I got a lot of interesting responses to my earlier post about a possible rising tide of Islamophobia. I suggested the possibility that whatever change there may be might be tied to the effects of a decade of war. But I was far more persuaded by several readers who made a political argument, particularly the hand off of power from President Bush to President Obama. TPM Reader CB was one of several making this point …
I think there is actually a pretty basic explanation for why the seeming rise in Islamophobia in the last year or so. One of the few issues that I had to give George W Bush credit for was his refusal to demonize Islam as a whole and his rejection of the Islamophobes, many (if not virtually all) of which were in his own Party. His being President and the nominal head of the GOP basically kept a lid on many of the fanatical Islamophobes and the few who did rear their ugly heads (Tancredo, Bachmann and others) were essentially kept away from the Party and to some degree the media (by being told to keep their mouths basically shut on the issue or just being ignored by the media because they were viewed as merely the fringe).
However the transition from Obama to Bush has unleashed the beast if you will. The Islamophobes no longer have anyone from up high to keep them quiet. The weak leadership of Steele, McConnell, etc. offers no resistance to the rather outrageous and flat out bigotry towards Muslims that has come forward on the last year and a half. Combine that with the paranoia, racism and xenophobia that leads to the widespread belief that Obama is himself a Muslim and the lunatics feel both unrestrained and a greater sense of desperation because their worst nightmares are supposedly coming true (keep in mind many of these folks are grossly ignorant and VERY paranoid). Whenever Obama makes a statement similar to the numerous statements W made about about Islam it is painted by the right wing (including FoxNews and talk radio) as evidence that Obama is somehow pro-Islamist, apologizing, pro-terrorist, surrendering … whatever, take your pick. Before such rhetoric would not only be condemned by the W Administration but it would be an untenable open split with a GOP Administration.
The combination of the exit of Bush and the entrance of Obama I believe can explain the rise of the demagogues and their rhetoric. It isn ‘t that their is necessarily a greater number of Islamophobes, but that they (the ones who already existed) are no longer being contained by political forces and realities greater than them. And because of that politicians and talking heads who see political benefit from pandering to these base instincts and ignorance are now free to do as they like.
Another TPM Reader CB made a similar point …
I don’t have any specific evidence to back this up, but I’d say that the overriding reason for the apparent rise in islamophobia has more to do with Tea Party racism than with war fatigue. When there is a fringe part of the right wing who believe that our President is a socialist Muslim terrorist supporter, despite all available evidence, things like fear of mosques (or Islamic community centers) seem like a logical progression. I doubt it has much to do with war fatigue, because, sadly, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are pretty far off of most people’s radar.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.