I wrote this brief reflection for the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) on the recent US midterm elections.
American civil religion took a massive shellacking all summer in a momentum that reached into the fall as politicians on both sides of the aisle demonized Islam and Muslims. Boosted by the midterm elections, the right-wing has become even more audacious in its Islamophobia. The unrepentant Tea Party hosanna singer Sarah Palin was called out when she retweeted conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s message that described President Barack Obama as a Taliban Muslim illegally elected President USA. The fact that more Americans now believe that President Obama is a closet Muslim than when he was elected as president is an index of hyper-Islamophobia. So the silly season is not really over since the plague is far from over without a remedy in sight. This does not augur well for American civil society nor for political life.
Throughout the electoral campaign Muslim Americans and Islam were dehumanized in rhetoric ranging from Islam being the enemy, opposition to the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan and mosques elsewhere in the country, Qur’an-burning publicity stunts, to conspiracies that Sharia law will displace the US constitution. Here is the bad news: Decent politicians frequently swallowed the Islamophobia pill in different doses. Claims by Sharron Angle that Sharia law will govern US cities infected Senate leader Harry Reid’s campaign and he too voiced opposition to the building of the Manhattan mosque to cite only one example.
But something more pernicious has been unleashed in this electoral campaign that exceeds previous levels. Anything said about Islam and Muslims, the more bizarre and disgusting the better, has become believable. When it comes to Islam, our civil discourses fish in the sewers. The main culprits are not only Fox and Rush Limbaugh but also left leaning comedians like Bill Maher who are equally culpable. Maher added to the dehumanization of Muslims when he copied Juan Williams’ paranoia by claiming that he was spooked by babies named Muhammad in Britain. And, when the prosecutors in the trial of the Canadian-born Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr can offer testimony of a Danish psychologist that Muslim inbreeding “may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool” and this passes without a murmur then surely we are swimming in the sewers of dehumanization.