Bringing Light to the Media Darkness

Does the United States need an official Islamophobia monitor?

The Ilhan Omar-sponsored bill sounds like a gesture against prejudice. Still, the effort may do more to legitimize a form of anti-Semitism than to counter hate against Muslims.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), congressional reception for newly elected congressional representatives. Credit: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), congressional reception for newly elected congressional representatives. Credit: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

All decent people should oppose hate. That’s especially true when it comes to intolerance of religious faiths. So when the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill last week that would focus on a particular brand of religious bias, in theory, it ought to have generated across-the-board support. But if there was a groundswell of opposition in Congress, especially from Republicans to the “Combating International Islamophobia Act,” contrary to the spin coming from the bill’s sponsors, it wasn’t because one of our two major parties is in favor of Islamophobia. It’s because the identity of the bill’s principal sponsor is a tipoff that there’s more going on here than just an anodyne push against prejudice.

The alleged prevalence of Islamophobia in American discourse has been a recurrent theme in the rhetoric of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) since she entered Congress three years ago. Omar hasn’t accomplished much in her time on Capitol Hill, though she has become an expert at playing the victim card. Indeed, every time she and her fellow “Squad” member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), have come under scrutiny for their own problematic rhetoric and stands, the claim that their critics are Islamophobes has become standard operating procedure for the congresswoman and her legion of apologists in the liberal mainstream media.

Omar’s trafficking in anti-Semitic memes about Jews buying influence and congressional support for Israel (“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”) wasn’t a one-off. Along with Tlaib, she’s an open supporter of the anti-Semitic BDS movement who took to the floor of the House last May to libel Israel as an “apartheid state” and to attempt to delegitimize its right to defend its citizens when attacked by Hamas terrorists.

No matter what she does, the consistent answer from her partisan Democratic and pop-culture cheering section is that those who criticize her are not just wrong; they are “Islamophobes.”

So while it’s entirely predictable that she and her allies—such as left-wing Jews like Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the other principal sponsor of the bill—would seek to treat Islamophobia as an international plague that should be monitored by the U.S. State Department, their partisan foes aren’t mistaken when they say there’s something wrong with the idea.

The point of the bill isn’t so much to get American diplomats to pay attention to anti-Muslim prejudice as it is to treat the issue as morally equivalent to anti-Semitism, for which there is already a legislatively mandated office in the State Department to monitor the problem.

That is not to deny that there is anti-Muslim prejudice. In China, the ethnic Uyghurs are Muslims subject to brutal persecution by the Communist government in what amounts to genocide. The same is true for the Rohingya in Myanmar who are Muslims.

Yet as we look around the world, the more prevalent pattern of bias is that of Muslims persecuting non-Muslims. Indeed, it is sadly the case that throughout the Muslim world, religious minorities, principally Christians, are subjected to brutal prejudice and oppression. That was a major concern of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; however, now that the Democrats are back in charge at Foggy Bottom, the spin coming from the State Department is that the Trump administration cared too much about the issue rather than more generic human-rights causes.

The real reason to oppose this attempt to treat Islamophobia in the same way that the government is supposed to counter anti-Semitism is that those who have done the most to champion this cause are primarily interested in using the former to bury the latter.

Along with Omar and “The Squad,” the leading voice against Islamophobia in this country is the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR). Though it poses as a civil-rights group, CAIR began life as the political front for an effort to raise money for Hamas terrorists via the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation in the 1990s. Since then, it has worked assiduously to promote the notion that American Muslims are under siege from prejudice in the United States, especially by promoting the myth that there was a post-9/11 backlash against Islam. That claim always lacked statistical evidence to back it up and was contradicted by the fact that every year in the past two decades, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes were dwarfed by the far larger total of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Just as significantly, CAIR’s leaders are themselves a font of anti-Semitic prejudice. That was recently illustrated by a speech by Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco branch of the group. She advised Muslims to avoid engaging in interfaith dialogue with “Zionist synagogues,” Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish institutions because they were “enemies” and responsible for a conspiracy behind Islamophobia, police shootings of African-Americans and enforcement of immigration laws.

Billoo is no outlier in making such charges since the thrust of CAIR advocacy has always been to demonize Israel and its supporters, and to treat any pushback against these slurs as, you guessed it, Islamophobia.

Indeed, the closer you examine the campaign against Islamophobia that has become fashionable on the political left the easier it is to see that it is a form of gaslighting. In this way, hate groups like the pro-BDS Students for Justice in Palestine or CAIR are not only given a pass for their prejudice, but are also assisted in their attempts to dismiss any discussion about holding them accountable for their Jew-hatred as a way to suppress and persecute Muslims.

Genuine efforts to discriminate against Muslims because of their faith are despicable. But the notion that Islamophobia is a problem comparable to the surge of anti-Semitism that has been sweeping across the globe is in most respects nothing more than an attempt to change the subject. It’s a tactic designed to shift the narrative about religious prejudice from that of Muslims and their unlikely ideological allies on the left seeking to deny rights and legitimacy to Jews to one about the haters really being victims.

That many Jews active in the world of community relations and interfaith dialogue are willing to go along with this charade in the name of a common struggle against prejudice is deeply troubling. Yet it is more a function of the way many on the left feel impelled to side with fellow Democrats like Omar rather than with those who are actually trying to fight back against anti-Semitism, even if they happen to be conservatives or Republicans than anything else.

Much like the recent effort to depict Omar as an innocent victim of religious prejudice as a result of her dustup with conservative outlier Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), it’s likely that House Democrats will pass her bill with a party-line vote. But the Senate shouldn’t fall for this charade. The State Department doesn’t need a new office whose real purpose will be to defend anti-Semites rather than countering religious persecution.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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