America’s new Islamophobia

How other nations perceive American opposition to building an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero.

The United States has been engulfed by hostility toward Muslims, said Pakistan’s The Nation in an editorial. The widespread American opposition to a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero has revealed Americans as “petty, intolerant, and even fundamentalist.” President Obama himself displayed these “Islamophobic tendencies” by saying the mosque was not “a good idea” after first supporting the project. Last week’s threat by an “extremist church” to burn a Koran on 9/11 was just the latest in a string of “vitriolic attacks” on Islam. “Vicious anti-Islam propaganda” has permeated American discourse to the point where it’s “literally brainwashed a considerable section of the American public.”

How did this happen? asked Lorraine Millot in France’s Libération. In his famous Cairo speech last year, President Obama pledged to break the “cycle of mistrust and disagreement” between America and Islam. Instead, the problem has worsened: Polls show that half of Americans have a negative opinion of Islam. “While anti-Semitism or racism against blacks have become very taboo,” slandering Islam seems to be America’s “new escape valve.”

Liberal Americans are blaming this anti-Muslim “hysteria” on the sudden rise of right-wing extremists like Glenn Beck, said Pankaj Mishra in Dubai’s Gulf News. But this rhetoric was “injected into the mainstream” of American discourse years ago. Columnists from major U.S. publications have fawned over self-promoting ex-Muslims like Salman Rushdie and the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali—known for her rants condemning Islam as a backward religion—ever since 9/11. The American pundits portray themselves as having the “moral courage” to speak out against Islam, as if condemning a major world faith were some kind of renegade intellectual position instead of simple “bigotry.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Let’s take a breath, said Muhammad Hasan Alwan in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan. In truth, both Americans and Muslims are being narrow-minded. Americans should not blame the terrible crimes of 9/11 on all Muslims, but neither should Muslims assume that the opposition to a mosque in New York means that all Americans are anti-Muslim. Muslims need to analyze their feelings toward America, said Azril Mohd Amin in Malaysia’s New Straits Times. “Let us be honest.” On 9/11, “much of the Muslim world cheered” the collapse of the World Trade Center. Some of us reacted “as if it had been some universal videogame in which the unlikely good guys, the Muslims, had won against the well-known Great Satan.” Sure, there are plenty of reasons to criticize Americans—their wars in Muslim lands, of course, but also their insistence on maintaining their energy-gobbling, “fabulous lifestyle” that is causing global warming and “threatening the entire world with natural disasters.” But opposition to such policies should be political, not religious. Those Muslims who join militant jihadist movements have corrupted Islam by making their religion not about serving God but destroying America. “Hating America may be justified in some ways; however, it should be no part of Islam.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.