Why Has Islam Become So Controversial in America?

The New York battle goes nationwide

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What began with the right-wing political campaign against the "Ground Zero Mosque," an Islamic community center that is neither a mosque nor located at ground zero, has now become a national phenomenon. Crowds of protesters, sometimes aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement, are now rallying against proposed mosques in such locations as Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Temecula, California. What's behind this sudden and severe backlash against Muslim-American families? And where is it headed next?

  • Typical Anti-Immigrant Sentiment  The New York Times' Lauren Goodstein reports on several of the anti-Muslim protests. "In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself." However, she finds in the protests "a typical stew of religion, politics and anti-immigrant sentiment." A Muslim-American doctor attempting to open one of the proposed centers tells her, "Every new group coming to this country — Jews, Catholics, Irish, Germans, Japanese — has gone through this. Now I think it’s our turn to pay the price, and eventually we will be coming out of this, too."
  • Eroding America's Greatest Defense Against Terrorism  The Economist's Lexington writes, "something about America—the fact that it is a nation of immigrants, perhaps, or its greater religiosity, or the separation of church and state, or the opportunities to rise—still seems to make it an easier place than Europe for Muslims to feel accepted and at home. ... America is plainly safer if its Muslims feel part of 'us' and not, like Mohammad Sidique Khan, part of 'them'." However, U.S. conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are "relitigating the victories and defeats of religious wars fought in Europe and the Middle East centuries ago."
  • The New Anti-Communism  Salon's Steve Kornacki writes, "In many ways, it has become the glue that anti-Communism used to be: a demon that fundamentalist Christians and white ethnic voters from outside the Bible Belt (Reagan Democrats used to be the term for them) can both agree to curse."
  • GOP Stoking Economy-Fueled Xenophobia  Matthew Yglesias writes in the Washington Post, "This year, us-vs.-them controversies are proliferating, linked by a surge in xenophobia. This is our summer of fear." Yglesias cites Republican efforts to profit from xenophobia that is "playing well politically. Politicians are making hay out of the mosque only because public opinion seems to oppose it. They are reflecting, as well as stoking, a groundswell of public hostility toward outsiders. This hostility is not about the midterms; it is a consequence of the economic downturn, every bit as much as foreclosures and layoffs. When personal incomes stop growing, people become less broad-minded, and suspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups grows. We have seen this time and again, in this country and in others."
  • Americans See 'Islamists Advancing'  The National Review's Andy McCarthy makes the case for protesting the mosques and centers. "Most of the American people … see Islamists advancing, they are beginning to grasp that Islamists (not just terrorists but the whole Islamist movement) mean to change us in very fundamental ways, and therefore they understand that every such advance is a defeat for freedom. Every advance emboldens a determined enemy to press ahead. Over time, we could be conquered in that our way of life would be drastically altered. ... Most of all, Americans are tired of the shroud of political correctness the ruling class has placed around Islam."
  • Alienating Moderate Islam  Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria warns, "Ever since 9/11, liberals and conservatives have agreed that the lasting solution to the problem of Islamic terror is to prevail in the battle of ideas and to discredit radical Islam, the ideology that motivates young men to kill and be killed. Victory in the war on terror will be won when a moderate, mainstream version of Islam—one that is compatible with modernity—fully triumphs over the world view of Osama bin Laden. ... If there is going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed institute [in New York]."
  • So Much for American Values  The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum calls this movement, "an affront to the principle of freedom of religion as enshrined in law through the 1st Amendment." He writes, "This about more than doing the legal thing; it's about doing the right thing by way of American values. Demonizing a minority sect is not the right thing. Neither is seeking to restrict their right to free assembly through a public campaign of intimidation."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.