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Letter from the Editor

John L. Esposito, Editor in Chief

One of the most renowned scholars in the field of Islamic studies in the United States, Editor in Chief John L. Esposito provides a regular commentary for visitors to the site. These letters discuss topics pertaining to this resource and the Islamic world, developments on the site and other issues.

John L. Esposito

An Apocalyptic New Normal

Fear of Islam has become the new normal in American and European popular culture. Islamophobia—prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims—has grown exponentially, as have hate crimes against Muslims and even Sikhs who are mistaken for Muslims and have, in several alarming cases, been murdered.

The Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Survey found that: "no religious, social, or racial and ethnic group [is] perceived as facing greater discrimination in the U.S. than Muslims."

Its research confirms that Islam and the vast majority of Muslims have been brush-stroked as potential terrorists, thanks in part to domestic and international attacks attributed to fringe groups such as Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Reflecting and reinforcing this strong Islamophobic trend in America, candidate Donald Trump told Anderson Cooper of CNN, "Islam hates us." The President believes that Islam, a religion of 1.6 billion adherents and the second largest religion in the world, "hates" America. Asked if he was talking about the radical Islam of ISIS and other extremist groups, he said, "It's very hard to separate, because you don't know who's who."

Unlike Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, President Trump, Counselor and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Walid Phares, Sebastian and Katherine Gorka, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and, until recently, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, make no distinction between the religion of Islam and Muslim terrorist ideologies. Much like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Bannon and other members of the administration believe in an impending clash of civilizations. In a recent video interview , he warns: "We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism."

This apocalyptic worldview has contributed to a number of shortsighted, fear-driven policies. There are even recent reports that the Trump administration wants to change the name of the program "CVE", Countering Violent Extremism to Countering Islamic Violence (CIV) even though the FBI and Department of Justice have identified US right wing extremists a bigger threat to America than ISIS.

These unfounded fears have culminated in the recent Muslim ban, the Presidential Executive Order, subtitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States." Though shot down by the courts, the order aims to halt the refugee resettlement process and bar all immigration from seven Muslim majority countries.

And what are the facts about these countries? Uri Friedman calls this "a phantom menace," pointing out:

Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015… Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

This Executive Order seriously compromises American values, and critics believe that it is unconstitutional. Connecticut's Senator Chris Murphy warns: "The decision to turn our backs on millions of men, women, and children attempting to flee torture and terror shrinks us as a nation, and marks an unconscionable abandonment of our founding principles."

How have we forgotten that America is a nation founded by religious refugees, that we are a nation of immigrants, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty? Donald Trump's mantra stresses the need for extreme vetting even though, in fact, the US already has an extremely stringent two-year vetting process.

How Have We Gotten To This Point?

Mass and social media that focus on explosive, headline events ("If it bleeds, it leads") have made Islamophobia a global constant. For example, in America, Fox News has virtually ceased all positive comments about Muslims. In 2016, their coverage of Muslims was 100% negative. Globally, in 2016, about two thirds of all news regarding Muslims was critical or unfavorable. Moderate voices, calling for mutual understanding, and representatives of the great majority of peaceful Muslims and their contribution to society, are largely ignored.

Over the past decade, an explosion of what can only be called an organized Islamophobia network has been feeding this negativity: a cottage industry of pundits, bloggers, authors, documentaries, lobbyists, elected officials, carefully cultivated by anti-Muslim polemicists, all supported by tremendous resources. According to the Center for American Progress $42.6 million flowed from seven foundations over ten years to support Islamophobic authors and websites.

A 2016 the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) report identified a total of $205,838,077 in total revenue between 2008 and 2013 supporting the inner core of the US-based Islamophobia network.

No wonder then that The Southern Poverty Law Center's 2016 annual report on hate and extremism in America reported that the number of hate groups rose for a second year in a row. "As Donald Trump's campaign electrified the radical right, the number of hate groups grew to 917 in 2016—up from 892 in 2015… The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups—from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year."

President Trump's alarmist warning in Poland totally misses the mark: "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive…I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph."

Trump's hyperbole, with its Armageddon-like language, exaggerates and distorts the condition of the West and the threats it faces. There is no major clash of civilizations between Western and Islamic civilizations. While a terrorist threat exists, it emanates from a relatively small but dangerous and deadly group of Muslim militants who number in the thousands, not millions. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of 1.6 billion Muslims are as concerned with and often more concerned with terrorism and security since they make up the vast majority of victims and casualties.

But while hate groups are on the rise, there has been a growing awareness of anti-Muslim bigotry as well. And though the damage from the last few months alone will take years to repair, an increasingly vocal group of activists, artists, and politicians have linked the human rights of Muslims with the overall resistance to the Trump administration—most notably in the recent Women's March, the largest of its kind. The situation remains dire, but perhaps the recent madness has at last exposed anti-Muslim rhetoric as a harmful, manipulative political tactic that divides communities and erodes the rule of law.

John L. Esposito
Editor in Chief
Oxford Islamic Studies Online
June 2017

This letter is adapted from an article that previously appeared on the Huffington Post.

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