2016-06-30

Asma Gull Hasan, author of "American Muslims: The New Generation," says she's noticing an uptick in hate mail at her website these days. Some are from evangelical Christians, but many are what she calls "live free or die" Americans--secular conservatives who believe all Muslims are inherently anti-American.

"There's really no convincing any of these people," says Hasan, who appears frequently on cable and radio talk shows. "It's pretty nasty email. There's definitely a movement happening."

Hasan traces the upsurge in anti-Islam rhetoric to the escalation of the war in Israel.

"From the beginning, the evangelicals didn't like the things Bush said about Islam, and talk show conservatives didn't either. But when the Middle East violence happened, they felt they could connect it all together," she says. "It made it very easy for people to make a neat parallel that we were attacked by suicide bombers, and Israel was, too."

Hasan says she has appeared numerous times recently on talk radio shows where the interviewer says the purpose is to teach the audience about Islam. "Then I get on and it's a blood bath," she says. And the rhetoric has ratcheted up in recent weeks, Hasan says.

Last week on a Denver radio show, for instance, the interviewer asked Hasan if she is a Muslim first or an American first, and she said she is both. Soon after, a caller said he is Catholic first and that being American is a distant second. Hasan said she then asked the caller to give an example of ways his religion conflicts with being American. His response was that he wants to be able to protest peacefully at abortion clinics; the host asked if he would blow up a clinic. And the caller said yes, if he thought it would do more good than harm.

"Can you imagine if a Muslim said such a thing?" Hasan wonders.

The problem, say Muslims like Hasan, is that moderate voices like hers aren't heard enough. That seems to be the viewpoint of the Bush Administration, even if the White House isn't meeting with American Muslim leaders. Richard Land, a prominent Southern Baptist with close ties to the Administration, says "one of our basic strategies should be to damage the radical [Muslim] voices and support the moderate voices.... My perspective is that the President did what he probably had to do in the wake of Sept. 11. He grew up coming to understand what happened to Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and not wanting that to happen again." Land says he doesn't disapprove so far of Bush's stance toward Muslims.

"He's supposed to be President of all the people," Land says. "As far as I'm concerned, what he's done to date has not been a problem. But I'm afraid that his comment that Islam is a religion of peace is more a wish than a fact. I don't think evangelicals are very happy about it, but there are so many other things they are happy about. Now, if he started showing up at worship services at mosques that would be another thing."

Green says Bush remains in a tricky political position with conservatives for the foreseeable future.

"To the extent that this grousing becomes common, this presents a problem for the President with the war on terrorism," Green says. "It's important for him to maintain this distinction between Islam and terrorism. If a very important part of his political base equates them, that makes the President's job very difficult."

And Bush can't exactly repudiate conservatives, because he needs them politically.

"It may have been that these people were held in check by the President's request that they behave themselves [early on]. I suppose you could fault Bush to some extent" for not keeping the lid on the dissent, Green says.

And here, he repeats what most Americans, at heart, believe: Sure, there are legitimate religious differences between various faiths, but the genius of the United States is that we tolerate each other. And so, Green says, if we're going to deal with terrorism and threats to our freedom, people who hate each other's beliefs in this country are simply going to have to make an effort to understand each other.

And in the end, that means they're going to have to put up with Islam, and with American Muslims-whether they like it or not.