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Is America Islamophobic? It depends

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 8, 2010 01:56 PM

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(Update: Jeff Jacoby responds here.)

I like Jeff Jacoby's column in today's Globe arguing against the idea that America is an Islamophobic place, not least because it taught me something I didn't know: According to the FBI's 2009 hate-crime statistics, there are far more hate crimes committed against Jews each year than against Muslims (though, as Jeff points out, in neither case was the number very high for a country of 300 million). If you had asked me before I saw Jeff's column, I would have assumed that Muslims were the victims of hate crimes far more often.

The question at hand is a bit too general, though. Just as it doesn't make sense to say America "is" or "isn't" anti-Semitic (in part because the answer is very different in Newton than it is in, say, the Texas town where a cousin of mine was asked by a classmate if she could see her horns), I think it's a bit broad to debate whether or not the country as a whole is Islamophobic (Jeff's column came in response to a Time article that did so). But if you forced me to answer one way or the other, I'd probably say no — the vast majority of Muslims in America go about their lives enjoying all the freedoms members of other faiths do.

That said, if you are going to try to take the pulse of the country, hate-crime statistics are only one metric. There's also the media, and in that department there's a very real Islamophobia problem.

Whatever your feelings on Islam, it's hard to argue that a pundit would last very long if he or she argued that Judaism is not a religion of peace, and that its adherents, because of the Torah, are predisposed toward violence and conquest and should be treated with suspicion. And yet there are plenty of mainstream pundits who do just that.

Similarly, whatever your feelings on the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it's hard to argue that a planned synagogue in that neighborhood would have attracted anywhere near the level of outrage and protest sparked by the mosque. And that issue seized the nation's attention for what felt like months.

(The common response here is that a group of Jews didn't attack us on 9/11. But that's irrelevant, unless you're arguing that Islam has some sort of monopoly on political or religious violence, or that those planning Park51 have terrorist connections whatsoever. These are both steeply uphill arguments to make.)

Is America a dangerous, foreboding place for Muslims? No, and the fact that it isn't is a testament to the nation's melting-pot mentality (and possibly, one might argue, to the fact that our wonderfully unrestricted stance on free speech lets the haters blow off some steam without hurting anybody). But until the nation's talking heads discuss proposed mosques the same way they would discuss proposed synagogues, and until they overlook the brutality in the Koran the same way they overlook the brutality in the Old Testament, we still have a ways to go.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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