Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Fox News on a campaign of anti-Muslim bigotry

When Muslim-Americans tried to form a mosque in Kennesaw late last year, some local citizens rallied to demand that the city council block its construction, fearful that it would bring terrorism and other calamities to their community.

“We have heard so many bad things about the Islamic religion, about Sharia law and you see it on TV, and we’re scared of you,” one woman told applicants for the mosque at a public hearing. “I’ll tell you I’m scared to death of you.”

And where on TV might she have heard such things? Who might have inspired such irrational fear?

That's Steve Emerson, a supposed "expert" on Islamic radicalism, appearing on Fox News over the weekend. The network has been putting him on air for days now, giving him a podium from which to warn America that Muslim immigrants have now seized control of large swaths of Europe where the local and national governments have forfeited sovereignty. "It's too late for Europe ... Europe is finished," Emerson has repeatedly told Fox viewers, with the clear implication that America might be next.

As a shocked Sean Hannity put Emerson's message during an interview last week:

"No non-Muslims. No police, no fire. Their own court system. So basically, these countries have allowed Muslims to take over parts of their country!"

Yet none of it's true.

In the clip above, for example, Emerson tells us that the city of Birmingham, England's second largest city, is now totally Muslim, and that non-Muslims don't even dare venture into the city anymore. He also tells us that in "no-go zones" in parts of London, Muslim police now beat and seriously injure anyone who doesn't abide by radical Muslim dress codes.

And as you can tell from her rapt expression, host Jeanine Pirro is buying into every second of the nonsense. Because it sounds pretty serious.

In reality, the "100 percent Muslim" city of Birmingham is 22 percent Muslim. And by almost all accounts the city is a cosmopolitan city where people of all backgrounds get along quite well.** It bears no resemblance whatsoever to Emerson's hyper-specious description.

"I checked whether this was some kind of early April Fool spoof, and then I thought he was talking about Birmingham, Alabama," Gisela Stuart, who represents Birmingham in the House of Commons, said later. "But then I realized he was just utterly and completely wrong."

And how about those no-go zones in London allegedly patrolled by Muslim religious police, with British police supposedly nowhere to be seen?

Emerson's inspiration for that claim seems to date to a two-week period a couple of years ago, when a handful of young thugs in East London began harassing people for supposedly non-Islamic behavior. The reaction was immediate and overwhelming.

"These actions are utterly unacceptable and clearly designed to stoke tensions and sow discord," a spokesman for the East London Mosque said at the time. "We wholly condemn them. The East London Mosque is committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith nor on our streets. We advise anyone who has been harassed by these individuals to contact the police. We will monitor the situation closely and our imams will be speaking out against such actions."

The four men involved were quickly arrested -- by British police . They were tried in British courts and imprisoned in British jails. Since then, no further activity has been reported. That's quite a different picture than that painted by Fox's "expert."

Unfortunately, however, the problem goes much deeper than Emerson's bizarre rants. His high visibility on Fox News is just a symptom of that network's highly irresponsible, ongoing campaign of anti-Muslim bigotry and fear-mongering. And the troubling thing is, the net result of that campaign will be to encourage the very outcomes that they claim to fear most. After all, there's no better way to guarantee the isolation and alienation of any group -- Muslims, Jews, gay people, black people -- than to transform them into objects of widespread fear and hatred within the larger culture.

Even worse, the Fox campaign seems to be coming from the very top, as Rupert Murdoch indicated Friday in a tweet:

That tweet reeks of bigotry from its very first word, "Maybe," as in "maybe most Muslims are peaceful."  The notion that all Muslims anywhere, all 1.8 billion of them, "must be held responsible" is even more noxious.

Tell that to Lassana Bathily, the Muslim immigrant who last week risked his life by hiding shoppers in a Jewish supermarket under attack by a terrorist, and who escaped to aid police officers in their rescue. Tell that to the family of Ahmed Merabet, the French-Muslim policeman who was killed while trying to protect the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims,” Merabet's brother Malek said Saturday. “Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the (French) republic – liberty, equality, fraternity....”

“I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites," Malek went on. "One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither color or religion. I want to make another point: Don’t tar everybody with the same brush, don’t burn mosques – or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring our dead back and it won’t appease the families.”

Like Murdoch and Emerson, I'm a white male of European origins, but don't go making me responsible for their idiocy. We make our choices as individuals, and like many others, I want nothing to do with what they are peddling. It is dangerous, it is driven by fear, and it runs counter to the basic values and better traditions of this country.


** (After a barrage of criticism and ridicule on Twitter and elsewhere, Emerson has apologized for his comments about Birmingham.)

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.