A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.
In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.
Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”
From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.
Allen also advances the notion that Christianity and Islam are locked in a mortal conflict, and have been for thousands of years. “[Muslims] have been mostly unsuccessful because they can’t build anything much more complicated than a donkey cart,” Allen claims, once against disparaging the intellect of practitioners of Islam. Ironically enough, Allen uses Arabic numerals within his post, one of the many contributions of the Muslim world to math and science over the centuries.
However, Allen has a solution to the U.S.’ conundrum in the Middle East. “I think we should send all Muslims back to their native land and be extremely careful about which of them we allow to come back,” he writes. “We should sell or give them small arms and explosive material. They would probably be content to blow each other up for at least a thousand or so more years and achieve martyrdom.”
When reached for comment, the Advance told ThinkProgress that Allen is not an employee of the newspaper, but instead for more than fifteen years has submitted articles for publication. Kathy Bradford, an editor at the Advance, noted that the pieces Allen submits are not edited because they’re printed on the editorial page. Senior Editor Bill Ledford, who clears Allen articles for publication, was unavailable for comment due to a recent hospitalization. When asked whether the Advance stands behind Allen’s comments, Bradford insisted that they do not. “It doesn’t reflect on what we believe,” Bradford said. The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”
Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.