The roots of Islamophobia are buried deep in the rubble of 9/11
A girl holds a sign during a rally by members of the Muslim community and against Islamophobia - Photo: Juan Medina/REUTERS

The roots of Islamophobia are buried deep in the rubble of 9/11

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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This week, an investigation was opened in Connecticut, after an intentional fire consumed the Diyanet Mosque, in the latest episode of a series of attacks against Muslim worshippers in Western countries

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This week, a federal criminal investigation was opened in New Haven, Connecticut, after an intentional fire consumed the Diyanet Mosque, in the latest episode of a series of attacks against Muslim worshippers and temples in Western countries.

At the beginning of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan across the world, which includes daily fasting from dawn to sunset and ends with the holiday Eid al-Fitr on August 15, local and federal authorities classified the fire as arson.

No one was injured, yet investigators are offering a USD $2,500 reward for information related to the attack, said local media.

On April, the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, Connecticut’s state capital, received a racist, violent threat to burn down its temple just after terrorist shootings at two mosques of Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 50 people.


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Also on April, the suspected gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on members of a San Diego, California, synagogue, killing one person, was linked to an arson blaze at the nearby Dar-ul-Arqam mosque.

John Earnest, 19, left behind a note referencing the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

As we can see with these incidents, Islamophobia is entering a new phase of growth and the heinous crimes in New Zealand, as feared, have become a source of inspiration for racist, white supremacists, neo-nazi groups, and “lone wolves.”

It is no coincidence that Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Australian responsible for the shootings in Christchurch, claimed inspiration from Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011.

While Islamophobia has been present in Christian societies at least since the Spanish Reconquista and the Crusades, there is no doubt that in recent years this phenomenon has found a fertile breeding ground in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

As it will be recalled, the tragic and historic events attributed to the Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden and his organization Al Qaeda (The Base), a former United States ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union, laid the foundations for a renewed discrimination of Muslims and, more important, served as an ideal pretext to gather public support for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The climate of public hysteria was reinforced by the anthrax attacks that followed 9/11—seven years later the FBI investigation led to the suicide of the main suspect, the American bioweapons expert Bruce Edward Ivins,— and the subsequent Al Qaeda bombing attacks that left thousands of deads in Indonesia, Spain, Great Britain, Iraq, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Paradoxically, Islamophobia has been strengthened by the intolerance of Wahhabism, the belligerent official, state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia which promoted the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda before 9/11.

Worldwide influence

With the help of funding from Saudi oil exports, Wahhabism and its associated network of preachers and madrasas (Koranic schools) have achieved worldwide influence from the Persian Gulf to Jakarta and the mosques filled with immigrants in Europe and the U.S.

Moreover, Wahhabi radicalism and its symbiosis with the ruling House of Saud in Riyadh have been exposed by the “regime change” wars in Libya and Syria, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, and one of the largest mass executions (37 people) of alleged “terrorists” in Saudi history on April.

After 9/11, the Bush administration implemented security measures such as the infamous Patriot Act, used on a daily basis as a justification to discriminate Muslims and other minorities.

Let us not forget that in a polarized environment, summarized by the phrase “axis of evil” coined by President George W. Bush—ironically, North Korea was added to Iraq and Iran in order to avoid an anti-Muslim bias—, Dennis Hastert, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, declared without any evidence that “terrorists were infiltrating the U.S. through the Mexican border.

Nearly 20 years later, President Donald Trump has reinvigorated Islamophobia, agitating the exaggerated threat of the Islamic State, a byproduct of Al Qaeda that ended any hope of democratization in the Middle East after the “Arab Spring” and Barack Obama’s promises of a “new beginning” in Arab-U.S. relations.

Populist and overtly racist, Trump exploited the fear of terrorism, the traditional ethnic and religious discrimination, as well as the social resentment among the white middle classes, to the extent of suspending in 2017 the U.S.’s refugee program and blocking travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Hundreds of travellers were detained at airports and thousands of previously issued visas to the U.S. were revoked, sparking outrage and protests.

The wording and implementation of the executive order signed by Trump were revised to meet legal challenges, and the “Muslim ban” was upheld by the Supreme Court.

That iteration of the ban included restricted travel for most individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Last year, the State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications due to the ban, up from less than 1,000 in 2017 when the restrictions had not fully taken effect.

The risk of another war in the Middle East, this time against Iran, will surely increase Islamophobia in the U.S.

Fortunately, Mexico has stayed in the sidelines of Islamophobia, since its Muslim population is very small.

According to the 2010 national census, there were 2,500 individuals that identified Islam as their religion, although other sources have remarked that the actual number is more than 5,000.

The majority are Sunnis concentrated in Mexico City and a minority are Shiites or Ahmadiyyas, located in Torreón (Coahuila) and other parts of northern Mexico.

An interesting phenomenon observed in the last years has been the conversion to Islam of more than 700 Mayan and Tzotzil Native Mexicans in the southern state of Chiapas, where a commune was established by Muhammad Nafia, a Spanish missionary from the Murabitun movement, in the 1990s.


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Today, at least five mosques are operating in the cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Comitán.

Mexico’s secular laws, non-interventionist foreign policy and good relations with Muslim countries, from Iran to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have contributed to a climate of coexistence and tolerance towards Islam.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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