Saturday, December 31, 2011

Charles C. Haynes: Religion story of the year: anti-Muslim bigotry in America

  The recent decision by Lowe’s Home Improvement to pull ads from the reality TV show “All-American Muslim” caps a very successful year for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.

  So successful, in fact, that anti-mosque protests, anti-Shariah laws, and anti-Muslim hate crimes could easily fill any list of “top five” religion stories in 2011.

  Lowe’s withdrawal from sponsoring a show about the daily life of five American Muslim families was apparently in response to objections to the program from a conservative Christian group called the Florida Family Association.

  Wittingly or unwittingly, Lowe’s action re-enforces the message anti-Muslim groups have been propagating for years: Portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans is problematic, if not wrong and dangerous, because it may lull the rest of us into ignoring the stealth threat of Islam and Muslims to the freedom and security of the United States.

  Of course, the Florida Family Association and other anti-Muslim groups hasten to tell you, there are some “good Muslims.” But Islam itself, they argue, is inherently violent and oppressive — and eventually Muslims in America will subvert our laws by imposing their own.

  Never mind how many studies show high levels of opposition to radical Islam and extreme interpretations of Shariah law among Muslim Americans. Never mind how much Muslim leaders and institutions in the U.S. help in the fight against extremism. Never mind the millions of Muslims who have practiced their faith freely and peacefully in America for generations — without undermining the Constitution.

  No reasoned argument, no amount of scholarship, no pile of studies is enough to convince the diehard “stop the Islamization of America” crowd that they are wrong to demonize Islam and Muslims in the U.S.

  In 2011, the anti-Muslim narrative migrated from the right-wing fringe into the mainstream. It’s gone so far that even an innocuous television show created to fight stereotypes loses a sponsor because it doesn’t portray the very stereotypes it attempts to dispel.

  Fortunately, Americans who care about religious freedom are beginning to push back. As I write this, Christians, Jews, Muslims and others are organizing boycotts of Lowe’s in cities throughout the nation. And growing numbers of religious and political leaders are speaking out against intolerance and prejudice aimed at Muslim Americans.

  If the decision-makers at Lowe’s had hoped to avoid controversy by pulling sponsorship from the show, they badly miscalculated.

  In a world plagued by extremists acting in the name of Islam, it goes without saying that Americans have every reason to be worried about homegrown terrorism. According to the polls, Muslim Americans strongly share that concern. That’s why imams preach and work against extremism and Muslim Americans are actively helping law enforcement foil terrorist plots (studies support both of these assertions).

  Incoherent and unnecessary laws banning Shariah, unfounded fears about mosques in the neighborhood, and ugly attempts to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush, are all red herrings that divert Americans from our shared goal of fighting extremism (of all varieties) and securing our safety and freedom.

  Ironically, Lowe’s cave-in to anti-Muslim prejudice may prove to be exactly what was needed to wake Americans up to the very real dangers of Islamophobia in our country.

  If we must concede 2011 to the propagators of fear and hate, let’s work to make 2012 a banner year for proponents of religious freedom.

  About the author: Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001. Web:

  This article was published by the First Amendment Center.

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