Just 10 years after the Cold War and the threat of Communism were put to bed, the US was the victim of an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack, now known as 9/11. But rather than attributing the attacks to the specific group Al-Qaeda, the government and media declared the enemy’s name as “radical Islam.”
With little understanding of how Islam and radical Islam are different from each other, America finds itself once again at war with an abstract ideology. 13 years after 9/11 an ABC Network poll found that only 27% of Americans have a favorable view of Muslim Americans, down from 47% in 2001. This has led some to believe that we have entered a new era of anti-Islamic fearmongering, raising the question for the American government and public, is Islam the new Communism? The Cold War consumed US foreign affairs for almost 5 decades, and it was paired with a domestic policy that aggressively demonized anyone with Communist sympathies. Left-wing attitudes were declared inherently un-American. In the 1950s the second Red Scare saw a period of heightened political oppression of Communists in America.
Defined by the ardent anti-Communist pursuits of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the term McCarthyism came to describe a culture of reckless, unsubstantiated accusations for political gains. This intense anti-communist propaganda filled the US media and generated support for America’s proxy wars, as well as justifying domestic policies like the FBI’s illegal wire-tapping and infiltration of political organizations, all under the guise of “protecting national security”. A similar scenario can arguably be seen now, with Muslims portrayed as America’s new boogeyman. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush declared war on terrorism. He explained that the 9/11 “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism…and its leader, a person named Osama Bin Laden is linked to many other organizations in different countries.”
Paul Paolucci, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky, believes that by emphasizing Bin Laden’s global network, united under Islamist ideology, the US government was able to legitimize its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Philosopher George Leaman says that just as the US manipulated the Communist threat of the Soviet Union for domestic political purposes, so too did the US manipulate the threat of Islamic terrorism. American journal ‘Foreign Affairs’ argues that since 9/11 the hype about terrorism has resulted in a level of fear that is completely out of proportion to both the capabilities of terrorist organizations and the United States’ vulnerability.
It writes that today, there are no dangers to the United States remotely resembling those of the Cold War era, yet policymakers routinely talk in the same alarmist terms once used to describe the superpower conflict. According to an analysis by the budget expert Linda Bilmes, in the ten years since 9/11, the combined direct and indirect costs of the US response to the murder of almost 3,000 of its citizens have totaled more than $3 trillion. Its defense budget is larger than the next 14 countries’ defense budgets combined.
But terrorist attacks in America are also extremely low. In fact, in 2013 more Americans were killed by toddlers accidentally shooting people, than by terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, in Europe, less than 2% of terrorist attacks in the last 5 years were committed by Muslims. As America’s foreign policy has been dubiously justified by 9/11, so too has its domestic policy.
In 2013 Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on NSA activities revealed that the US used the 9/11 attacks to justify carrying out mass surveillance on every US citizen under the guise of preventing another attack. Revelations such as these have encouraged US citizens to look inwards, towards their own Muslim population as a potential threat to their American way of life. Andrew Bacevich, a History professor at Boston University, says that after 9/11 the generic term ‘terrorism’ failed to provide Americans with an adequate motive for the hijacker’s actions.
Therefore their attacks were explained with a religious motivation. As a result, the terms ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ have converged in the public mind. In 2009, 38% of Americans believed Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, and in 2010 Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade infamously commented that whilst ‘not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims’. The exaggerated aligning of ordinary Muslims with terrorism by the media was recently seen when, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, self-titled ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson falsely described areas of France and England as being governed by Islamic Sharia law and off-limits to non-Muslims. Similarly, media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted, ‘[Muslims] until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible’.
In 2010 an Islamic community center called Park51 was proposed in Lower Manhattan Opposition group ‘Stop Islamization of America’ dubbed it the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ and said it was dishonorable to the victims of 9/11. American politician Sarah Palin wrote that “to build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks”. Writer Raymond Ibrahim insisted that Park51 would be an example of Islam’s historical practice of building mosques on “conquered territory” as symbols of “victory” and that “the largest mosque in America will be used as a base to subvert the rest of the United States”. In reality, the center was not going to be built on Ground Zero but two blocks away.
Furthermore, it was not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center, with an aim to improve inter-faith relations. Muslim-American writer and commentator Arsalan Iftikhar said that “Islamophobia has become the accepted form of racism in America”, whilst Eboo Patel, an American Muslim on Barack Obama’s advisory council concluded that “The core argument emerging…is that Muslims are not and can never be full Americans”. The ‘Foreign Affairs’ journal believes that continuing the narrative of Cold War-like fearmongering by the US government actually benefits both the Republicans and Democrats. While the Republicans benefit from attacking Democrats for ‘weakness’ in the face of foreign threats, the Democrats keep up the front to protect themselves from criticism in the hypothetical chance that the US is attacked. Whilst Muslims in America have not faced the mass job loss and imprisonment for their religion as Communists did during the height of McCarthyism, America’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has seen an increasing number of employment discrimination claims filed by Muslim Americans, suggesting an increase in discrimination.
The question now is, how much longer will Americans – and the West in general – allow themselves to succumb to anti-Islamic mass hysteria?