Boston-based writer and activist
Posted: July 26, 2010
Imagine a fairly widespread, fairly mainstream ethos in which politicians, pundits, and academics convened to denigrate practitioners of Christianity or Judaism. Imagine that these commentators picked apart the New or Old Testament to find its most heinous contents, then used those phrases to justify their hatred and distrust. Imagine a world in which this was utterly acceptable, even encouraged. Now turn on your television.
The debate over the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero and the more recent community mobilization against a Muslim group's attempted purchase of a vacant convent in Staten Island are indicative of the unhealthy Islamophobia that has taken root in right-wing American politics. Far from being a fact-based movement, its leaders and thinkers propagate falsehoods and myths towards the discriminatory goal of silencing Muslims in America.
This type of race and religion-baiting politics is not at all new. The tactics and orientation of those opposing Muslim-American institutions bring to mind what Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics." Hofstadter, writing in 1964, described the hallmarks of this style: "heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy."
The idea that a vast Muslim conspiracy exists to take over the United States and Europe from within is simply ridiculous. Yet it serves as the grounds for their opposition to the freedom of American Muslims to practice their religion in their own communities, such as Staten Island.
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