While President Obama has undertaken a series of valuable efforts to emphasize to the Muslim world that the U.S. is not at war with them, that message is being undercut by radical conservatives here at home who are hell-bent on opposing construction of Muslim places of worship. In explaining the opposition, the hyperbolic right-wing organization Family Security Matters stated: “Mosques are centers of indoctrination and propaganda, and of exhortations to wage war against the infidel — us.”
From the east coast to the west coast, right-wing critics are engaging in open hostility to the construction of mosques. Most famously, conservatives — including Sarah Palin — are rallying against the construction of a mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York because, as the New York Post put it, “where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems.” Evoking the imagery of war, critics have termed their effort: “Kill the Ground Zero Mosque.”
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, protesters are similarly disparaging a proposed mosque. “In Islam, a mosque means ‘We have conquered this country,’” one opponent said. “They’re going to say, ‘We have conquered Tennessee.'” Last month, Lou Ann Zelenik — a Republican candidate for Congress in that area — claimed the mosque was “designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.”
The planned construction of a mosque in Southern California is inspiring fierce opposition from local conservatives, with some ominously warning of confrontation if the project moves ahead:
The pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, just across a cul-de-sac from the site of the mosque, said the two religions “mix like oil and water” and predicted a “confrontational atmosphere” if the project moves forward.
“The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread,” said Pastor Bill Rench.
“There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing,” he said.
In an event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund last week on homegrown extremism in the U.S., Duke University Professor David Schanzer expressed concerns about “the tone of public discourse” can have in alienating Muslims within American Society. He observed that people have been allowed to “say things about Muslim Americans and Islam that they couldn’t say about any other racial or ethic group and still be respected or still hold a high position in their community.”
Georgetown University Professor of Religion John Esposito adds, “Islamophobia must be recognized for what it is, a social cancer as unacceptable as anti-Semitism, a threat to the very fabric of our democratic, pluralistic way of life.”