Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Islamophobia After 9/11: Enough, Already!


You know how on Facebook, you sometimes overhear other people’s conversations that you wish you hadn’t? Well, this one came up on my Facebook news feed because one of my friends (the last and only sane individual in this conversation) left a comment. I have retained the punctuation and spelling of the original conversation participants while withholding their names.

Original Poster: I recently received a warning about the politically incorrect term, “Towel Heads.” I have been advised that the Islamic terrorists that who hate our guts and want to kill us do not like to be called “Towel Heads”.


Original Poster cont: The items they wear on their heads are not towels but in fact are little folded sheets. Therefore, being the sensitive, politically correct person that I am, I will now respectfully refer to these terrorists as…”Little Sheet Heads.” Thank you for your support and compliance on this delicate matter. (1 “Like”)

First Respondent: I’ll call the bastards whatever i want. How about “shit heads”? (1 “Like”)

Second Respondent: Now that’s the way to start a morning.

Third Respondent: I like sheet heads. It sounds like you’re speaking in an accent. (2 “Like”)

Original Poster: Here are Jesus’ words from Luke 12…”Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” I must with all due respect disagree that we should embrace terrorists in love. 


Fourth Respondent: He would call them murderers, terrorists, killers, animals… basically sheet heads.

Fourth Respondent, who apparently clicked “send” before he was quite finished spewing: Hmmm…looks like somebody tucked there head under a sheet and ran.

Fifth Respondent: I was thinking the same thing

Lone Sane Voice in Appalling Overheard Conversation: Well … after seeing your comments, you two now have me also thinking about sheets… and burning crosses.

Three key questions arise after reading this conversation:

1) Why don’t people yet realize that Facebook is not a private venue?
2) Why is my friend also friends with these Islamophobes?
3) And most importantly, what will it take to eradicate some Americans’ hatred of Muslims?


It’s been nine years since 9/11, when Al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and a portion of the Pentagon, taking nearly three thousand lives. The terrorists–none of whom wore head coverings, incidentally–carried out an act of despicable evil. No one is defending them. Yet to deride an entire religion of over one billion people as “sheetheads” adds a layer of violence and willful misunderstanding to an already incendiary situation. As Mark Juergensmeyer, a scholar of religious terrorism and the author of Terror in the Mind of God, put it, “Osama bin Laden is to Islam [what] Timothy McVeigh is to Christianity.”


Come on, America. We are better than that. We have learned from our history of the Know-Nothing Party in the mid-nineteenth century that we cannot succeed if we base politics on hatred and fear, appealing to the lowest common denominator by demonizing other races. (At that time it was the Irish who were considered villainous. They didn’t exactly destroy the country as was predicted.) We have been told by President George W. Bush that Islam is fundamentally a “religion of peace.” Bush overstated the case–Islam, like Christianity, has a checkered history of both peace and terrible violence done in God’s name–but his point was well-taken: We cannot conflate an entire religion with the actions of a few.


In 2001, I felt discouraged that many Americans, anxious for somewhere to lay the blame, attacked Islam as “other” without recognizing its vast diversity. I had hoped that progress had been made since that time, as American Muslims like my friend Asma Hasan (Red, White, and Muslim) helped to show the way to a more moderate, complex image of the faith and its people.

This summer has seen a terrible step backward. NPR recently chronicled some of the political firestorms of the season:


  • “A church in Gainesville, Fla., is … planning a ‘burn the Qur’an’ day on Sept. 11.
  • Voters in Oklahoma this fall are being asked in a referendum to ban the use of Sharia, or Islamic, law in the state’s courts, even though there has never been one instance of Sharia law being cited or used in the U.S., nor any request for Sharia law to be used in any court in the U.S.
  • And last month in Tennessee, while campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor in his state, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey suggested Islam is a cult and may not be protected by the First Amendment.”

On Friday, investigators determined that a fire at the construction site for a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the result of arson. All this is uptick in Islamophobia is not even including the controversy over the “ground zero mosque”–which, as it turns out, is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero.



According to Sunday’s Christian Science Monitor, the anti-Islamic fervor we’re seeing in the United States pales in comparison to Europe, where forms of Islamic dress have been outlawed and widespread (and false) birth statistics threaten the specter of “Eurabia.”

Somehow, the fact that it’s worse in Europe is cold comfort. Islamophobia is increasing here in America even in the absence of recent acts of terrorism. I am chilled to recognize the fledgling similarities between the us-them rhetoric of anti-Muslims today and the hatemongering of Nazis in the 1930s and 40s.


That’s not a comparison I would ever throw around lightly. However, consider the following statement, made by a California grandmother protesting the erection of a mosque in Temecula. This is where hatred gains a foothold: 

“I don’t want them here opening mosques in every city, trying to open it up on ground zero in New York, where they killed thousands and thousands of people. They don’t belong here. They don’t belong here.”

Whether “they” refers to Muslims or Jews, the effect is the same; suspicion and fear are ignited. The difference is that in America in 2010, we have laws to protect religious freedom. The best traditions of the “American way of life” cherish religious freedom (even the freedom of those with whom we disagree) and recognize the dangers in categorizing an entire religion or race of people based on the extreme actions of a few.

What better way to show Al-Qaeda that America has not been bested than to demonstrate our nation’s commitment to preserving religious freedom for all people?

  • Ben

    Europe has its own cultural problems, since many there perceive traditional culture as being threatened by Islamic immigrants who often do not integrate AND have many more children than the natives. A few years back, I read a piece in the Economist (I think) that suggested Europe as we know it would disappear in 20-40 years because of this. Alarmist, perhaps, but a real fear for many. In France (which I know best because of my mission there), witness the surprising amount of the vote consistently won by the xenophobic racist Jean-Marie LePen in the last decade.
    The recent spat over minarets in Switzerland represents a non-Islamophobic concern over preserving Swiss culture.

  • Michael Austin

    Wonderfully put! I have experienced many of the same feelings of frustration at blatant bigotry that now seems to dominate any discussion of Islam in America. I am even more upset, truth be told, at the posturing politicians who know better but who are equivocating on this issue as if the haters actually had a point.
    What I can’t get over is how blatantly unAmerican this all is. I spent the Labor Day weekend reading some of the the original writings of both Benjamin Franklin and James Madison–both of whom regularly used the tolerance of Islam (then a virtually unknown religion from far over the seas)as a test case for the meaningful religious liberty that they believed that America should embody. It is simply impossible to read the words of America’s founding fathers (whose names are so often taken in vain by a political movement that knows almost nothing about them)–or indeed the text of the Constitution itself–without despairing of what has become of their vision.

  • Marcia Z Nelson

    Thank you for publicly stepping up, Jana.

  • jestrfyl

    I realize this is probably asking too much — but if these Bozos spent even a fraction of the time exhausted on hate, and used that fraction to actually read some of the Quran they would discover…
    There is a third Christmas story;
    Abraham is the covenantal parent of us all;
    Moses and David, along with many of the OT gang,are all there too;
    You have to know the O.T. & Gospel stories to make any sense of the Quran
    Understanding and being fluent in Jesus’ message of peace and justice underpins most of Islam.
    Ignorance is a lousy excuse, Fear is an itch and anger is a salty infection. God expects MUCh better of us all.

  • BHodges

    Thanks for the thoughtful but quick analysis. Like you I have been truly saddened to see some of the comments on Facebook about these issues.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I applaud the statement of Lone Sane Voice. At a point where someone who spouts racist hatred is automatically condemned, it has become OK to attack people because of their religious beliefs–including beliefs that exist only in the minds of the attackers.
    How does this survive in modern America? The common pronouncement of much of the Mainstream News Media seems to be that it is a problem that exists among people who are more religious and more politically conservative. Yet there is concerted denigration among many iconic personalities of the Left (e.g Bill Maher) toward anyone who embraces traditional relgious belief. The attacks on Mitt Romney for being Mormon came from both the Left and Right. Religious prejudice is a bigotry that is exercised at both ends of the political spectrum, both from those who believe that anyone who disagrees with them is going to hell, and from those who refuse to believe in hell.
    And unfortunately, a lot of the religious hatred is generated by certain Muslims. People who riot and kill in reaction to ordinary (not obscene or especially blasphemous if they had been depicting Jesus or the Pope) political cartoons making fun of Mohammad and suicide bombers, do not provoke the sympathy of the rest of mankind. And clearly the rioters don’t want sympathy and tolerance, they want fear. And even more sadly, they are successful in getting what they want: Almost no major newspaper in the USA was willing to print the actual cartoons that provoked the rioting, for fear they would become a target of Muslim violence. And thus religious violence among Muslims is encouraged.
    We usually associate the Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts with the idea of religious freedom in America, but we should not forget that they could be extremely intolerant of dissenters, to the point of exiling Roger Williams and executing a Quaker. It is more than a handful of Muslims in the world who have a similar attitude about demanding their own freedom to exercise their religion while being flatly intolerant of anyone else’s religious exercise. And sadly, there seem to be some who call themselves Christians who have a similar attitude.
    Those who are bigoted against Mormons will scarsely credit it, but one of the basic principles of Mormon belief is in the freedom of all men and women to worship their own chosen god in their own chosen way. Churches of all kinds thrive in Mormon-dominated neighborhoods in Utah, Idaho and other states. Mormons have lent a hand to help build and repair such churches. Mormons don’t print pamphlets attacking other religions, and they don’t demonstrate against the building and convening in chapels for other denominations. Again, a Mormon who engages in religious intolerance is betraying a fundamental Mormon doctrine.
    Is it too much to hope for that thought leaders on the Left and Right would honor the plurality and diversity of Americans’ religious beliefs by denouncing those among their own number who loudly condemn to hell all of those who disagree with them?

  • Richard

    Thank you for posting this Jana. We as a country really need to think about what we are doing when we demonize Muslims. We are setting them up to be hated and even killed. Muslims represent only .6% of our population and are therefore very vulnerable to an organized campaign of hate.
    What bothers me the most is that I have heard intelligent friends and coworkers make the most outrageous statements about Muslims and the Islamic faith. I try to correct them whenever I can but they are adamant that ALL Muslims are evil and that they threaten our very existance. Terms like “raghead” and “camel jockey’s” are thrown around as if they are not offensive. And it saddens me to say this but many of the hateful comments against Islam that I hear come from self-described “born-again Christians.” “Islam is of the devil!” they say, which I assume means that you can do anything to them and it’s ok with Jesus. But Jesus was all about love and forgiveness. How can anyone say with a straight face that they follow the Prince of Peace and yet say hateful things about Muslims? It makes no sense!
    There are 1.5 billion Muslims in this world and they are as diverse as any other population. To demonize them all as “evil” is a sin. We need to speak up before this gets totally out of hand. Jesus would expect nothing less of us.

  • DMc

    There are nice passages like this in the Koran, “[2.62] Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” Nice, pleasant, and basicly says if you believe in God and help your fellow man, you go to Heaven.
    In centuries past, when Islam was in the driver’s seat, they were tolerant of other religions and did not ask for as much “tribute” as the Christians they deposed. The locals loved them. The Muslims were all about trade. Now they have little to trade and have been sitting in the back seat for a long time.
    Then there is this verse, “[5.51] O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” This is the statement of a bigot.
    Christians tend to overlook scripture that does not align with their beliefs and so do Muslims. If they would wear one or the other of these scriptures it would be easier to live around them in light of 9/11. Then again one might wear the first statement on the side of a plane and fly it into me in a free country, for typing MUHAMMAD WAS A BIGOT.
    Even so, men are weak and Muhammad could have had a bad day when he wrote the second quote.

  • Eileen

    I will admit right up front that I stopped reading right after this:
    “Osama bin Laden is to Islam [what] Timothy McVeigh is to Christianity.”
    All due respect, but this is nonsense. Timothy McVeigh did not hold sway over followers throughout the world. He and his cohort were individuals, who perpetrated a horrible crime and were denounced by virtually all Christians. In contrast, the falling of the towers and the deaths of innocent Americans were celebrated by many in the Muslim world, and to this day, there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims who support Bin Laden and what he stands (or stood) for. The lack of condemnation from the Muslim world has been deafening.
    I am no more inclined to denounce all of Islam than you are; and I certainly do not approve of the inane conversation which formed the basis for your post. But the fact remains that throughout the world, where you find oppression, violence, and tumult, you are likely to find fundamentalist Islam, and to pretend otherwise is foolish.
    I think that it is high time that people like you (sounds pejorative, but not intentionally so!) stop insisting that there are Muslims in the world who are good and decent people… that is a given. Instead, it is time for those good and decent people to stand up for what is right; the fact that they are afraid to do so, unfortunately, speaks volumes.

  • Eliza R. Snitch

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Chris

    No it does not add a “layer of violence” as you suggest. When you are discussing a group that does actual violence targeted intentionally at innocents you can freely use the word violence. Using violence to describe the other tactless, unfeeling group in light of the people who commit real violence is over the top. Hey I might even say you’re adding your own layer of violence and further destroy all significance of the word. This is how America’s policies become terrorism, merely because some (many) people in the world live in terror as our military goes to battle in their neighborhoods.
    Both groups are clearly wrong in your example, but using violence to describe both groups is too much. Yes, rhetorically it works.
    The terrorist are violent. And it should go without saying not all Muslims are terrorists. The posters in question are behaving intellectually lazy and rudely. I’d simply call them on it and say that’s really not appropriate and I understand they have strong feelings, but should get past judging an entire group based on the actions of a few.

  • mick

    I agree with the burning of the Koran. Think of all the times the Muslims burn;t the bible or american or british flags and no-one batted an eyelid. Ilearned to accept that, but if anyone else(any other religeon) said a bad word against that false religion then they would be shot down as P C and a court fine would follow. Why cant these people realise that a true religion would not tolerate the taking of innocent life. Recant ye sinners and embrace the one true god and not your false Prof, Propf, Oh yea. Prick

  • freedomfighter67


  • Salcia

    re. “Sheet heads” – I live in a place with a very high Sikh population and was uneasily surprised to find that, after 9/11, Sikhs in turbans were being harassed as terrorists. To be clear: in many Arabic parts of the world a turban is a good adaptation to the weather, but it is not actually part of Islamic religion. It is, however, one of the religious practices of the Sikh religious group. Please make sure you know which religion you’re attempting to bash.
    Then again, I guess the point is just that we don’t like anybody different, so maybe it works.

  • Rob the Rev

    There is a positive story that is currently on the mainstream media, MSNBC and other news channels, the past few days about the Memphis Heartsong Christian congregation that put up a sign welcoming an Islamic center to the neighborhood that is building its facitlity across the street and is allowing this Islamic congregation to use its facility until its own building is completed. Pastor Steve Stone of the Memphis congregation, which loaned its church to worshippers building an Islamic Center next door, and Center Chairman Dr. Bashar Shala, comment on the Quran controversy and how it will impact religious tolerance in the country.
    There is also a story about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation planning on buying one new Quran for every one burned.
    I would think that these positive stories Beliefnet News would carry since they offer a positive side to the ugly story about the “church” in Gainesville FL who is planning on burning Qurans.

  • Michael Austin

    Wow, Jana, it looks like you site got a link from somebody’s “go and post something silly to somebody who disagrees with my right-wing nonsense” page. Good work–I admit that I am a bit jealous that you get to be considered a threat worth taking on, however ineloquently.
    Just a note to Eileen up above: do you even realize how silly you sound when you call someone else’s point “nonsense” and then say something like this:
    “But the fact remains that throughout the world, where you find oppression, violence, and tumult, you are likely to find fundamentalist Islam, and to pretend otherwise is foolish.”
    Rather than spend the rest of the week pointing out examples of “oppression, violence, and tumult” that do not involve Islam–fundamentalist or otherwise–from both current events and world history (though I will recommend that you spend about five minutes reading the Wikipedia articles on say, Rwanda, Myanmar, North Korea, and American Slavery) I will just ask you to please, please, please do a little bit of homework before coming into the public sphere and trying to write a calm and reasonable post based on such a patently false and silly assertion.

  • Jana Riess

    Yes, the greatest evils perpetrated in the 20th century were committed by nations that were majority Christian (Nazi Germany) or atheist/Marxist (Stalin’s massacres, Kim Il Sung and Kim Il Yongs’ concentration camps and mass starvation policies, Mao’s revolution).
    Eileen, were there particular historical examples of Islamic-based mass genocide that you would like to cite to compete with these?

  • Vort

    You want historical citations of Islamic-based mass genocide? You’re kidding, right, Jana? Because you cannot possibly be this stupid.
    My closest friend in grad school was an Arab Muslim, and a kinder, gentler, more enlightened soul you would be hard-pressed to find. Only he hated Jews, and sincerely believed that the world was controlled by Jews and would be better off without them. He was not quite a Holocaust denier (and Hitler, by the way, was an avowed atheist, not a Christian), but he thought the Holocaust was a divine punishment to the Jews for their evil Jewishness. He told me that the vast majority of his fellow Arab Muslims felt much more hostile toward Jews than did he, and several of his immediate acquaintance had participated in attacks on Jewish communities.
    Have you forgotten about the Kurds? The Kashmiri Pandits? The Islamic Ottoman Empire? The “conversion” of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entirety of north Africa?
    Your ignorance is absolutely overwhelming.
    Remember this hadith, the true heart of Islamic tolerance:
    “When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. … If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the jizya [tax on non-Muslims, usually collected in a manner designed to publicly degrade the individual or town]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.”

  • anonymous

    vort, this hadith was not really meant as a way of just waging war against everyone, it was way back, 2000 years ago, when the Muslims had GENERALLY spread the message of islam throughout the Arabian peninsula. there were some protesters within Muslim-conquered lands that had rebelled. The muslims only tried to spread the message of Islam to them, and if not, since the rebels had been the first ones to commit violence, the muslims would first try to give them the message of Islam. If not, then the muslims fought not as an offense, but only for defence, because they were the ones being attacked.

  • Jana Riess

    But there were no Muslims 2,000 years ago. Islam was founded in the seventh century.

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