October 2010

Islamophobia is not like a man who was stabbed on the street and whose wound is now healing. Islamophobia is a chronic and resilient disease, predating 9/11 and ingrained in Western society.

Cases like Reverend Terry Jones of Florida and his Qur’an burning madness are often treated like random cases of violent hatred, longstanding products of a ten-year-old tragedy.

But the 2001 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Centre, and the subsequent media circus surrounding pseudo- revenge plots and invasion of the Middle East did not create islamophobia in the United States. It has been a by-product of a litany of incidents in a lengthy political history of East/West relations.

The media frenzy surrounding Reverend Jones’ retaliation to controversy surrounding plans for an Islamic centre, (sup- posedly two blocks away from 9/11’s Ground Zero in New York) sensationalized the incident, making it appear like a random or unique example of a hate crime in America.

The goal here is not to understate the issue, or to imply that bargaining burned holy scripture in exchange for moving the Islamic centre is anything but abhorrent, but the question that needs to be asked is: Is this really something new?

Reverend Jones is obviously not the only American citizen plagued by intolerance. Close to this year’s anniversary of the at- tacks, the editor of a Maine newspaper had to issue a front-page apology for putting an image and accompanying story about the end of the holy month of Ramadan on September 11, 2010.

This came in response to local readers being ‘offended’ by the sight of peaceful Muslims, one Portland Press Herald reader wrote to the paper, “I don’t want to hear how caring the Muslim religion is on 9/11” (as reported by news.gather.com).

By continually overstating and re-examining these inci- dents, media is not necessarily exhibiting how rooted islamo- phobia and anti-Arab racism is in America, which is what it should be doing.

These examples should be used to reveal the depth and reach of islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, which in turn would be helpful in deconstructing the historical and contem- porary processes that foster this hatred.

Instead, Reverend Jones is a mascot for the supposed “randomness” or unsystemic nature of islamophobia, which only serves to gloss over the particular features of this painful and destructive phenomenon.

Additionally, media coverage is then forced to shift to the response to Reverend Jones’ crass pronouncement, which included a number of violent protests across the globe.

Quotes from General David Petra- eus, the U.S. and NATO commander Kabul, Afganistan, Robert Gates, the U.S. defence secretary, President Obama himself and even the Vatican peppered online media coverage on the incident.

They appropriately denounced the burning of the Holy Qur’an, but by this time, who can even remember that the Reverend Jones’ controversy was in response to another storm altogether?

American citizens had taken issue with the idea of an Islamic centre being built so close to Ground Zero, so close to the anniversary of the tragic incident.

The Associated Press quotes Editor Richard Connor of the Portland Press Herald as saying “the newspaper should have shown sensitivity ‘toward the painful memories stirred by the anniversary of 9/11.’”

What I would like to see discussed is why painful memories of this national crisis are so profoundly and acutely linked to Islam.

Why do the uncreative antics of a bigot get more headlines and more dis- cussion than the root issue itself? Let us revaluate how and why the very sight of American citizens practising their faith is immediately linked to the media-cultivated and propagandic enemy of the American people.

Terry Jones is a dime a dozen, and will remain so as long as the Western media climate persists in avoiding the genesis, the ground zero of islamo- phobia and instead favours the token attention-seekers of hatred and racism.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2010