The battle over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11
terrorist attacks in New York is fuelling a surge in anti-Muslim
protests across the US, including opposition to new Islamic centres from
California to Georgia.
Religious leaders and civil rights
activists warn that a tide of Islamophobia that has swept the country
since the destruction of the twin towers is being heightened by
political exploitation of the New York dispute before nationwide
elections and is increasingly bound up with hostility to immigrants and
other forms of racism.
They say the outpouring of condemnation at
the "outrage" of a mosque close to the "hallowed ground" of the World
Trade Centre site also goes hand in hand with the increasing
acceptability of what they describe as hate speech.
church, Dove World Outreach Centre, is planning a "burn the Qur'an" day
on September 11 and has already outraged Muslims by planting a sign on
its front lawn that reads: Islam is the Devil.
The church's senior pastor, Terry Jones, has said he is "exposing Islam for what it is".
"It is a violent and oppressive religion
that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to
deceive our society," the church said. "Islam is a lie based upon lies
and deceptions and fear. In Muslim countries, if you preach the gospel
or convert to Christianity – you will be killed. That is the type of
religion it is."
A leading Muslim educational institution,
al-Azhar's Supreme Council in Egypt, has accused the Florida church of
"stirring up hate and discrimination" and called on other American
churches to condemn it.
Many religious leaders have spoken out
against Muslim-bashing, including rabbis in New York who have defended
the plans for the mosque two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks,
which would not be visible from Ground Zero.
But John Esposito,
director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown
University, said many Americans shared Jones's views. He said the
dispute over the proposed mosque had given cover for more open hostility
unleashed after the 9/11 attacks that was evident during the last
presidential election when some of Barack Obama's opponents attempted to
portray him as a Muslim.
"The World Trade Centre thing has shown
that what has been up to now seen as a local issue has gone global and
provided an umbrella so that suddenly people feel freer to go public
with their objections to Muslims," he said.
"Historically we've had problems in Mississippi or Georgia or New York or wherever when someone wants to establish a mosque.
cover for opposition used to be that people will say: we're not really
prejudiced but it'll affect the traffic in the area, not facing the fact
that it is very common if you have a significant number of Jews or
Protestants or Catholics to expect that they're going to want to have a
synagogue or a church and chances are the town's going to go along with
But today, Americans increasingly no longer shy away from
saying they oppose mosques on the grounds that Muslims are a threat or
In New York, a group called the American Freedom
Defence Initiative is placing adverts on New York buses showing a plane
flying into one of the World Trade Centre towers and what it calls a
"Mega Mosque" and asking "Why There?".
Azeem Khan, of the Islamic
Circle of North America, said the bus adverts promoted fear and hatred.
"People want Islam and Muslims to be the bogeyman right now," he said.
issue is increasingly being exploited by politicians in the run-up to
November's mid-term elections. Opposition to a mosque in Murfreesboro,
Tennessee, intensified after Republican candidates for Congress and
state governor made opposition part of their campaigns.
Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, has been a vocal opponent of the controversial New York mosque.
prominent politicians have cast the net wider. Newt Gingrich, the
Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is
thought likely to make a run for president, has warned that Muslims are
attempting to impose sharia law in the US and that it poses a "mortal
threat to freedom" in America.
Gingrich said that he would push
for legislation to prevent states from adopting sharia law even though
none are proposing it and there is no likely prospect of it happening.
said politicians' fearmongering over Muslims was similar to
exploitation of fears that the country was being swamped by a tide of
"Islamophobia is not just about religion. It's
about people who are of colour and a whole set of presuppositions about
these people," he said.
"You can see it not only with Muslims but
with Mexicans, people who look Hispanic. Now we have hard data from
Gallup and Pew that demonstrate in America how integrated the vast
majority of Muslims are – economically, politically and religiously. And
yet a significant number of Americans can be appealed to in what is
nothing less than hate speech, the same hate speech directed against
of an evangelical church in Texas travelled to Connecticut to verbally
attack worshippers leaving a mosque in Bridgeport, carrying signs
reading: "Jesus hates Muslims"
• In Tennessee, Republican
politicians have condemned plans to build a large Muslim centre in
Murfreesboro. Hundreds of people have joined protests