Laura Ingraham is clearly miffed that Muslims are starting to fear that the Right's increasing obsession with the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is bringing to life a long-dormant hatred of all things Muslim in the USA. So last night, filling in for Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News show, she brought on Karl Rove to help dismiss the notion as ridiculous -- though you can judge for yourself how effective that was.
What irked Ingraham was this week's Time cover story, which stated a self-evident truth, namely, that "it is plain that many of Park51's opponents are motivated by deep-seated Islamophobia." (See, e.g., Pam Geller.)
Although the American strain of Islamophobia lacks some of the traditional elements of religious persecution — there's no sign that violence against Muslims is on the rise, for instance — there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that hate speech against Muslims and Islam is growing both more widespread and more heated. Meanwhile, a new TIME–Abt SRBI poll found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. Only 37% know a Muslim American. Overall, 61% oppose the Park51 project, while just 26% are in favor of it. Just 23% say it would be a symbol of religious tolerance, while 44% say it would be an insult to those who died on 9/11.
The problem isn't simply a concern for American Muslims, though -- it's a concern for all Americans. Because the controversy is giving America a black eye around the world:
But many Muslims tuning into the debate see a demonization of their religion by some Americans who have been painting the 1,400-year-old faith as a dangerous political ideology. They bristle at the ignorance of politicians who argue the structure should not be allowed because Muslims don't allow Christian churches in their countries. Saudi Arabia is the only country to specifically bar churches.
While some conservative American critics allege the building would serve as a "victory mosque" to the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center, Muslims contend the project could serve as a bridge not only to non-Muslims, but to those of their faith who may have lost their way.
And in the process, they're effectively handing Al Qaeda a propaganda victory:
Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.
Opposition to the center by prominent politicians and other public figures in the United States has been covered extensively by the news media in Muslim countries. At a time of concern about radicalization of young Muslims in the West, it risks adding new fuel to Al Qaeda’s claim that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended with violence, some specialists on Islamic militancy say.
“I know people in this debate don’t intend it, but there are consequences for these kinds of remarks,” said Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism for the New America Foundation here.
He said that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric hiding in Yemen who has been linked to several terrorist plots, has been arguing for months in Web speeches and in a new Qaeda magazine that American Muslims face a dark future of ever-worsening discrimination and vilification.
“When the rhetoric is so inflammatory that it serves the interests of a jihadi recruiter like Awlaki, politicians need to be called on it,” Mr. Fishman said.
So the question we need to be asking Laura Ingraham and her pals at Fox is: Why do you hate America? Are you an Al Qaeda operative?
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