Park51 And The Roots of Islamophobia

At Salon, Justin Elliott traces news stories about the Park51 community center and argues that the anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller was the source of the Islamophobic fervor in opposition to the center, which threatens to linger over the midterm elections and has Democrats inexplicably running scared.

Geller is a well-known agitator and propagandist, the proprietor of the Atlas Shrugs blog. Elliott carefully details her role in spinning the anti-center hysteria not just to her readers, but to press, most particularly the New York Post. While Geller is widely read within a certain cohort, her efforts do not get national attention without the assistance of the conservative media and made-to-order tweets of the likes of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

But Palin and Gingrich offer something to Geller beyond the reach their Twitter followers and Facebook fans: religion. Because the religious right doesn’t think Islam is an actual religion, and therefore doesn’t enjoy the same freedoms Christians do (“freedoms” like denying equal rights to LGBT people). As I wrote in a post “The Utter Ordinariness of Demeaning Islam,” religious right figures from Palin to Franklin Graham to lesser-known figures like O’Neal Dozier, calling Islam “wicked,” “evil,” or a “false religion” is de rigueur.

For the religious right, the fact of the Park51 center’s location is of little relevance — except for the fact that it provides a highly provocative PR hook, one which plays on the emotions of 9/11. For many religious right leaders, Islam needs to be wiped out. It is un-American (because, of course, America was founded as a “Christian nation”) and it is a “worldview with which Christians must contend.”

The Oak Initiative, a new coalition of religious right figures that aims to draw in more African-Americans and Latinos, sent out an email to its followers, urging them to pray for Muslims during Ramadan. “While Muslims around the world will be fasting and seeking to please Allah during the daylight hours from Aug. 11 – Sept. 9, millions of Christians will be praying for the Muslim community, agreeing with God’s heart to reveal Himself to them through his son Jesus Christ,” the email read, hoping to “see the Kingdom of God (Jehovah) advance in the world of Islam.”

The president and Senate majority leader have been convinced that the center has a “right to build” but not right there at Ground Zero. But in the internal logic of the religious right, if America is a “Christian nation,” that thinking could easily be extended to other purported hallowed ground — everywhere.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email