslim Christian fundamentalists are strict exclusivists, believing that only Christians worship the one true God and have the capacity to enter heaven. Islam by its very nature worships both a false god and cannot deliver salvation. This is a view that its adherents would probably apply to any non-Christian religion, but their focus is on Islam as the "worst" religion. Mohammed as a founder and leader is condemned as an immoral "pedophile" and the Quran a "fascist" book filled with lies and the advocacy of violence. Educating youth in schools to understand Islam or to read the Quran is decried as indoctrination, part of a secret Muslim campaign to "take over" America and impose its evil patterns on society.
There is also a general overlap in the anti-Islamic movement among Christian fundamentalism, political conservativism and religious Zionism. Some right-wing Jews professing religious Zionism also claim that Muslims and indeed all Gentiles in Israel should be "cleansed" from the land in preparation for the redemption that will bring the advent of the Messiah. For Christians, this is understood as the return of Christ as the Messiah. It would include the conversion of Jews to Christianity and the redemption of the world by a small elite of the Chosen. Even though looking forward to this demise of Judaism in a future Christian redemption, these Christians enthusiastically advocate the return of Jews to Israel and their colonization of all of Palestine, removing Palestinians from their land, as preparation for this redemption.
Lean sees this anti-Muslim "industry" as deeply influencing U.S. government policies and attitudes. Peter King (R, NY), chair of the Committee of Homeland Security, shares the suspicion of Muslims as disloyal to America. The language of the "anti-terrorism" war generally assumed the conflation of Muslim and "terrorist." After 9/11, hundreds of Muslim young men were rounded up, incarcerated, and tortured under interrogation, even though not one was finally convicted or even accused of any terrorist act or intention. The FBI has appointed spies to infiltrate mosques across the United States and report on "terrorist" plans; this has included incitement and entrapment, despite clear evidence that Muslims in the United States have been a major source of protection against violent acts, reporting such threats to the police on their own. Moreover, the U.S. military and the FBI make broad use of anti-Muslim right-wing literature to train their men for action. They justify this by claiming to "present both sides," though this literature is both deeply biased and in no way supported by academically acceptable literature about Islam.
Lean concludes his book by pointing to widespread anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe, reflecting the great increase of Muslim immigrants in that area. Laws in France have been passed forbidding the wearing of the face veil in public, and in Switzerland forbidding minarets, despite there being only four minarets in the country, none of which were used for the call to prayer. Some intercommunication of American and European Islamophobia also exists. Lean cites the case of Anders Behring Breivik, who carried out a massacre that killed 77 and injured more than 200 fellow Norwegians in the name of ending the "multiculturalism" that allowed Muslims to settle in Europe. Breivik's 1,500-page "manifesto" contains copious references to the literature of American Islamophobia, which he read in great detail and greatly appreciated.
Lean sees the values of cultural and religious pluralism as vital to the democratic life of any society: "Only by protecting one another from the fracturing of societies, only by refusing to fall prey to this vicious and ceaseless movement to antagonize, isolate and persecute Muslims in the United States, Europe and everywhere around the globe will this fear factory, the Islamophobia industry, be rightfully, forcefully and finally stamped out" (p. 184). A second book is needed to show that positive relations between religions and cultures can exist — indeed, already do — in the United States and elsewhere.