Last Friday, the Center for American Progress released a report that found a group of writers and activists spent millions over the last decade to spread fear about Islam in America.
Almost $43 million from seven charitable groups went toward financing anti-Muslim campaigns, the report said, including proposed state laws to ban judges from considering Islamic laws in U.S. courts, opposition to the Islamic center near Ground Zero, and a general encouragement of anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and elsewhere.
There’s no denying that there is anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. Only 37 of all Americans say they have a favorable view of Islam, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll taken in 2010.
However, just as some seek to fan the fires of anti-Muslim sentiment, so do others work to put them out. My Fellow American, a new online film and social media project by Unity Productions Foundation, wants to remind Americans that Muslims are “fellow Americans,” too. The project asks people to contribute stories either about themselves as Muslims, or about their Muslim friends. The group produced an unforgettable introductory film juxtaposing anti-Muslim rhetoric with images of everyday Muslims.
According to a 2010 TIME poll, 62 percent of Americans claim to have never met a Muslim. Instead, Americans shape their views of Muslims from what they hear in the media and from political rhetoric, Unity Productions Foundation says, writing on the site:
American Muslims are so often vilified as ‘the other’ that it is possible not to recognize that most were born in the U.S...[or] came seeking the same freedoms and opportunities that have always attracted people to America.
The cost of feeding the fear of Muslims is high. “Very high,” according to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
“This point has been made shockingly evident in the murderous rampage of right-wing Norwegian extremist, Anders Breivik,” Thistlethwaite wrote in a column in The Washington Post last week. Breivik’s ”Manifesto” cited many of the people profiled in the Center of American Progress report.
The strongest argument against Islamophobia, Thistlethwaite writes, it that it “actually accomplishes the opposite of what its purveyors claim to want [it to].”