By Chris Crews
For several years now I have worked with Muslim friends trying to raise awareness about anti-Islamic rhetoric and the dangers of demonizing a growing population of American citizens. Sometimes that took the form of interfaith dialogues with Jews and Christians, other times is focused on highlighting the democratic and social justice contributions of American Muslims. During all of that time, and now even more today, I have been aware of an ever-present and pervasive hostility from certain portions of the American public to my Muslim friends, be they American citizens or international visitors.
With the Presidential election campaign of Barack Obama entering the final election stretch, the force of attacks on Muslims and Islamic identity have become more pervasive, and more vicious. And this is due, in part, to the efforts of certain elements within the conservative electorate to portray Obama as a Muslim candidate (which he is not) and—in extreme cases—as a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer worthy of death (a la Bill Ayers and “terrorist” or “kill him” comments at recent Palin and McCain rallies).
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has been documenting since early February. There have been a growing number of hate-related incidents in the past month, many explicitly linked to Presidential election politics.
Here are just a few examples that I am aware of, and I am sure there are many more. It’s also important to note that these incidents are spilling over beyond just anti-Muslim rhetoric into outright racist attacks in general. In September, Adele Stan reported on racist images of Barack Obama appearing on a cereal boxes being sold by a vendor at the 2008 Value Voter Summit (a major Evangelical gathering linked to the Family Research Council). Then on September 23rd a cardboard effigy of Barack Obama hung by its neck from a tree on the George Fox University campus, a Christian university in Oregon.
Then last month a shadowy group calling themselves the Clarion Fund was responsible for distributing some 28 million copies of an anti-Islamic propaganda DVD entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” This DVD was distributed in key election swing states and the group, and as Omid Safi documented in an excellent investigative piece on this, has ties to both right-wing Evangelical and Zionist organizations both in the US and in Israel. The situation has gotten serious enough that a group of Muslim scholars this week released a document entitled: “Statement of Concerned Scholars about Islamophobia in the 2008 U. S. Election Campaign”.
Earlier this week there was an incident in London where a white man shot Dube Egwuatu—a Black man who was wearing an Obama t-shirt—three times with a ball bearing pistol in broad daylight. Then there was the story yesterday about a Louisiana man screaming at election officials over a voter registration card delay, telling them that he had to “keep the nigger out of office,” and threatening that he had a gun stashed in his house. The San Francisco Chronicle also had an excellent story on racial attacks on Obama in today’s paper, in which they described the campaign as “part of a recent stream of attacks on his background, including his religion and his connections to a former ’60s radical.”
What I see as the most troubling trend in all of this is the polarization that is occurring within the country, a trend which I don’t see changing or going away with an Obama victory in November. And at that point, a much more serious question is likely to present itself. Will an Obama victory lead to increased incidents of violent racist attacks?