Islamophobia and the FOX News Backlash

Posted in: Other Commentary

As readers of this site surely know, FOX News repeatedly embarrassed itself last month by describing large swaths of Paris as “no-go” zones that were subject to sharia law and unsafe for non-Muslims. And as if that weren’t imbecilic enough, a FOX “expert” said things were even worse in England.

Steve Emerson, who touts himself as a leading authority on Islamic extremism and claims he often briefs U.S. government officials, told FOX listeners, “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones. There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in. And parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, was so unnerved by the discovery that a major English city had become entirely Muslim and that parts of London had grown ungovernable that he reportedly “choked on his porridge.” Regaining his composure, he quickly came to the more sensible conclusion that Emerson was simply “a complete idiot.”

The FOX reports were quickly ridiculed. The French version of the Jon Stewart show, for instance, did a hilarious send up of the report about Paris. FOX eventually apologized for its reporting, which is all well and good, though we should recall that FOX elicited these statements with no sense at all for their lunacy.

Emerson may indeed be an idiot. But while we are right to mock him and his ilk for their alarming stupidity, we should not dismiss their ranting quite so casually. After all, millions of Americans are apparently inclined to accept their foolishness, or so the polls suggest. For that reason, we should take a lesson from the public humiliation they have endured, both on this occasion and previously, since that drubbing reveals what happens when the toxic attacks of the anti-Islamic right are exposed to the broader public.

Those of us who study these matters have long recognized the cultural isolation of the anti-Islamic narrative; it enjoys a deep but narrow appeal within an isolated segment of the GOP. This isolation became clear to the rest of the country in the summer of 2012, when former Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a darling of the Islamophobic right, sent letters to the inspectors general at five federal offices. The letters expressed alarm about the supposed infiltration and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the national government and cast particular suspicion on Huma Abedin, a close aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Like the charges about European “no-go” zones, Bachmann’s attack backfired horribly and elicited a furious response, especially among fellow Republicans. Arizona Senator John McCain, for instance, took to the Senate floor to defend Abedin, describing her as “an intelligent, upstanding, hardworking, and loyal servant of our country and our government.” Calling the allegations against her “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen,” McCain said they “have no logic, no basis, and no merit,” and “they need to stop now.” “To say that the accusations” were “not substantiated by the evidence,” McCain said, “is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it.”

McCain’s comments, though remarkable for their bluntness, were not the worst Bachmann received. Ed Rollins, her former campaign manager in her run for the presidency, published a piece (ironically, for FOX News), in which he excoriated his former boss for leveling charges that were “outrageous and false,” “unsubstantiated,” and “downright vicious.” “The Republican Party,” he said, “is going to become irrelevant if we become the party of intolerance and hate. . . . Shame on you, Michele!”

Yet Bachmann’s allegations, like the claims about European “no-go” zones, were nothing new. Indeed, Emerson probably felt so comfortable repeating these stories for FOX News because he and other anti-Islamic radicals had been rehashing much the same thing in the echo chamber of the anti-Islamic right for years.

In 2006, for instance, a writer in Commentary decried the growing “Islamification of Europe” and claimed there were “dozens of ‘ungovernable’ areas in France.” These were “Muslim-dominated suburbs . . . where the writ of French law does not run and into which the French police do not go.” But this was not simply a French phenomenon; the writer insisted that similar “extraterritorial enclaves, in which sharia law is enforced by local Muslim clerics, can be found in other European countries.”

The anti-Islamic narrative is propagated by a nucleus of news magazines, media outlets, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations, many of which receive funding from the same small pool of wealthy conservative donors. Within this community, a core group of activists repeat the same message over and over, reinforcing one another but almost never preaching beyond the choir.

One spokesperson for the narrative makes a guest appearance on another’s radio program or television show; a second writes for a cluster of conservative journals, rehashing the same points; a third is asked to speak at a symposium sponsored by the first one’s think tank.

This churning allows the narrative to maintain a certain visibility but confines it to a fairly isolated corner of the public square. But as the response to Emerson and Bachmann clearly show, the narrative dies once it steps outside the safety of its paranoid, insular world. The narrative thrives, in other words, but only within a very particular atmosphere.

There is a reason for this limited appeal. Most Americans have embraced the religious diversity of modern life. They reject the theocratic dogmatism of the religious right and welcome the secular trends that make so many social conservatives profoundly uncomfortable, as demonstrated, for instance, by the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.

To be sure, a certain fraction of the population emphatically rejects these trends. This includes most prominently the religious right and the authoritarians who react so strongly to the “Other,” whoever he may be at the moment. The anti-Islamic narrative has certainly won over this fraction, and the importance of that victory should not be minimized.

But neither should it be overstated, as this is an increasingly isolated minority of the population. The lesson of the FOX News fiasco is that when the champions of the anti-Islamic narrative stick their head out of the cave, they are—and should continue to be—mocked and ridiculed. Their message cannot be defeated entirely; American history makes clear that it will be with us always. But like earlier attacks on Catholicism and Judaism, the assaults on Islam can be consigned to the forgotten margins of the public square, where they belong.

Posted in: Other Commentary

Tags: Legal, Politics

  • Khabib

    Great piece! But I think the anti-Islamic narrative is here to stay and will gain momentum with the prolonged Middle East violence and the unrest that is engulfing the entire region. What’s more troubling is that the anti-islam/Muslim sentiment is not isolated to the far Right segments of the population. There is a growing segment of new Atheists, such as Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, who under the banner of atheism and criticizing “ideas”, are leading a growing sentiment of hatred toward Islam/Muslims. They make no distinction between religious fanatics who in order to take control large swathes of Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa committ egregious violent acts and Muslims who happen to live in the West and practice Islam within the legal boundaries of their countries. They paint everyone with the same brush of adhering to the same exact savage ideology, therefore, as ticking time bombs.

  • HauteJuju
    • Brian C. Hoff

      In many major city around the world there are hight crimine area where the criminal element hold some level of power and control.

  • BobFromDistrict9

    Very well written. Perhaps the next step is a listing of the truly well publicized bigotry.

    Remember also, Fox News is broadcast, not just on cable. Thus justifying the FCC restoring the old principle of fairness. Both sides get covered on issues of opinion and political contest.

    Isn’t it about time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine?

  • Frau Katze

    “No go” is the wrong word. They’re called Zones Urbaines Sensible. Meaning, special cautions are required. Your viewpoint paints far too rosy a picture of a real problem.


    You may want to leave your plush surroundings and go visit one of these fantasy no-go zones.Let me know if it will be a casket or cremation.Left wing tripe and not truthful at all.But then when Jon Stewart is your go to news source what should one expect?

  • Ted Harvatin

    Brian Williams. Dan Rather. Jayson Blair. Janet Cooke. Stephen Glass. NBC CBS NY TIMES WA POST. NEW REPUBILC. Liberal icons.

    Conclusion. Fox News lies

    Give me a break professor.

  • michael boross

    Mark Steyn:
    I’ve walked around the East End. I’ve walked around, for example, past what used to be a famous gay pub on, just off the Commercial Road that is no longer there, where what they call the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets is, now holds sway. A couple of years ago on Holocaust Memorial Day, a group of Jews were touring the old Jewish West End, where fellows like Lionel Bart, the composer of Oliver, came from. And they were greeted by youths of a certain persuasion who pelted them with stones, and a Canadian tourist and an American tourist wound up being taken to the hospital. That’s Jews stoned on Holocaust Memorial Day in the East End of London.

    Likewise, there are no-go zones in parts of Birmingham in the Midlands, where in nothing flat, a city that was 0% Muslim 50 years ago now is 22% Muslim. They’re the demographic energy in the city. A senior British police officer was talking about this. He was saying, he wasn’t calling them no-go zones. He was putting it in a sort of positive way, that these communities prefer to police themselves, as it were. And that’s why we just leave them to get on with it. And one consequence of that is that nobody who isn’t a member of those “communities” likes to go there. But those no-go zones are not as advanced as they are in France, but they are real and they are growing in British cities.

    They’re true in Sweden. I walked through Rosengard in Sweden. And I was warned by the two lovely, leggy Swedish blondes I was having a cup of coffee with twenty minutes earlier not to go there at dusk. And you go there at dusk, and it’s all fiercely bearded young men and covered women who came from Muslim countries where they didn’t have to be covered, but they emigrate to Sweden, and suddenly, not to get into any trouble from those bearded, young men, they’re forced to go covered. Those no-go zones are real in almost every country in Western Europe now.