As I already noted in my post about David Brooks recent white washing of the increase in Islamophobia, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a report out on the recent wave of hate crimes directed towards Muslims in the United States. Their spokesman and director of publications and information Mark Potok went on CNN to discuss that article.
He didn't get a chance to do it until near the end of the interview but he rightfully called out the Republican Party and the right wing of their party for fanning the flames on this issue and for their part in "pouring gasoline on this fire."
He's absolutely right and I'm wondering just how badly they and Fox News are going to be willing to keep this up in order to win the mid-term elections this year before they over-play their hand or if they already have. One of my co-workers is deeply religious and involved in his church and he's been following this stuff and is worried that it's going to reflect badly on his church since this wingnut in Florida is so over the top and made sure to point out to me that this pastor didn't represent all Christians.
I tried to explain to him that this was nothing but part of an ongoing strategy by Republicans and our corporate media to fan the flames of racism and hatred and to make sure everyone is afraid of the scary black man in the White House and that it's disgusting and of course doesn't mean that all religious groups or Christians should be tagged with this one crazy person's extremism.
The fact that he's viewing this from that stand point makes me wonder if they have indeed overplayed how the electorate is responding to this nonsense, and I'd love to know if anyone else has had any similar reactions from friends or family as well. People who are middle of the road, non-political and just very religious don't want to be painted as raving wingnuts who hate Muslims. I hope to hell there are a lot of others out there like my co-worker who are watching this stuff and feel like he does as well where it doesn't make him feel like he wants to go vote for Republicans because he's afraid of the scary Muslims, but is embarrassed by what's going on and worried that he or his church is going to get tagged with the extremism instead.
And for anyone that wants to pretend like Fox hasn't been ginning this up to help the Republicans make electoral gains for a long time now, Media Matters has this report.
Cheered on by Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media, conservative activists spent the past year engaged in an anti-Muslim campaign that included efforts to block the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan and demonize the imam spearheading the project. The bigotry has culminated in a Florida pastor's now-"suspended" plans to burn Qurans on September 11 -- plans that the pastor has explicitly linked to the controversy over the Islamic center.
Go read the rest and share with anyone that thinks Fox is a credible "news" organization.
Transcript via CNN below the fold.
WHITFIELD: All right, Susan Candiotti thanks so much. Whether it's the debate over this proposed Islamic site or perhaps the case of a New York cabbie who gets his throat slashed after allegedly being asked if he is Muslim, mosque or mosque like construction sites have been vandalized in several states in the past few months.
So this graph, take a look right here has been compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center and it shows how anti-Muslim hate crimes actually spiked in 2001, right after 9/11, yet have never really faded away completely. Mark Potok, is with the Southern Poverty Law Center, he is joining us now from Montgomery, Alabama. So Mark good to see you.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: We saw the big spike of anti-Islamic crimes and sentiment after 9/11. Are we beginning to see a second spike now? If so, why?
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, we can't prove it because the statistics aren't anywhere near coming in yet, but as antidotal manner, I don't think there's any question at all. But that is what we are seeing.
Exactly how profound that spike's going to be, we really don't know. I think it's worth pointing out, that that graph, one of the more interesting things that that graph shows is not only this massive spike in 2001, a 1700 percent spike up, but then subsequently, a very rapid decline by about two-thirds the following year, just three and a half months later. I would attribute that very largely to the speeches that were given by President Bush at the time which called very proactively for people not to regard our enemies as Muslims or as Arabs, but as a very specific terrorist network al Qaida.
WHITFIELD: So as you continue to watch the behavior and the dialog, the activity as it pertains to any kind of anti-Muslim activity, if there's a point in which you started noticing an up tick in recent years, months, etc, when would that be, what would be the occasion that in your view, might have helped provoke an increase in the sentiment?
POTOK: Well, the first sign of this kind of backlash, which was quite unexpected by us as well as I think by Muslims in general, was the fire bombing of an occupied Islamic center in Jacksonville back in May. Since then, of course or the after math of that we started to hear an awful lot from particular groups like the Stop Islamization of America in New York around the ground zero controversy.
Then, I think things really reached a kind of fever pitch when we had certain politicians like Newt Gingrich for instance making comparisons between Muslims and Nazis. And around the same time we had another group called the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee running ads saying that the Islamic Center would be a celebration of the murders of 3,000 people quote unquote. That I think is when things began to turn white hot.
WHITFIELD: So, how do you monitor this sentiment and where? Is it as simple as public forums as you mentioned Newt Gingerich speaking or crimes such as in Jacksonville, how do you collect all this data and then compile it and what then do you do with this data?
POTOK: Well, I mean, look. It's essentially antidotal data. So what we're really looking at is newspaper stories, we are listening to what politicians say, we are looking at the Internet. The tone of the postings on quite mainstream sites. Newspaper sites and so on. I think in all of those different areas, you see this. But it really, I think, is quite impossible to quantify in any serious way until we get hate crime statistics and that won't be for another year and a half and even those statistics are merely suggestive rather than being precise or very accurate.
WHITFIELD: So if May was perhaps one of those moments in recent time, months, years, that you're noticing this activity, are you getting to a point where you're concerned that it might be on the increase as opposed to leveling off? Is there something you're seeing in the behavior, the rhetoric that tells you we are on the brink of a significant problem?
POTOK: Well, I suspect that we're not on the brink of a significant problem. I think it's already developing. We will see if what we believe we're seeing turns out to be reflected in real statistics. But I think that quite clearly, the numbers will go up. And there's been an enormous amount of attention paid to this.
I mean I think one of the interesting things about the graph that was on your screen is it shows how not only did hate crimes drop off after the president at the time, President Bush, gave these speeches, but that decline in anti-Muslim hate crime continued for most of the last nine years. It just went down, down, down, down and seemed to be fading away. And it's also worth pointing out that prior to 9/11; there was almost no anti-Muslim hate crime in this country, at least in terms of reported crimes. This really, I think, quite blind sided not only us, but the Muslim community in the United States.
WHITFIELD: Mark, quickly do you suppose this kind of information that your organization is able to gather will help national intelligence agencies then compile information they're getting from their resources and perhaps potentially prevent this fervor from getting any worse?
POTOK: Well, I don't think that intelligence or police agencies can do much to prevent this kind of thing. We don't live in a policed state by and large, obviously. I do think that probably the more important role to be played is by leaders, by politicians, faith leaders and so on. We've seen some of that, but I think we have not really seen enough, particularly from the Republican Party or the right wing of the Republican Party, parts of which have been very much a part of pouring gasoline on this fire.
WHITFIELD: Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center thanks so much for joining us from Montgomery, Alabama. Good to see you.
POTOK: Thanks for having me.