Anti-Islam rhetoric is spawning a new threat to security in the United States as extremist groups plot to kill Muslims
Those who naively and optimistically believe the “enlightened” West is incapable of repeating the genocidal horrors of the 20th century are those most susceptible to mankind’s destructive impulse.
In American society, there’s an unconscious faith in the nation state, technology, modernity and science that assures Americans that the horrors of a fascistic state could never happen here. But to believe this one must forget, as Karen Armstrong, a prodigious religious historian reminds us, that the most advanced educational institutions in the Western world were located directly next door to the gas chambers.
Notwithstanding the fact it was not that long ago hundreds of thousands Japanese American civilians were harassed, removed from their homes, and placed into military internment camps. Decades later those of Russian heritage were treated to similar discrimination.
Today, it is the Muslims who are victims of national headlines. Anti-Muslim bigotry in America is now at fever pitch. What started out as mere suspicion of Muslims in the wake of 9/11 has now metastasised into anti-Muslim hysteria, and, as history has taught us, hysteria is the precursor to violence.
This week, a May 2015 FBI Counterterrorism document published on the website Public Intelligence shows US federal law enforcement has expanded its terror warning to include probable right wing militia attacks against Muslims.
The FBI warning reads:
“Militia extremists are expanding their target sets to include Muslims and Islamic religious institutions in the United States. This has resulted in increased violent rhetoric and plotting and has the potential to lead, over the long term, to additional harassment of or violence against Muslims by domestic extremists. The FBI makes these assessments with high confidence on the basis of a large body of source reporting generated mainly since 2013. This information augments prior FBI analysis that established militia extremists target government personnel and law enforcement officers, perceived threats from abroad, and individuals or institutions that seek to constrain Second Amendment rights.”
According to the document, the FBI has noted an increase in surveillance of mosques and avocation of violence against Muslims via armed militia groups over the course of the past two years. Chillingly, the FBI notes that a militia group in Mississippi “discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim and posting video of the attack to the Internet,” while another “posted calls over social media to kill Muslims attending worship services”.
Significantly, the FBI contends that it is anti-Muslim rhetoric and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories disseminated by “self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism, Internet bloggers, and some news media” that have fuelled these right wing militias into becoming what the FBI now considers a serious threat.
According to the FBI: “Salient perceptions within militia extremism that contribute toward an anti-Muslim bias include the following: Islam represents a foreign threat, equivalent to those which emanate from illegal immigration or international terrorism.”
So who are the “self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism”?
For more than a decade anti-Muslim bigots – particularly New Atheists, the Christian Right, the Republican Party, and those pro-Israel groups loosely identified as the Islamophobic Network – have portrayed Islam as the enemy of both American values and Western civilisation itself.
Richard Dawkins has called Islam “the greatest evil in the world today”. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has urged a “military war” against Islam and more recently is tied to ACT! For America, a well-funded hate group. The Sharia conspiracy theory, which posits Muslims are secretly plotting to implement Islamic law in America, is now a component of Republican Party policy, while Sam Harris has protested against mosques and warns of a “Muslim tide” – otherwise known as the “demographic time bomb”.
These are the same memes and conspiracies used by both the anti-theistic Soviets and the anti-Semitic Nazi Party. In drawing comparisons between anti-Muslim bigotry in America today with anti-Semitism in early-mid 20th Century Germany, Doug Sanders, author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West, notes that although “Jews had faced hatred and distrust in Western countries for thousands of years,” it was the mass migration of millions of Jews from Eastern Europe during the period 1870 to 1945 that “set off loathing and fear on a scale that had never been seen before in the West”.
Anti-Semitic activists painted Jewish believers as potential domestic enemies and a threat to Western secular values. “In Britain and North America, the result was intolerance and exclusion, but in Central Europe, it was outright hatred and murder, culminating in the Holocaust,” notes Sanders.
In America today, the more than 2.5 million Muslims find themselves facing a reality that is somewhere between the middle of Sander’s two weigh points i.e. “intolerance and exclusion” versus “hatred and murder”.
It matters not to these anti-Muslim bigots how American Muslims live their lives. The mere fact they are a Muslim means they are stupid at best, violent at worst – and therefore must be dealt with, according to the bigot.
After all, if you believe Islam is “the greatest force for evil in the world today” and if you believe Islam to be violent, irrational, and intolerant, “then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?” as Reza Aslan, a prodigious religious commentator asked of New Atheists. While Armstrong, in an interview, despaired that the language of secular extremists, particularly New Atheists, “is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps”.
The great moral philosophers have demonstrated that while we advance materially, technologically and intellectually, we do not advance morally and there’s nothing in the history of man to suggest otherwise. Our proclivity for the irrational remains as natural as breathing, which is why the “enlightened” Westerner can seamlessly marry “technological, scientific, and intellectual advances with ancient, primitive lusts for violence, domination, and death”.
Omer Bartov, a historian who is widely considered to be the world’s leading expert on the subject of genocide and the Holocaust, says it is not the brutal SS goon whom we cannot comprehend: “We have seen his likes throughout history. It is the commander of a killing squad with a PhD in law from a distinguished university in charge of organising mass shootings of naked women and children whose figure frightens us. It is not the disease and famine in the ghettos, reminiscent perhaps of ancient sieges, but systematic transportation, selection, dispossession, killing, and distribution of requisitioned personal effects that leaves uncomprehending, not for the fact but their implications for our own society and for human psychology.”
Am I suggesting the kindling for a potential genocide against Muslim Americans has been lit? I don’t know. Certainly, it is improbable the State would or could ever spiral into the unthinkable abyss. The fact of the matter is, however, that law enforcement has identified the threat of non-state violence (militias) against Muslims and we should take this seriously, which means identifying and confronting those the FBI has identified as the “self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism”.
There has not been a cataclysmic jihad inspired terrorist attack on American soil since 2001. Nor were there any before 9/11. But how will those who have been led to believe Islam is the “enemy of Western civilisation” react the day after the next catastrophic attack takes place in America or the one after that?
The past week alone serves as a chilling warning.
A KKK member was arrested for plotting to build “death ray machine” to kill Muslims via pumping poisonous radioactive gas into a number of mosques. A Texas lawmaker shared a post on his Facebook page suggesting an atomic bomb should be dropped on the Muslim population. George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013, has teamed up with the owner of a gun shop who promises his customers a “Muslim free zone”. Jon Ritzheimer, an avowed atheist and coordinator of the recent Phoenix mosque protest, promised bloodshed against Muslims.
While the first of the Fox News hosted Republican Party presidential debates became a contest to see who could say “radical Islam” the most number of times, for the purpose of conveying the problem is with the Muslim faith itself, rather than with radical terrorist groups that twist Islam as a means to carry out their political ends.
These are dangerous times. The FBI knows it. And so should we.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Protesters with the NYC Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, rally near the proposed Islamic Center 22 August, 2010 in New York (AFP)