At issue | Various articles, columns and editorials on anti-Islam protests
Xenophobia, intolerance and, at times, hatred toward other religions, ethnic groups, ideas and ideologies have been exhibited throughout the history of the United States.
If not in high school, at least in college, most students are exposed to early Americans' belligerent attitudes toward native peoples, including the desire of settlers to usurp native lands, even if it involved ethnic cleansing.
Next came the turn of African-Americans, and then the stream of immigrants arriving in America — Irish, Germans, Italians, Greeks, Chinese and Japanese, among others, and then religious intolerance and hatred of Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, Hutterites, Amish, Mennonites, etc.
In spite of the governmental, judicial and educational efforts to inculcate multiculturalism and pluralism into the body politic over the last 50 years, intolerance persists in American society.
Anti-Islam prejudice is ingrained in the history of Europe and Christianity from the Middle Ages onward, and it remains so because it presents the most embracing theological, ideological and geo-political challenges to Europe and the U.S.
As with intolerance in U.S. culture and society, these challenges have ebbed and flowed depending on the intensity of rivalries and competition among Muslim and Christian powers at any given time.
The grievances of the "political Islamists" are the depredations and exploitations of the imperial powers, especially the British, French and Dutch and their suppression of indigenous expression of self-determination. Middle Eastern Muslim extremists' hatred of the U.S. is largely because of U.S. support of monarchial, dictatorial, authoritarian regimes across North Africa and the Middle East.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq since 2003 and the ensuing destruction and death have heightened this hatred. The U.S. has military operatives and ongoing operations in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan — as well as bases in many other largely Muslim countries in Africa.
But what of specific American intolerance, dislike and hatred of Islam and of Muslims? The major reason for current anti-Muslim expression is that anti-terrorism sentiments, although valid in and of themselves, provide vehicles for expressing anxieties that Americans — especially white, middle-class and middle-aged — feel toward their diminishing standard of living, increasing taxes, high health care costs, threatened pensions, etc.
Although not wealthy, they are attracted to beliefs of the super rich. For example, billionaires Charles and David Koch have received a lot of attention for their support for right-wing causes since Jane Mayer's article in the Aug. 30 The New Yorker.
The Kochs exploit the reliable vehicle of populist, nationalist and religious rhetoric to stir the hearts and minds of people sympathizing with movements such as the Tea Party to mask the motives of the wealthy.
Why, for example, are so many of the intolerant anti-Muslim, anti-Obama crowd also against health-care legislation? It seems that such legislation is "socialism," European welfare-statism and, hence, un-American.
Unlike the pragmatism that many American historians tout as characteristic of Americans, this crowd espouses ideology over pragmatism. They are not wealthy, but their sponsors and mentors are. Economic and social fears, immigrant challenges and intrusion of different religions are best expressed through an ideological prism to gain legitimacy.
But unlike former periods of intolerant outbreaks, the current era of diminishing global power of the U.S. and its simultaneous involvement in the world of 1.5 billion Muslims present more challenges to the U.S. than similar circumstances did to the British Empire in the wake of World War I.
Then, the Muslim world was unable and unprepared to respond in any effective manner. That is no longer the case.
That is why Gen. David Petraeus has stated that two causes for increased Muslim resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and the increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities in the United States and Europe. It remains to be seen whether or not the U.S. government, Americans and Europeans are ready to change the foreign policies contributing to this resistance.
Robert Olson of Lexington has written nine books on Middle East history and politics.