2016-06-30

But it's not just Christians. Soon after Vines' comments, a new cascade of public anti-Muslim comments poured forth.

In a late June interview with NBC's Katie Couric, columnist Ann Coulter said of Muslims: "I think it might be a good idea to get them on some sort of hobby other than slaughtering infidels." That comment followed Coulter’s comments about Muslims last September: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."

Last month, William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation suggested that "Islam is, quite simply, a religion of war," and that American Muslims "should be encouraged to leave. They are a fifth column in this country."

Also in July, a Secret Service agent admitted scrawling "Islam is Evil" and "Christ is King" on a Muslim prayer calendar while searching the Michigan home of a man charged with smuggling bogus checks into the United States. The agent was put on leave pending the investigation, and officials said he could be fired and face criminal charges. Around the same time, Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission suggested that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil could stir public support for ethnicity-based internments as during World War II. "If there's another terrorist attack and if it's from a certain ethnic community . . . that the terrorists are from, you can forget about civil rights."

Says Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a lobbying group: "It is the fad now to bash Islam and Muslims."

As these events unfolded, representatives from the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council wrote a letter to the President, begging for a meeting with the Administration. AMPCC, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, is comprised of representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the American Muslim Alliance. Last week, the President’s scheduler responded--Bush said he was too busy to meet, according to Al-Marayati.

 

"Either there’s negligence or deliberate exclusion," says Al-Marayati, a Democratic insider and moderate Muslim. "There needs to be unequivocal denunciation of these statements. The President needs to make a decision to clear himself of this kind of vitriol, or basically say he agrees, because I don’t think there’s any room for having it two ways on this issue."

Of course, whenever an Administration loses control of an issue, it's not good news for a President. But usually, "losing control of an issue" means an Administration is losing traction as a President moves ahead with policies, or has lost control of a legislative agenda.

The problem for this Administration is that Islam is a much bigger issue. "It is really a different thing because the President can't control the agenda the same way," Green says. "What the President wanted to do after Sept. 11 was persuade Americans, particularly conservatives, to behave themselves and be civil and restrained about Islam because our domestic and foreign policy is very delicate right now. Here we are making war on Afghanistan and talking about making war on Iraq, so it's important to make a distinction between terrorists who happen to be Muslims, and Islam," Green says. "Having a positive rhetoric on Islam is pretty important."

American Muslims say they're feeling the change in Americans' attitude toward their faith in the last year. After Sept. 11, most Americans swallowed hard and--with President Bush leading the way--decided that anti-Muslim bigotry was wrong. During the fall, he repeatedly called Islam a "peaceful religion," hosted a Ramadan dinner at the White House, and described the Muslim scripture as the "holy" Qur'an.

"That helped to tone down a lot of the animosity," says Hodan Hassan, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington lobbying group. "But now, when you have the ratcheting-up of anti-Islam rhetoric and a continuing state of alert and continual warnings from the FBI about Muslim terrorists--that combination is worrying for us. When you dehumanize a whole sector of society, it's a lot easier to lash out."

Until recently, CAIR members handled the backlash with letter-writing campaigns or by asking media outlets or commentators to retract comments Muslims perceived as unfair. Now, Hassan says, the anti-Islam fervor is too widespread to deal with.

"It seems to have gone beyond the evangelical sector and to some of the political commentators," she says. "We routinely get emails from Muslims around the country complaining about their local talk radio basically demonizing Islam. That's been worrying. What's new is the viciousness of it and the fact that it's spreading to relatively well-established leaders."