by Christine Marie
U.S. activists celebrated the revolts in North Africa, not only for their potential to free millions in the Arab world from U.S.-backed dictators, austerity, and repression but for their potential to roll back Islamophobia inside North America. Photos of the resurgent labor movement demonstrations in Wisconsin revealed that U.S. workers felt a new and deep bond with the Arab and Muslim masses fighting back against rulers trying to make them pay for the failures of the global capitalist system.
Pictures of Madison demonstrators’ placards bearing slogans like “Egypt Had It Right!” have been passed around the internet as evidence that the attempts of U.S. rulers to whip up anti-Muslim and pro-war fervor face new obstacles. Nevertheless, the battle against the anti-Islamic efforts of Washington and its supporters is far from over.
On Feb. 13, a mob of around 200 right-wing extremists bullied the attendees arriving at a Yorba Linda, Calif., Islamic Council of North America fundraiser for women’s shelters. The bigots were rallied by Villa Park city council member Deborah Pauly, who pointed to the Muslim families walking by and said, “That is pure and unadulterated evil!” She continued, to growing applause, “I know a lot of Marines who would be happy to send these terrorists to an early meeting in Paradise!” (See video via www.cair.com.)
On Feb. 22, approximately 100 inter-faith opponents of the McCarthyite and anti-Muslim Congressional hearings scheduled this month by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) were confronted at his office in Massapequa, Long Island, by an equal number of rightists shouting, “No Home-Grown Terrorism” and “We Support Peter King!” The Tea Party-type coalition was made up of some of the same groups that came together to stop the building of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, and included extreme right-wing Zionist and Hindu organizations.
About 500 people participated in an important protest on March 6 in Times Square against the racist King hearings. The “Today, I am a Muslim, Too!” rally was initiated by 76 faith-based groups and was addressed by 25 prominent clerics, including Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, the Rev. Michael Ellick of Judson Memorial Church, Rev. Michael Kinnamon of the National Council of Churches, Rev. Amandus J. Derr of St. Peter’s Church, and Dr. Peter Rubenstein of Central Synagogue.
Counter-protesters built a nearby action by claiming that Americans must defend the U.S. Constitution from sharia law. While claims that Muslims are plotting to impose sharia and the caliphate in the U.S. are absurd, these right-wing populist lunacies go hand in hand with a national campaign to facilitate the introduction in 15 states of legislation that would forbid state courts from considering Muslim community norms in child custody or prisoner rights cases. This legislative campaign is the brainchild of Arizona-based attorney, white supremacist, and anti-Semite David Yerushalmi.
A recent bill introduced in Tennessee, Senate Bill 1028, goes further, creating the crime of “material support” to Islamic law and making that crime punishable by 15 years in prison. The goal of the Tennessee bill seems to center on provisions that give the state attorney general the right to freeze the assets of groups that the state finds to be promoting sharia law. This would provide just one more tool to the war makers who want to demonize the major Muslim American charity and civil liberties organizations, state by state if necessary, as part of their broader campaign to prolong military intervention into the Middle East.
It is in this context that Rep. Peter King’s Homeland Security Hearings on “radical Islam” are unfolding. The intent of the hearing, which opens on March 10, has become clearer to a broad range of Americans as King’s roster of “expert” witnesses has come to light. One of the first to be announced was Walid Phares, the head of the World Lebanese Organization, whose leaders are known to have committed torture and atrocities during the Lebanese civil war. Phares was a member of the right-wing Christian militia found responsible for carrying out the massacres at the Shabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in 1982.
Phares was dropped after a blast of negative publicity, but then the media reported that the Dutch anti-Islam propagandist Ayaan Ali Hirsi was scheduled to testify. Hirsi is known to have suggested that the U.S. Constitution be amended to allow discrimination against Muslims. And despite repeated challenges, King insists that over 80% of the mosques in the U.S. are dominated by “radical Islam.”
The events in Egypt that have so inspired working people rising up to challenge cutbacks and job loss provide the perfect basis for building a powerful movement that can force an end to King’s witch hunt. The April 9 and 10 national antiwar marches in New York and San Francisco, rallies at which the defense of Muslim civil liberties will be prominent, promise to be important rebukes to the Islamophobes.
The United National Antiwar Committee (www.unacpeace.org) and the Muslim Peace Coalition (http://muslimpeacecoalitionusa.yolasite.com/), two of the central groups sponsoring the April demonstrations, urge all their supporters to immediately bring together Muslim civil liberties and antiwar activists in their areas, to mount united responses to the King hearings, and to use these efforts to build the national demonstrations.
> This article was originally published in the March 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.