With Islamophobia seemingly spreading, two questions come to mind: first, why now? And second, when do we worry that we, as a country, are suddenly in the process of stigmatizing an entire class of peaceful, integrated citizens?
Islam is by no means ancient to America, but nor is it particularly new. We’re nine years, and three election cycles, past 9/11. While the effects continue to ripple through society, we’ve finally distanced ourselves from the alarmism and all-consuming fear that typified our early response, and threatened to erode our civil liberties. Why have we, now, discovered an enemy in our Islamic fellow-citizens?
One thought: this instinct has always been here, but lurking below the surface. For all that he abused the powers of the police state, to the detriment of a relatively small (but non-trivial) set of clearly innocent Muslims (Arar, El-Masri, etc.), Bush, like Blair, successfully funneled unproductive anger away from the American Muslim population at large. Accordingly, nativist elements never acquired the legitimacy they need to move from the fringe to the mainstream.
What Bush denied the far-right, today’s Republican leaders have gladly delivered — unfocused anger, in spades — as an exclusive alternative to substantive discourse. The new political rhetoric first made it okay to hate; now, through Palin, Gingrich, and Lazio, it’s made it okay to hate Muslims.
Ideas have consequences. If we fail to stem this tide, someone will get hurt. And regardless, nine years later, we’ve handed Al-Qaeda what it didn’t win, to our great credit, on 9/11 — the beginnings of an all-out “clash of civilizations.”