The TV show “Roseanne” is gone, torpedoed by a tweet. Roseanne Barr’s racist remarks about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett drew swift retribution from ABC; the anti-Muslim charge in her tweet drew less notice. Many must have found the statement that Ms. Jarrett was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood so clearly false it seemed less offensive than simply absurd.
But absurd, unfounded charges can stick, and the animus Ms. Barr revealed in her tweet is symptomatic of increasing anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of reported anti-Muslim hate crimes has roughly doubled since 2014. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, 2017 was the worst year for anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents of bias since it began collecting data on them in the mid 1990s, with more incidents reported in 2017 than in the period immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Cato Institute conducted a recent poll that found 47 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Americans would favor a ban on building mosques in their community.
Why so much anti-Muslim sentiment now? The 2016 presidential election is one factor, with Donald Trump and other candidates exploiting anti-Muslim feeling for political advantage. President Trump’s virtual ban on refugees from several majority-Muslim nations is another. And with people in political authority demonizing Muslims, the hostile political rhetoric is being amplified by the media, said Zainab Arain, research and advocacy coordinator at CAIR.
Why so much anti-Muslim sentiment now? The 2016 presidential election is one factor.
“It’s become an echo chamber where you have people with power and influence using their platform to promulgate anti-Muslim hate and hate towards other groups as well,” Ms. Arain told me.
The surge in anti-Muslim hostility is not simply a marker of today’s charged politics. Much of it is fomented by so-called experts seeking to spread misinformation and fear. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has tripled since 2015. Mr. Arain said the current wave of anti-Muslim hostility began in 2010, when plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near 9/11’s “Ground Zero” was met with intense opposition. Fostered by anti-Islam bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, a national controversy ensued, with opponents of the center attributing bizarre and sinister motives to those supporting it. Since then, efforts to stigmatize Muslims as violent, intolerant and un-American have accelerated, promulgated by a variety of anti-Muslim groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR list numerous such groups on their websites. So does the Bridge Initiative, a research project started by Georgetown University’s Prince Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. One of its stated aims is to “uncover the operational mechanisms of engineered Islamophobia.” Noting that a “well-funded organized Islamophobic network has spawned websites and false narratives on the Internet,” the Bridge Initiative warns that Americans are being buffeted by “pseudo scholarship that fosters prejudice and fear.”
Two of the most influential anti-Muslim organizations have direct ties to the Trump administration.
Two of the most influential anti-Muslim organizations have direct ties to the Trump administration. The largest is ACT for America, founded in 2007 by Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian known for making disparaging, wildly inaccurate statements about Muslims. ACT for America promotes anti-Muslim legislation, targets individuals for character assassination and has worked to keep Syrian refugees from immigrating here.
A supporter of President Trump, Ms. Gabriel visited the White House to meet with aides after his election. Former Trump advisor Michael Flynn was an advisor to ACT’s board of directors; Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was the keynote speaker at ACT’s national conventions in 2013 and 2015.
“Despite its hateful rhetoric toward Muslims, ACT’s efforts to build relationships with elected officials have been effective—both on a federal and state level,” reports the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Another anti-Muslim organization with ties to the Trump administration is the Center for Security Policy, a neo-conservative think tank founded in 1988 by Frank Gaffney Jr., a member of the Reagan administration. Before becoming National Security Advisor, John Bolton’s new chief of staff at the National Security Council, Fred Fleitz was senior vice-president at the C.S.P., which claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has invaded all branches of the U.S. government and that sharia law is threatening our democracy. Mr. Bolton has his own ties to the Islamophobia network. Prior to joining the Trump administration, he was chairman of Gatestone Institute, another anti-Muslim think tank.
A 2016 report from CAIR found that more than $205 million from foundations and private capital funds have gone to support anti-Muslim groups. No single motive or goal unites them. Many are strongly pro-Zionist, yet some have ties to white supremacist groups with anti-Semitic views. Some are nativist; some are Christian; some present themselves as focused on defense and national security. Negative views of Muslims help justify the war on terror, and the anti-Muslim organizations that bill themselves as defending Americans’ national security are often tied to war hawking and the war machine. Many of them demonize any Muslim-majority country.
The growing army of misinformation experts on Islam raises obvious questions: What agendas do they serve? Who funds them and to what end?
Roseanne Barr’s tweet merited the response it got from ABC. Her offensive comments commingling racism and anti-Muslim bias may yet serve some public purpose if they trigger greater scrutiny of how and why the anti-Islam lobby is fostering prejudice and fear.