Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada
Last week’s proposal by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States elicited condemnation from across the political spectrum.
Yet his proposal comes after nearly 15 years of anti-Muslim demonization propelled by many of the same figures now distancing themselves from Trump’s opportunistic Muslim-baiting.
It has been truly stunning to watch people who have directly contributed to anti-Muslim prejudice express shock as the hate spirals out of control.
Jeffrey Goldberg, the former Israeli prison guard and national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, tweeted that he was “astonished” by the volume of Twitter users in his timeline under the impression that every Muslim is a terrorist.
Notorious for depicting Muslims as uniquely prone to irrational violence, particularly against Jews and Israel, the former fan of the far-right politician Meir Kahane has made a habit of collectively blaming Muslims for failing to rein in extremists.
Of course, Goldberg, who presents himself as the voice of American Jews, has never made a similar demand of his own community — though if he ever did, things might get awkward, since he is one of the extremists.
On top of being a proven liar who helped push the US into invading Iraq, Goldberg is a returning foreign fighter who was radicalized as a teenager at a Zionist summer camp in New York’s Catskills mountains.
In the 1990s he left the United States to join the Israeli military. He served as a prison guard at Ketziot, an Israeli army prison camp in the Naqab (Negev) desert where thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languished during the first intifada.
In his book Prisoners, Goldberg admits that after watching a fellow prison guard beat a Palestinian prisoner unconscious for saying something the guard didn’t like, Goldberg lied to help cover it up.
He also confessed to beating Palestinians himself, though he claims his victims deserved it, writing, “I never hit a Palestinian who wasn’t already hitting me.”
When he wasn’t dishing out beatings to his colonial subjects, Goldberg tortured them in an arbitary manner; he once sent a Palestinian man to solitary confinement because the man refused to recognize Israel as a legitimate state.
Much of Goldberg’s anti-Muslim animus is tied to legitimizing Israel as an exclusivist state.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris earlier this year, Goldberg argued that the Jews of Europe may need to escape to Israel lest they be persecuted by a potentially looming alliance between Europe’s Islamophobic far-right and Muslim extremists.
Given the intense marginalization and disenfranchisement of Muslims across Europe, the notion that Islamists will soon be embraced by the anti-Muslim far-right is ludicrous, to say the least.
More recently, in a piece titled “The paranoid, supremacist roots of the stabbing intifada,” Goldberg attributes the ongoing Palestinian revolt against Israel’s colonial violence to “the unwillingness of many Muslim Palestinians to accept the notion that Jews are a people who are indigenous to the land Palestinians believe to be exclusively their own.”
So according to Goldberg, Muslims who refuse to recognize that he — a white Jewish guy from Long Island, New York — is indigenous to the Middle East, are intolerant extremists. However, Goldberg, an active cheerleader of US aggression who believes he’s biblically entitled to dispossess Palestinians so he can have a spare state, is apparently more rational, objective and civilized than Trump and the backwards people on his Twitter timeline who inexplicably believe all Muslims are terrorists.
One of the most disingenuous condemnations of Trump’s proposal came from the Anti-Defamation League, a hardline pro-Israel lobbying outfit that bills itself as a civil rights organization devoted to combatting anti-Semitism.
“Trump’s plan to bar people from entry to the United States based on their religion is unacceptable,” declared Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director.
The ADL’s purported opposition to anti-Muslim bigotry is hard to take seriously for a number of reasons, first and foremost being its energetic support for Israel’s religiously discriminatory immigration policy and the right-wing Trump-like leaders that enforce it.
While Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, denounced Trump’s comments, the fact remains that religious tests and blanket bans are standard operating procedure in Israel.
In past decades the ADL has infiltrated and spied on Arab American activists and illegally gathered intelligence on Palestine solidarity and anti-apartheid groups, some of which was passed on to Israeli government officials as well as the white supremacist regime in South Africa.
In more recent years, the ADL has played a crucial role in mainstreaming Islamophobia, often throwing its weight behind smear campaigns spearheaded by a cadre of well-funded Islamophobes who for more than a decade have pumped out disinformation about Muslims and Islam, from which far-right Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik drew inspiration.
This Islamophobia network, as the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress labeled it, is funded in large part by wealthy pro-Israel donors and has generated a nationwide freakout about an alleged jihadist threat posed by deceptive US Muslims.
In 2006, the ADL’s foundation gave $2,500 to the virulently anti-Muslim Middle East Forum headed by Daniel Pipes, a prominent ringleader of the Islamophobia network.
The following year, the ADL, then headed by Abraham Foxman, aligned itself with Pipes and the similarly bigoted Frank Gaffney in their anti-Muslim campaign to fire Debbie Almontaser from her position as principal of New York City’s Khalil Gibran International Academy.
In his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, Trump cited a debunked poll issued by Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC based think tank that, according to the ADL’s own findings, “has pioneered the anti-Sharia hysteria by publishing materials regarding the threat of an Islamic takeover of the US.”
In 2010, the ADL sided with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencerin opposing the construction of a Muslim community center, dubbed “the ground zero mosque,” near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.
In the days prior to Trump’s announcement, right-wing media outlets — including the New York Post, Daily Caller, and Breitbart — tried (and failed) to connect the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a Muslim group based out of Jamaica, Queens, to the Muslim couple who gunned down 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on 2 December.
To push their theory, right-wing outlets relied on smears advanced by none other than the ADL, which tried in 2010 to portray ICNA as an extremist group due to its criticism of Israel.
By repeatedly siding with anti-Muslim fanatics, the ADL has granted an aura of credibility to the very bigots it has then turned around and condemned.
Meanwhile, as anti-Muslim attacks skyrocket to unprecedented levels, the ADL refuses to engage with the largest Muslim advocacy organization in the country, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, because of CAIR’s outspoken criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.
Donald Trump is “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” who “doesn’t represent my party,” asserted Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham in response to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims.
But even as the South Carolina senator, who has scarcely seen a Muslim country he didn’t want to bomb, spoke out against Trump’s bigotry, he continued to spew his own.
Addressing a Jewish audience on Sunday, Graham promised that if elected president he would launch a US military ground invasion and occupation of Iraq and Syria to defeat Islamic State.
“There’s no way to defend freedom without fighting against evil, and there’s never been a bigger evil since World War II than radical Islam,” Graham told the crowd.
While Republicans have been more explicit in their rhetoric, they aren’t alone in pushing anti-Muslim hate.
Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California said last week that “anywhere between 5 and 20 percent” of Muslims “have a desire for a caliphate” and are prepared “to institute that in any way possible,” including through violence and terrorism.
Faced with intense criticism for her wild assertion, Sanchez, who sits on the homeland security committee in the House of Representatives, refused to apologize or back down. Instead she sourced her claim to a book by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris titled Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.
In it, Harris and Nawaz speculate about what they believe to be the percentage of Islamists worldwide but they say nothing about the desire for a caliphate that Sanchez was referring to.
Nawaz and Harris are notorious for trafficking in the kind of propaganda that provides a theoretical backbone to a more sophisticated style of Islamophobia that appeals to liberals.
Harris, a neuroscientist with a pathological obsession with Islam, has made a career out of preaching anti-Muslim venom under the guise of liberal atheism.
As for Nawaz, a self-styled ex-Islamist and rising star in the Islamophobia industry, he runs the Quilliam Foundation, an influential London-based counter-extremism think tank that receives significant funding from neoconservatives in the US.
Under Nawaz’s guidance, Quilliam helped shape the UK’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, which brands Muslim schoolchildren and workers in the public sector as potential terrorists for expressing support for Palestine, growing a beard or criticizing the UK’s foreign policy.
That’s why it is strange to see Nawaz, of all people, feigning concern about Trump’s proposal.
Islamophobia is about more than just reactionary hate and bigotry; it’s necessary for legitimizing US aggression in the Middle East. That’s why weapons companies that profit from endless war are among its key funders.
In other words, meaningful opposition to Islamophobia demands principled rejection of the bipartisan US war machine that profits from it.
Trump is an opportunistic demagogue exploiting the very real economic anxieties of white working class Americans with a politics of bigotry. But many of the people loudly condemning him helped set the stage for his rise. We shouldn’t let them off the hook.