By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Aug 30, 2011 11:13 AM
The Center for American Progress has just released an extensive report, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, detailing the “funders, organizations, and individuals who have contributed to the discourse on Islamophobia in this country. ” As the mapping of the money trail shows, the network created with these millions of dollars works to churn up the “exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims” that is the very definition of Islamophobia.
Manufacturing fear is downright dangerous for the body politic of a country. This point has been made shockingly evident in the murderous rampage of right-wing Norwegian extremist, Anders Breivik, whose so-called “Manifesto” cited the purveyors of well-funded Islamophobia in the U.S. who are profiled in this report; Brevik cited some literally dozens of times. The CAP report quotes former CIA officer and terrorism consultant Marc Sageman, who argued that “’just as religious extremism is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged,’ the writings of these anti-Muslim misinformation experts are ‘the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.’” Sageman adds that their rhetoric “is not cost-free.”
The cost of feeding fear is very high. One cost is to our physical safety. Keeping our country safe requires the cooperation, not the unfair demonization, of Muslim communities, who, working with law enforcement have been very helpful in preventing terrorism before it even starts. Thus, the industry of Islamophobia actually accomplishes the opposite of what its purveyors claim to want, a United States protected from violent extremism.
I want to highlight another cost, however. There is the cost of the spiritual danger that comes to a people from scapegoating a particular group, whether that group is defined by their race, their sexual orientation, or in this case, by their religion. There is a moral pollution that follows from creating a rabid insider/outsider mentality and stirring up unwarranted fears. This is the process by which some individuals or groups deliberately break the bonds of humanity, denying the fundamental relationship that defines us as human together. Acknowledging that others are human beings and worthy of respect for that reason alone is the foundation of morality and ethics. De-humanizing others is the complete opposition of that, and it undermines every other ethical effort we can make. We are tempted to give in to irrational fear, and that makes us think hateful thoughts and even sometimes do hateful things because we are taken over by the spirit of fear.
I think this is what the writer of 2nd Timothy was getting at. The epistles, in the New Testament, are very often advice to groups on how to get along with each other. The author writes, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (1:7)
I think it’s very important that the biblical text emphasizes that God gives us a “sound mind.” So much of the machinery of Islamophobia is irrational fear-mongering. If you stop and think about it for even a minute, the portrayal of the more than a billion Muslims around the world, including in the U.S., as all bent on “destroying Western civilization” is impossible on the face of it. Millions of Muslims live in the West, and have chosen to do so to better their own lives and those of their children, and frankly you really can’t get a billion people to all agree on anything anyway. It makes no sense.
The irrationality spills over into astonishingly inconsistent statements. In March of this year, Newt Gingrich, who continues to be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, “bizarrely worried aloud that his two children would grow up in a “’secular atheist country, potentially dominated by radical Islamists.’” Two bogeymen, secular atheism and Islamic faith, polar opposites, become linked in the created world of fear.
As a Christian, I believe 2nd Timothy is right, the “spirit of fear” is not from God, it is not among the gifts God gives us to help create community, like love. I ask myself, frankly, about the state of souls of any Christian who would take part in these shocking anti-Muslim demonstrations like the one that took place in February of this year in Yorba Linda, California, as Muslim American families, including children, were arriving for a community fund-raiser. “Take your Sharia and go home, you terrorist lovers. Your hands are bloody! Your money is bloody! Get out! Terrorists! Terrorists! Terrorists!” The YouTube video of these protests appalled many people. How could some Americans treat each other like this for no more reason than they were of a different faith?
This is taking a toll on our country in terms of crediting each other with basic humanity. The CAP report notes that events like the one at Yorba Linda, vandalism at mosques, Quran burnings and street protests against Muslims are turning neighbor against neighbor. “Our nation is witnessing a rising tide in anti-Muslim sentiments. A Washington Post -ABC News poll last September showed that nearly half of Americans (49 percent) hold an unfavorable view of Islam, which is a 10 percent increase from October 2002.”
It is crucial, as the Fear, Inc. report documents, that we recognize that these increasing fears of Muslims by other Americans are manufactured for a particular political purpose, and that we challenge their lack of a factual base. The failure to do so will feed the myth that actual terrorists use, namely that Muslims are in a war with “the West” and their violent extremism is justified. We need to challenge these mythologies in order to reduce violence, and improve community and national safety.
As a Christian pastor, however, I also worry about those of my own faith who are falling into the trap of irrational fear of their Muslim neighbors and fellow citizens. This is not the biblically mandated way to create community, through the power of love and not fear.