Is fervent anti-Islamicism a fad?

Recently an old and respected friend sent me a video link to one Dr Robert Jeffress, a Baptist preacher expounding on Islam from an apparently learned position and in a very reasonable tone of voice, concluding that anyone who urges a balanced view on Islam is misguided, that “around the world today you have Muslim men having sex with four-year-old girls”, and that the religion is “evil”. (My friend is a Catholic and probably isn’t aware that the same preacher has referred to the Roman Catholic church in the past as “the Whore of Babylon”.)

Why is this significant? Because I am an atheist British centrist, and have known my friend, a US conservative, for more than thirty years; we have steadfastly avoided talking politics. Clearly his motivation about the subject has become overwhelming, to the point where for the first time in three decades he is prepared to jeopardise our friendship.

It’s particularly galling because he knows I know many Muslims, and they are not as the preacher says. I don’t agree with a lot of their views, but they are just normal people getting on with life. They are my neighbors, I work with a few, I helped rebuild alongside them after the tsunami, and count several, both men and women, as friends. Worse still, the last time my friend was in the UK, while eating in a Kurdish restaurant and drinking Lebanese beer, we happened to witness through the window hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims walking together for peace and mutual comprehension, in a march that started at the local synagogue and ended at the local mosque.

Yet he still felt the need to send me something that implies I am misguided and my friends and neighbors are evil pedophiles; that this Baptist preacher’s interpretation of the Koran and the billion or so people in the world who are Muslim is the only one that matters.

Not living in the US, I don’t know how widespread this simplistic view of the subject is, but it does appear to be gaining traction there. Add to that the aborted Koran-burning stunt, the Park51 protests, and here the rash of single-issue Dopers for whom nearly every posting is on the subject of Islam, which posts contain grains of truth, but also an overwhelming swathe of broad-brushing, cherry-picking, misrepresentation and peppered with dozens of other logical fallacies, impervious to sincere debate - and it starts to look like a bit like a movement.

(Disclaimer: I am clearly not so naive to claim that there aren’t clearly deep problems in many parts of “the Muslim world”, some of them threatening to our way of life, but the particular kind of rhetoric I mention crushes, in my opinion, the sort of discourse that could actually produce results.)

Is this a nascent neo-McCarthyism?

Obviously this is an imperfect comparison in the detail, since the opponent is overwhelmingly different, and because the philosophies in the anti-Islamic fervor are not reflected in the political leadership, and only seem to be being adopted as policy on a local level as yet (e.g. the turning down of permission to build mosques), but as a phenomenon I see parallels: a hysteria, a paranoia, the snuffing out of open-minded discourse with the implication that one has been hoodwinked or is a secret “Muslim-lover”.

McCarthyism itself was a fad: it did not wait until the fall of Communism before it died out. Some of its principles sunk into US policy (the Cuba embargo; the necessity for us foreigners to declare if we have ever been Communists in order to get a tourist visa) but as a movement, it faded out even as the Soviet empire grew.

Will the current levels of reason-stifling debate and rhetorical hysteria retreat eventually? Will its proponents turn their attention to a new target?

Or is it only going to get worse?

I can’t speak for other countries, but hatred towards Muslims has been widespread in America for a very long time; I recall reading a some time ago a collection of old quotes from the early days of Communism where Communism was being demonized by comparing it to Islam. And America as a culture seems to need an enemy; Muslims are available. And of course, there are a lot of Muslims on top of oil we want to steal. I don’t think it’s a fad.

This latest spike, where people in small towns are burning mosque construction equipment, etc., will fade. It is having its cultural moment because of a confluence of a few factors: general xenophobic anger that always arises in hard economic times, a perception among some Americans that the powers that be are Others and not sufficiently fighting for America, and it being in the political interest of a few right-wing figures to stoke that anger and alienation.

As Lawrence Wright nicely summarized that last factor:

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Whipping up anti-muslim fervor is in the short-term interest of Fox News and Newt Gingrich, et al., but after the mid-terms and some more economic recovery, people will lose interest and turn their attention elsewhere. There is long-term underlying prejudice, of course. But not in greater degrees that toward any other religious group.

I think that like illegal immigrants, there has always been (and always will be) this zenaphobic part of us that fears anyone who’s not exactly like us.

And the Republicans are tapping into both to fire up the “Archie Bunker” in their base to win an election.

But like same sex marriage and abortion before them, once elected they will drop these causes and go back to funneling all the money to the 2% of the population that they have always defended and supported.

jjimm, in the OP you say that Jeffress is a “Baptist preacher expounding on Islam from an apparently learned position.” I don’t know what you mean by this, but it sounds to me like you think that he teaches a seminary or at least is an important official in some denomination. Here’s some of what I’ve been able to find out about him:,_Texas)

He’s the senior pastor of one big church. He also thinks that Mormonism is a cult, that “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism … lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell,” that homosexuality is a perversion, and that Oprah Winfrey is a pretty terrible influence on everybody. Why do you think that Jeffress’s statements are typical of the way that most people think? Why do you think that those beliefs are any more common than they were before?

It’s a reaction, to the ugly realities of how some choose to interpret and practice their religion. Blowing people up tends to attract notice.

The pastor is a moron. But if he put the words “radical” or “militant” before each use of the word “muslim”, he’d be right on the money. (At least about the terrorism, I don’t know if militant or radical muslims rape 4 year olds.)

He’d still be an idiot, though.

Darn right! And if anybody is going to undersand how wrong it is to blow up people who’ve done you no harm, its us, the Americans! USA! Fucked, yeah!

This isn’t a fad, its a tactic. Same old, same old. “Vote for us, and we’ll protect you from the godless Commies”, updated and refurbished, new and improved. A lot of us are too smart to fall for it. Others, not so much.

You forgot cutting off heads and setting people on fire.

If someone burns down a church because the KKK exists, do you blame the church-burner, the KKK, or both?

Yes we’re all really impressed with the “vote for us and we’ll send NASA out to edumacate Muslims on how great they are” platform.

We have no security issues. The airport scanners are actually a ruse by evil corporate robots out to make money. The WTC bombing never happened. 9/11 never happened. The too numerous to name embassy bombings never happened. the guy caught crossing the border with a trunk full of explosives was actually a tupperware salesmen. The people trying to splode their shoes and underwear are just clothingly challenged. The Ft hood shooter didn’t yell Alla Akbar, he actually said “cookies and milk” before mowing people down. Most important, free speech is alive and well and all the cartoonists in hiding are really just afraid of polyester cat toys. Fox lied about all of it (oh, and CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, the BBC and every other news source).

Every movement that wants to control people against rationality will have their Goldstein to use for their own version of a daily Two Minutes Hate. If Goldstein does not exist he must be created. Orwell did a great job in capturing that truism of political psychology.

For many Americans, Islam is the current Goldstein. And so long as America is one of the major Goldsteins used by Arab extremists, Islam will be an easy Goldstein for American Conservative extremists to use. Afterall, unlike France we don’t have so many Romani.

So Islam=KKK?

But it’s obviously not a “reaction.”

The fear and loathing directed towards Islam is clearly on the increase. If it was a reaction to terrorism,** it should have peaked immediately after 9/11**, in 2001 and 2002. But it didn’t - if anything at the time there was a general desire to NOT blame Muslims as a whole for the acts of a tiny criminal fraction. The outrageous bigotry we’re seeing in Murfreesboro would, IMHO, not have happened in, say, 2003 (or it would have been limited to a few cranks.)

So what we’re seeing is not reaction, it’s something else.

Yep. Keep those kids away from Catholics, folks! ALL Catholics!

Christianity and Islam have been criticising each other since day one.

I believe the terms of the analogy would be:

KKK = Muslim terrorists
Regular Christians = Regular Muslims
Church burners = People who sabotage construction equipment at the site of a mosque

Uh, what?

Headline: Barack Obama: Nasa must try to make Muslims ‘feel good’

You just keep worrying about that and let us know how that works out.