Mya Guarnieri and the chimera of a “Tide” of Islamophobia sweeping America

Mya Guarnieri’s latest CiF piece, Islamophobia: The new anti-Semitism, August 26, draws parallels between one pastor in her hometown of Gainesville, Florida  – who apparently is planning to “commemorate” September 11, 2001 by publicly burning the Qur’an – to memories of the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) she recalls from her youth.  Indeed, she goes further, arguing that if this preacher carries through with this act, it would be an indictment on the intolerance of the entire country.

“Gainesville’s struggle is a mirror for the country. And so are my memories. In the past, there was antisemitism, roiling just below the surface. Now, there is Islamophobia. If Terry Jones burns copies of the Qur’an in Gainesville, he’ll leave a shameful scorch on us all.”

Comparisons between the hateful rhetoric of one preacher to the KKK – a violent, white supremacist terrorist group – is, simply, bizarre.   The Klan, though extremely marginal today (Their membership today, which was as high as 4 million in 1920, is no more than several thousand nationwide) has terrorized and murdered scores of African-Americans – and white supporters of integration and civil rights – dating back to 1865.

Of course, beyond the absurd comparison between an extremist group like the KKK and the vitriol of one Florida preacher, Guarnieri is clearly trying to make a broader point.  Since the controversy surrounding the proposed construction of a Mosque near Ground Zero, a narrative has been advanced that a “wave” of anti-Islamic bigotry has been sweeping the nation.  Yet, based on hate crime data collected by the FBI every year, nothing could be further from the truth.

As Jonah Goldberg notes:

According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims increased by a staggering 1,600% in 2001. That sounds serious! But wait, the increase is a math mirage. There were 28 anti-Islamic incidents in 2000. That number climbed to 481 the year a bunch [radical Islamic] terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11.

Now, [the attacks on 9/11] were a hate crime.

Regardless, 2001 was the zenith or, looked at through the prism of our national shame, the nadir of the much-discussed anti-Muslim backlash in the United States. The following year, the number of anti-Islamic hate-crime incidents (overwhelmingly, nonviolent vandalism and nasty words) dropped to 155. In 2003, there were 149 such incidents. And the number has hovered around the mid-100s or lower ever since.

Sure, even one hate crime is too many. But does that sound like a anti-Muslim backlash to you?

Let’s put this in even sharper focus. America is, outside of Israel ,probably the most receptive and tolerant country in the world to Jews. And yet, in every year since 9/11, more Jews have been hate-crime victims than Muslims. A lot more.

In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, again according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim ones by at least 6 to 1. Why aren’t we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?

Because there isn’t one. And there isn’t an anti-Muslim climate either. Yes, there’s a lot of heated rhetoric on the Internet. Absolutely, some Americans don’t like Muslims. But if you watch TV or movies or read, say, the op-ed page of the New York Times — never mind left-wing blogs — you’ll hear much more open bigotry toward evangelical Christians (in blogspeak, the “Taliban wing of the Republican Party”) than you will toward Muslims.”

Interestingly, Guarnieri acknowledges:

“[The city] rejected Jones’s request for permission to build a bonfire. While the city denied that the decision had anything to do with Jones’s intention to burn sacred books, Gainesville’s mayor, Craig Lowe, voiced his discomfort with Jones’s ideology.”

So, at the end of the day Guarnieri’s sole piece of evidence suggesting endemic American bigotry rests on one statement by one preacher who threatened to carry out one hateful act – an act that, due to the decency of the community in question, won’t be carried out, anyway.

Let’s recap: A Qur’an is not being burned.  There is no evidence indicating that Muslims in the U.S. are disproportionately vulnerable to religiously inspired hate crimes.

And, in fact – again, per FBI Hate Crime Statistics – as this 2008 hate crime chart demonstrates, Jews are, BY FAR, the group most likely to be victimized by hate crimes, based on religion, in the U.S.

We’ll wait to see if, based on this data, Guarnieri pens a subsequent piece on the “wave” of anti-Semitism sweeping America.

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