The terrorist attacks and mass killings in Norway are a wakeup call for a world that has ignored xenophobic far right extremism in Europe and America and the exponential rise in prejudice, bigotry, and hatred.
Post 9/11, right wing preachers of hate (far right politicians, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political parties, hardline Christian Zionist ministers, and the media) have in the name of freedom of speech deliberately conflated the actions of a small but deadly minority of militants with the religion of Islam and the majority of Muslims. Political and religious extremism and Islamophobia have run rampant clothing themselves in the first amendment. As a result, a social cancer, which has threatened the democratic fabric of American and European societies, has metastasized, impacting not only the safety and security of Muslims but also, as the attacks in Norway demonstrate, all citizens. Like anti-Semites and racists, Islamophobes have long protested that their stereotyping, scapegoating and fear-mongering are not anti-Muslim prejudice.
There is no lack of hate speech in the media, in print and on the internet to empower Islamophobia. The media, whose primary driver is sales and circulations, caters to explosive, headline events: “What bleeds, leads.” The primary focus is often not balanced reporting, or even coverage of positive news about Muslims but on highlighting acts and statements of political and religious extremists.
Where does the hate speech come from?
Anders Behring Breivik’s radical right-wing ideological worldview was shaped by many forces, an anti-immigrant obsession which given demographics translated into an anti-Muslim obsession. He was heavily influenced, as his writings demonstrate, by the writings of what has become a cottage industry of American and European Islamophobes. They are journalists and media commentators for major outlets like The Weekly Standard, Fox TV, the New York Post, The Spectator and Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal, New Statesman, Sunday Telegraph. They are the authors of anti-Muslim books and articles, including Robert Spencer, Melanie Philipps, Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, David Horowitz and Bridgit Gabriel. Until recently, most of the mainstream media consistently reported their diatribes uncritically seldom investigating their backgrounds or the truth for their claims. In the past year that has begun to change with occasional exposes in some mainstream media.
Many of these preachers of hate (far right extremists) are interconnected, writing for each other’s publications or website, cross posting articles, endorsing and promoting books, funding projects. They are interviewed regularly by mainstream media, and brief government intelligence agencies. They conduct training sessions, and advise policymakers.
How did the hate speech in America make its way to Norway?
In his manifesto, the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik mentions Robert Spencer 55 times and Spencer’s Jihad Watch Web site is cited 155 times: Spencer is the author of Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs and The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. He emphasizes that “there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists. While Americans prefer to imagine that the vast majority of American Muslims are civic-minded patriots who accept wholeheartedly the parameters of American pluralism, this proposition has actually never been proven.”
Pamela Geller and her Atlas Web site, mentioned 13 times by Breivik, is a leader in the anti-Park 51 (the so-called mosque at Ground Zero) movement. She and Spencer co-founded the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, which The Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US’s leading political watchdog group, classified as a hate organization. Geller has also strongly defended former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps in the 1990s and defends Radovan Karadzic, whose trial she has likened to Nuremberg.
Geert Wilders, cited 15 times, is a controversial Dutch politician and leader of the Party of Freedom who spreads preaches his radical rhetoric not only in Europe but also in America. In June 2011, Wilders was found not guilty in his trial for “hate speech,” prompted by his calling the Quran “fascist” and comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
“There is no such a thing as a moderate Islam. Islam’s heart lies in the Koran. The Koran is an evil book that calls for violence, murder, terrorism, war and submission…. The Koran calls upon Muslims to kill the Kaffirs, the non-Muslims.” “Islam is something we can’t afford any more of in the Netherlands. I want the fascist Quran banned. We need to stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands. That means no more mosques, no more Islamic schools, no more imams.” Like other Islamophobes, Wilders presents himself as a victim of political correctness, a victim in the war against freedom of speech: “There is an ongoing Jihad against free speech in the whole of Europe.”
Brigitte Gabriel,( a.k.a. Nour Saman), the founder of American Congress For Truth (ACT) in a 2008 Speech to the Intelligence Summit, warned: “America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy: Islam. You hear about Wahabbi and Salafi Islam as the only extreme form of Islam. All the other Muslims, supposedly, are wonderful moderates…. News pictures and video of these events represent a canvas of hate decorated by different nationalities who share one common ideology of hate, bigotry and intolerance derived from one source: authentic Islam. An Islam that is awakening from centuries of slumber to re-ignite its wrath against the infidel and dominate the world.”
David Horowitz, a former member of the New Left and now a far-right neocon, is the founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and editor of FrontPage Magazine and author of Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.
Horowitz has close ties to Spencer, Geller, Wilders and others like Daniel Pipes, a prominent far-right crusader and founder of Campus Watch. Horowitz’s Freedom Center has supported Spencer’s Jihad Watch and promoted Spencer and Geller’s books. Among other far-right groups Chernick has funded are: Bridgette Gabriel’s American Congress for Truth; Aish HaTorah, funders of the anti-Muslim films Obsession and Third Jihad; Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum.
Where do we go from here?
Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, will not be eradicated easily or soon. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political parties have done well in European elections. In the US, as the 2008 presidential elections, the 2010 Congressional elections, anti-mosque and anti-Shariah hysteria have shown Islamophobia has gone mainstream. In both Europe and America, hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise despite the fact that major polls show that majorities of Muslims, like their fellow citizens, integrated into their societies.
We all (governments, policymakers, the media, educational institutions, religious and corporate leaders) have a critical role to play in countering the voices of hate, the exclusivist theologies and ideologies. As we know from the history of ant-Semitism and of racism in America, bigots and racists aren’t born, as the lyrics from South Pacific remind us: “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Soon we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While some may seek to exploit the occasion, let it be a time for coming together, a time for uniting to build and protect our shared future and marginalize all forms of prejudice and extremism.