Al Jazeera World

Islamophobia in the USA

Who and what is behind the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States?

Filmmaker: Abdullah Elshamy

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 was a watershed moment in America’s relationship with the Arab world. Amid the grief and US military response that followed, American fear of the threat of international “terrorism” grew.

George W Bush’s so-called “crusade” against what he labelled the “axis of evil” fuelled suspicion of the Middle East as a whole, and as US military action increased and led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this fear turned into one of Arabs generally and Muslims in particular.

With the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, and the way the mainstream US media reports on it, fear of Islam further increased, tending to demonise Muslims and portray them and their faith as dangerous and violent.

Islamophobia in the USA is an investigation by Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy into what and who is behind the rise of anti-Islamic feeling in the United States – what they think, how they operate and where their funding comes from.

Donald Trump is a textbook fascist and we will see whether or not that translates into fascist policies.

by Hank Johnson, Democratic Congressman of Georgia

The investigation uncovers a network of Islamophobic writers, campaigners, funders and politicians who combined to bring about the conditions in which Donald Trump would be elected president in November 2016.

Trump openly campaigned for a total ban on all Muslims entering the US and has since issued executive orders aimed at limiting the movement of nationals of certain majority-Muslim countries to the US.

Elshamy gains access to training exercises by a volunteer paramilitary group in Georgia calling themselves the Georgia Security Force, led by Chris Hill.

Hill and the GSF took part in a local protest in September 2016. It was an armed demonstration against the proposed building of a mosque in Newton County. The protest raised enough local serious security concerns that the county government delayed granting the building permit.

Hill believes firmly in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution about his right to bear arms – but isn’t so keen on the First Amendment relating to the free exercise of religion.

“To bring something of that size and that scope to the outskirts of Newton County is alarming. It wasn’t that it was just a mosque, it wasn’t just elementary school, it wasn’t just a high school, it wasn’t just a college, it wasn’t just a burial ground. It was a compound.”

Newton County’s Muslim community is unfazed by groups like GSF. Al Maad Al Islami Mosque custodian, Mohammad Islam, says “They [GSF] went inside the property. So they trespassed our property. And after that, they went to the court house with the threat that they will stop the Masjid project. They cannot do that because we know our right. As any religious institution we have the right to practice our religion. And this is the law in the constitution.”

Muslims are facing a ‘two-front information war’

Prominent American Muslims like Edward Mitchell IV of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and politicians like Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson talk about Islamophobia as a whole, its growth and the threat it poses to the Muslim community in the US.

“If I was not a Muslim and all I know about Islam is what I saw in the evening news, I might be afraid of Muslims too,” says Mitchell.

The Georgia Security Force

“So it’s one thing to read anti-Muslim rhetoric on the internet or to see it on Fox News. It’s another thing to hear it from the president of the United States and so normal mainstream Muslims are being squeezed between these two opposing forces … We are essentially defending ourselves in a two-front information war,” says Mitchell.

Leading Islamophobic figures like Pamela Geller, lawyer David Yerushalmi, Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, commentator Steven Emerson, Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney play a major role in the anti-Islamic lobby – which under Trump has translated into White House policy.

Daniel Pipes admits that he “will have a larger role in the Trump administration than we did in the Obama administration … we are more connected to it, we know more people, have better relations with them.”

Hank Johnson is pessimistic: “I fear that a lot of the gains that we have fought for will be lost and I fear for the people who will suffer as a result of those losses. Donald Trump is a textbook fascist and we will see whether or not that translates into fascist policies. Our fight efforts to, try to in any way harass or treat people who practise the religion of Islam differently than you treat Americans or other people who are coming to America.”