I recommend to readers a special edition published recently in The Nation on Islamophobia in the United States. From extrajudicial surveillance and sting operations undertaken by law-enforcement officials, none of which have produced evidence of terrorist plots, to politicized efforts by right-wing activists to demonize the faith, the persecution of Muslims is as intense as it was in the dark days that followed the 9/11 attacks on US soil.
What is so compelling and unnerving about the Nation’s investigation is how industrialized the effort to root out an Islamic “threat” to America, which, by all sober-minded and informed accounts, does not exist. In America, when particularly odious occasions of bigotry and racism enter the public domain, civil society demands that the offending party be censored and punished. CEOs and four-star generals who make anti-semitic, misogynist, or homophobic comments, for example, are liable to lose their jobs. (Conversely, gay-bashing is alive and well in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign bid.)
The network of agencies that target Islam, however, is so vast, relentless, and multi-pronged as to resemble that most elusive of political phenomena: a conspiracy. According to The Nation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation manipulates young Islamic men to spy on their own; state legislators pass anti-Sharia laws even though only a handful of Muslims live in their districts; an heiress of the Sears Roebuck fortune, an intimate of Israel’s most militantly racist constituencies, spends millions of dollars patronizing the likes of Geert Wilders, the Dutch white-supremacist who denounces what he calls the “Islamicization of Europe,” and the Muslim-hounding Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative and former Pentagon official.
Of course, such a state of affairs is not new to the world’s oldest democracy. Fear-mongering is a blunt tool but effective. And most of America’s non-white racial and ethnic persuasions have at one time or another been held to account on trumped-up charges of treason. The same is true of gays and communists, which were conflated to maximum advantage by Senator Joe McCarthy during his “Red Hunts” of the mid-1950s.
Here is how academic Richard Hofstadter described the culture of fear and ignorance that haunted America during the McCarthy era:
Today, when Communism has been reduced to a negligible quantity in American domestic life, the cry for a revival of this scapegoat is regularly heard in the land, and investigators who are unable to turn up present Communist affiliations have resorted to stirring up the dead husks of fellow-traveling memoirs or to obscuring as completely as possible the differences between liberals and Communists. The truth is that the right-winger needs his Communists badly, and is pathetically reluctant to give them up. The real function of the Great Inquisition of the 1950s was not anything so simply rational as to turn up spies or prevent espionage … or even to expose actual Communists, but to discharge resentments and frustrations, to punish, to satisfy enmities who roots lay elsewhere than the Communist issue itself.
Replace the words “Communist(s)” with “Jihadi(s)” and “liberals” with “Muslims” and you get the idea.
Weeks after The Nation special edition appeared, the New York Police Department acknowledged in court testimony that six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods and eavesdropping on conversations and mosques had never generated a single lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.