Muslim Americans concerned about anti-Islam rhetoric in the United States described a “cottage industry of hate” during a Capitol Hill panel Wednesday a week ahead of Rep. Peter King’s hearing on the radicalization of the Muslim community in America.
“What they’re doing is fear mongering,” former Bush administration official Suhail Khan said, describing a group of uber-conservative pundits that includes Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney who continue to issue dire warnings about the threat Islam purportedly poses to America.
The panel was co-hosted by the Arab American Institute and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“We need to understand this as an industry with very specific political objectives,” said panel moderator Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. Berry also criticized what she said were Islamophobic statements made by several Republican members of Congress, including King and Reps. Allen West (R-FL) and Renee Elmers (R-NC).
Khan said that there are legitimate terrorist threats out there that need to be stopped through partnerships between law enforcement and the Muslim community. But money plays a big role in what the anti-Islam entrepreneurs are doing, Khan said.
“The good news is, particularly in the conservative movement, they are becoming fringier and fringier and fringier, and the conservative movement is recognizing them for what they are,” Khan said.
Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, said that Congress has a role to play in combating xenophobia. Khan said it was a pattern that has been seen at other times in the country’s history.
“We’ve seen this movie before — whether it was the attacks on Jewish Americans during the Red Scare, on Catholics, on Japanese-Americans during World War II, on African-Americans and so many others who went through horrendous experiences,” Khan said. “In the end, American society has risen above that… and I’m confident that this period right now… will fade.”
“What we’re talking about is the demonization and criminalization of an entire American faith community here in our nation,” MPAC’s Alejandro Beutel said, describing the basic theory of the anti-Muslim fear mongerers this way: “You have to be on guard against all Muslims because you don’t know when they’re going to go all Jihad on you.”
The fears over “creeping Sharia” follows a McCarthyite theme, said Beutel. “Instead of the Communist threat, it’s the Muslim threat and the implementation of Sharia.”
Khan said that he hoped King’s hearings would result in a dialogue on law enforcement forming a better relationship with the Muslim community. He was hopeful for the future, claiming the increasingly ludicrous claims from some of the biggest names in the anti-Islam movement indicate that such voices are on their way out of the mainstream.
“You want a dirty secret about me — I was a nanny in college and took care of four kids,” Khan said, referring to anti-Muslim bloggers as misbehaving children. “And one thing I know about kids is they’re the most obnoxious and loudest right before you put them to bed.”
Late Update: Journalist Max Blumenthal, who was also on the panel, points out that it wasn’t only Muslim-Americans speaking out against Islamophobia at the event — the panel included non-Muslims as well.