Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, considers the incendiary remarks made by Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, as just the latest and most flagrant example of an incipient Islamophobia in American society.
Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants to the United States set off a firestorm of controversy. For his opponents in both parties, it was a golden opportunity to slam the Presidential candidate and characterise his plan as excessive and un-American.
Jeb Bush described Trump as “unhinged,” while Marco Rubio said such a policy was “outlandish” and would “not bring Americans together.” Ted Cruz politely “disagreed,” while Mike Huckabee said that the plan was “unconstitutional” and “never going to happen.” Hillary Clinton branded the proposition as “dangerous.”
Yet, despite the referendum of disapproval for Trump’s remarks, they are not the real problem. They are simply the loudest expression of a persistent prejudice towards Muslims that exists within the wider political landscape. While it is easy to call out the blustery ones like Trump, Islamophobic rhetoric that is less brassy often goes un-rebuked. And that has real consequences, not the least of which is the normalization of Muslims as objects of perpetual scrutiny and scorn.
Take Trump’s colleagues in the GOP, for example. Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum distanced themselves from the his remarks, but not from the anti-Muslim activist behind them. Both candidates, along with Ben Carson, were set to address Frank Gaffney’s National Security Action Summit in Las Vegas. Gaffney has a history of floating wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama has “submitted” to Islamic law and is actively cavorting with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ted Cruz has attended events hosted by Gaffney’s group, and Mike Huckabee, who once referred to Muslims as “uncorked animals,” wedded his feelings of antipathy towards Islam with his feelings of antipathy towards Obama, saying last month that the president “probably” wants to make Americans memorize verses of the Quran.
Like Trump, Senator Rand Paul has expressed support for religious-based immigration bans. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, he suggested that not only should France limit Muslim immigrants, but other European countries “that had old colonies in predominantly Muslim areas” should consider the idea, too.
Then there’s the case of Marco Rubio. Following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, he entertained the idea of barring Muslim students from overseas from seeking VISAs to study in the United States. Just last month, when asked to respond to Hillary Clinton’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islam,” he took the opportunity to invoke Nazi-era Germany and compared the Muslim faith to the fascistic anti-Semitic movement that birthed the Holocaust.
And speaking of Clinton, the former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate shows us that anti-Muslim prejudice is not only a Republican affair. While she has vocally criticized Trump’s extreme proposals and conveyed support for the Muslim community, her most prominent campaign surrogate, General Wesley Clark, said in the wake of the Chatanooga shooting in July that “radicalized” American Muslims who are “disloyal” to the United States should be placed in internment camps similar to those used during World War II to detain Japanese Americans.
Unlike the uproar hounding the Trump campaign, the public has responded to these types of instances — and there are many more like them — with tepidity, if not outright indifference.
It’s easy to chalk all of this up to the madness of election seasons — to furrow our brows in disappointment and mourn the death of civility as an expected casualty of the race for the White House. And research does show that Islamophobia is closely linked to these quadrennial cycles of building domestic consent.
But Americans can, and must, do better than that.
It’s not good enough to raise our voices in disapproval only in those moments when prejudice reaches high-pitched frequencies. Nor is it good enough to speak up only in seasons of political grandstanding, which tend to magnify these types of ugly views. In our selective disdain, we send the message that some expressions of Islamophobia are more malignant than others.
That’s the wrong approach: all of them are malignant.
To truly make America great again, all who believe that Trump’s brand of bigotry runs counter to this republic’s values must reject it whenever and wherever it is present.
Nathan Lean is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. He is the Director of Research at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative.
The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims is available to buy from Pluto Press here.