Anti-Muslim groups are holding rallies across the country today to focus America’s attention on the imaginary threat of sharia law. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Muslims are at an all-time high.
Led by some of the most infamous racists and bigots in the country, the “March Against Sharia” is perhaps the biggest showing of Donald Trump fans in the streets since his Electoral College victory. Demonstrators are waving Trump flags alongside their alt-right “Kek flags.”
Trump’s campaign has emboldened an ugly franchise. These demonstrations are a manifestation of power by a billion-dollar industry of right wing donors, “think tanks,” nonprofit organizations, and news outlets dedicated in whole or in part to promoting hatred of Muslims and fear of Islam.
Rightly known as Islamophobia, these activities go beyond simple criticism of religious dogma or cultural differences. The systematic demonization of Islam and dehumanization of Muslims coarsen the American social fabric, warping our constitutional values rather than defending them. They also fuel acts of violence and abusive outbursts — anti-Muslim terrorism.
Indeed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations estimates that between 2008 and 2013, at least 33 organizing groups shared $200 million in revenue. Much of that comes from donations, and many of the donors are right wing billionaires.
Given the number of march supporters mumbling about George Soros today, that is ironic. But it also underlines the depressing reality that this hateful trend is a deliberate choice people are making. Take the group behind today’s rallies. Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims tells Al Jazeera that the group ACT for America “is, perhaps, the most influential anti-Muslim hate group in the country today. Their significance in the Islamophobia industry has waxed and waned over the years.”
“However, with the slow rise of populism and nationalist sentiment that has ignited the birther movement, anti-immigration narratives and a groundswell of racist rhetoric targeting minorities, they have grown in size and scope,” he says. And all of this has been organized locally.
“These bases of support, which often meet in people’s living rooms or at local coffee shops, have served to strong-arm local politicians, and [have] sown an anti-Muslim ideology amongst anxious [mothers and fathers] in the heartland.”
Brigitte Gabriel, the Lebanese-born leader of ACT for America, radicalizes her following until they “genuinely believe that sharia and the Muslim Brotherhood are lurking in every shadow.”
Legal jurisprudence exists in every religion. Catholics have ecclesiastical courts, for example, while Orthodox Jews have the Halakha and Beth Din courts. Just like sharia, these forms of religious law do not conflict with civil authority or the Constitution. They only apply to believers and are focused on family life. No significant Muslim organization in the United States has ever sought to impose sharia law on any American community — because it is exclusive to the community.
On the other hand, Gabriel is well-connected to power. She constantly pushes a legislative and administrative agenda. As Dean Obeidallah writes at The Daily Beast, “ACT and the Trump administration are intertwined.”
We can see the effect of Gabriel’s lobbying in Muslim travel bans. “Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo proudly accepted ACT’s National Security Eagle Award. Sebastian Gorka, a Trump national security ‘expert,’ has spoken before many ACT chapters,” Obeidallah says. “Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was on ACT’s Board of Directors. And Steve Bannon, while editor of Brietbart, provided Gabriel a place to spew anti-Muslim hate for years.”
So Donald Trump Trump has been “Tinder for bigots,” as Obeidallah quips. His Electoral College victory has erased any line that may have existed between the Republican Party and right wing hate groups, particularly those which focus on Islam. It has generalized Islamophobia on the right, merging mainstream conservatism with fringe media and paranoid conspiracy fantasists.
Disturbingly, Nathan Lean says “a coterie of rabid ‘New Atheists‘ who present themselves as progressive princes and princesses to join forces in the name of fighting Islam” has emerged as a part of this toxic phenomenon.
“In reality,” Obeidallah notes, “the only people advocating for laws based on their religious text in the United States are conservative Christians,” many of whom endorse or tacitly encourage anti-Muslim sentiment with smears, distortions, and outright fabrications.
Counter-demonstrators have been abundant, apparently outnumbering marchers in every city. At least one arrest has been reported, and one leader of the Oath Keepers militia had to be treated for an apparent heart attack in Manhattan, but there has been no violence.
Kindness and coexistence prevail as the alt-right freak flags fly.
Simultaneous LGBT pride parades are taking place around the country to celebrate people loving one another instead of hating because this is still America.
Pence isn’t allowed in a room with another woman alone, but please – tell us about how other cultures are repressive #MarchAgainstSharia
— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) June 10, 2017
— Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) June 10, 2017
— Hatewatch (@Hatewatch) June 10, 2017
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) June 10, 2017
Featured image via Twitter @Hatewatch