Tea Party Racism Finally a Concern, But Islamophobia Still Unquestioned

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jul 16, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Tea Party Racism Finally a Concern, But Islamophobia Still Unquestioned

by Sheila Musaji

After Mark Williams’ most recent blog post and statements about Islam, many elected officials and community officials in New York spoke out.  Williams issued an apology but to Hindus, not Muslims - for insulting the Hindu God Hanuman.

As I previously noted in the article Islamophobia no longer even questioned - even by our elected representatives (which lists many Islamophobic comments by elected officials and representatives of political organizations):

Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams wrote on his blog regarding the proposed Cordoba House in NYC “The animals of allah for whom any day is a great day for a massacre are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13 story monument to the 9/11 Muslims who hijacked those 4 airliners.    The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god and a “cultural center” to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult.”  He also posted this disgusting image of the Prophet Muhammad.  He also said that “Obama Is An “Indonesian Muslim Turned Welfare Thug”.  A recent rambling post on his blog was removed, but it is still available here.  In addition to the long quote above he goes on to say “The longest, most heavily researched and footnoted chapter in my book is about the fruit baskets and nut wads that gravitate to Islam and why it attracts such mental cases (Daisy for example apparently suffered a severe head injury early in life).”  He is referring to Daisy Khan of the ASMA Society and WISE.  He closed his diatribe with “In the meantime I have a wonderful idea along the same lines as that mosque at Ground Zero thing…  a nice, shiny new U.S. Military Base on the smoldering ruins of Mecca.  Works for me!  Comments are enabled below.”

Back in September of 2009 TAM published Racism is Certainly One Component of Disrespect Towards President Obama which noted many Islamophobic and racist incidents connected with the Tea Party movement

  However, the current climate has gone far beyond simple disagreement or even righteous indignation about a particular issue, and it is difficult not to see that for a very vocal and visible fringe group of Americans racism is certainly one component of their anger.  There are certainly many components of the rage expressed by this group, but at least one of those components is showing itself to be race.

Carter is certainly not the first to have raised this issue, and this has been an issue since Barack Obama began his bid for the Presidency.  Last year we had the satirical New Yorker Obama Cover about which I wrote“The recent New Yorker satirical cover cartoon manages to put in one place all the racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic junk that has been put out there about the first African-American candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  Probably most regular readers of the New Yorker will recognize the intent as exactly what the editor says it was:  “The intent of the cover is to satirize the vicious and racist attacks and rumors and misconceptions about the Obamas that have been floating around in the blogosphere and are reflected in public opinion polls.””  The five most racist “cartoons” involving Obama have even been ranked by Politics Daily.

Activists at a conservative political forum, the Values Voter Summit snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap.  The Sacramento County Republican leaders took down offensive material  on their official party Web site that sought to link Sen. Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and encouraged people to “Waterboard Barack Obama” — material that even offended state GOP leaders.  The mayor of Los Alamitos, California came under fire for an e-mail he sent out that depicts the White House lawn planted with watermelons, under the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”  A Republican women’s club in San Bernardino County, California sent out a newsletter with a photo of Barack Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon and ribs, sparking widespread outrage and rebuke from GOP leaders and Democrats.  Rush Limbaugh played a parody song “Barack The Magic Negro” on his show.  There was a racist Obama billboard in Missouri.  There were the Obama “monkey” tee shirts, and the Ohio man who hung an effigy of Barack Obama in his front yard.  Circulating via email, a photo taken of a window of the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Coral Gables, Florida featuring a display of Barack Obama books into which a book named ‘Monkeys’ has been inserted. 

Back in July, Chris Parry of the Vancouver Sun in an article entitled Conservative Free Republic blog in free speech flap after racial slurs directed at Obama children discussed and quoted some remarks made on the Free Republic site: ”“A typical street whore.” “A bunch of ghetto thugs.” “Ghetto street trash.” “Wonder when she will get her first abortion.”  These are a small selection of some of the racially-charged comments posted to the conservative ‘Free Republic’ blog Thursday, aimed at U.S. President Barack Obama’s 11-year-old daughter Malia after she was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on the front.  The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, “To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds.” ... “Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?” wrote one commenter.  “They make me sick .... The whole family… mammy, pappy, the free loadin’ mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin’, and especially ‘lil cuz… This is not the America I want representin’ my peeps,” wrote another.”  This FreeRepublic.com website earned a spot in Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Persons in the World” segment after waiting all of three days to step in and take action on a message board thread full of such racist comments.

Some individuals have called the president’s domestic agenda “economic fascism”, called the President an all-controlling Fascist leader, a socialist, a communist, compared to Hitler.  The birthers claim that Obama is not an American, and their are even Pastors praying for the President’s death.  Frederick Clarkson also pointed out in an article entitled “ Pray For Barack Obama To Die And Go To Hell”: The Story The Media Missed that the Pastor of Chris Broughton who was one of those recently in the news for showing up armed at an Obama speech: “Chris Broughton, 28, made national news when he showed up to protest a speech by President Barack Obama in Phoenix, Arizona with an AR-15 automatic rifle slung over his shoulder and a handgun.” ... “The night before Broughton’s fifteen minutes of fame, he attended a fiery Sunday sermon by his pastor, Rev. Steven L. Anderson, at Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Rev. Anderson, also 28, explained not only “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” but also why he and God both want the president dead. “When I go to bed tonight,” Broughton’s pastor declared, “Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.”

Signs from the 9/12 Tea Party march in D.C. ranged from simply unkind - “bury Obama care with Kennedy” - to conspiratiorial - “where’s the birth certificate”, “Obama is a Muslim”,  and “don’t kill Grandma” - to vaguely menacing “violate our liberty at your peril”, “keep pushing us and find out what happens” -  to really over the top - “we came unarmed (this time)”, Obama waving to al-Qaeda saying “whoa boys, I’ll take it from here”, “hang em high, traitors in Congress (and a list of names), “Obama is the anti-Christ”, a picture of Obama slitting the throat of Uncle Sam - and of course, there were Confederate flags and outright racist signs “What you talkin about Willis?”, “Homey don’t play dat” .  Earlier Tea Parties had the same sorts of signs - “Sieg Heil Herr Obama” (with picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache), “Barack Hussein Obama the new face of Hitler”, “Chairman Maobama”, “Obama’s plan, white slavery”, “We need a Christian President”.  Huffington post has a list of the 10 most offensive, but other sites found other signs that they found just as offensive, including “The zoo has an African and the White House has a lyin’ African!”.  A news report called “Is the Tea Party Racism Going Too Far?” showed my personal vote for most objectionable - a sign depicting President Obama as an African witch doctor.

A Councilman in Atwater, California named Gary Frago forwarded a series of emails which used racial comments and imagery to criticize the president.  According to an article about this incident:  “The Merced Sun-Star obtained 7 e-mails sent between October 2008 and February 2009 to city workers and other prominent citizens racially deriding President Obama, the First Lady and blacks in general. ... Some compared Obama to O.J. Simpson while others suggested that “nigger rigs” should now be called “presidential solutions.”   

As I said in an article about the ridiculous reaction to President Obama’s school speech:  “I have to agree with Joan Walsh about the motivation for this response:  “Wrong. I never imagined the outbreak of right-wing crazy that Obama’s gesture would provoke, and this time it’s hard not to see racism behind the hysteria. The message is “Obama’s coming for our children!” the standard cry against scary boogeymen in every culture. I mean, really, what besides Obama’s race could make him so scary to these people? That he’s a Marxist socialist fascist Nazi? I’d argue that the only reason those extreme epithets have taken hold goes back to reason No. 1: Our first black president is provoking some outsize and irrational reactions.”

To see race as one component of the current level of vitriol in our national debate seems reasonable.  Not all disagreement is racist, but certainly some of the “disagreement” needs to be called out for what it is.  And, I can’t imagine anyone not seeing the sentiment behind any of the items listed above as anything but racist.  If former President Carter gets us talking and thinking about this issue then he will have done us all a favor.  As a nation, we can never move forward until we acknowledge this 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Another TAM article Hate rhetoric is escalating into violence discusses the increasing violence of the rhetoric as well as actual incidents of violence provoked by such rhetoric.

And in the article Islamophobia and Arabophobia: Laying The Groundwork - Us vs. Them, I said

How is it possible that we could have learned so little from our past mistakes, in spite of having access to so much information?  Perhaps people have the right to say whatever hateful things they wish, but the fact that we have a legal right to such speech does not mean that we are required to say such things.  More importantly, we have a right to not listen passively. If there are no condemnations of such speech, if toxic hate does not have the consequence of marginalizing the speaker, if society accepts such speech without remark then that is a loss of rights, isn’t it? Those who say such things are emboldened to continue and even to ratchet up the rhetoric, and this venomous rancor seeps into our media, our homes, our schools, our friendships.

The villification of Muslims, Arabs, and Islam has become relentless.  Repeating the same things over and over again has been shown to create credibility. False logic seem plausible, and even outright lies repeated enough begin to sound like the truth.  Sadly, these stereotypes have replaced knowledge with ignorance and misperception, and ignorance fuels hatred of what we don’t know much about.  Muslims are consistently portrayed as “the other”, not part of us, and imposible to understand, and so not worthy of tolerance.  Just the mention of Islam creates a feeling of fear on the part of many non-Muslims because of what they have heard so often and causes them to believe that this fear is reasonableThis fear leads to Islamophobia and this may lead to violence.  In fact, it has led to violence against mosques and against individual Muslims.

Right here in the United States there have been hundreds of incidents at mosques - some of the incidents were vandalism (like swastikas painted on) but some have been shot at, burned to the ground, firebombed, had windows broken out, vehicles driven into them, acid thrown at them, etc.  And, the incidents against individuals have also ranged from simple prejudice to murder.

It is just possible that there is a connection to widespread hateful speech and some of these reactions.

TAM has been publishing alarming statements and discussing incidents of Islamophobia and Arabophobia for years, and calling on the interfaith community and other fellow citizens of conscience to speak up against this. 

This week, over 2,000 NAACP delegates unanimously passed a resolution—as amended—called “The Tea Party Movement,” asking for the repudiation of racist Tea Party leaders.  The full statement hasn’t been released, but it seems to be pretty straightforward.  Mark Williams of course responded with more hateful speech.

Today Color of Change posted a petition and requested individuals to sign.  It reads as follows:

Dear Tea Party leaders,

This week, the NAACP called on the Tea Party movement to reject the racist elements that exist among its ranks. Sadly, instead of taking any responsibility for putting a stop to the bigoted, hateful rhetoric and imagery that has repeatedly surfaced in the Tea Party movement, one of your movement’s most prominent leaders responded by attacking the NAACP with a barrage of offensive racial stereotypes.

This week, Mark Williams, the public face of Tea Party Express, called the NAACP a racist organization and said “They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever.” He went on to publish a blog post which implied that Black people don’t like to work or think for themselves, that they depend on welfare, and that they want to benefit from White peoples’ tax dollars so they can have a widescreen TV in every room.

If as Tea Party leaders you wish to have any credibility when you claim that racism is not a welcome, integral part of your movement, you must act decisively to reject people like Mark Williams. I’m calling on you to denounce Williams’ bigoted rhetoric about the NAACP, and to demand resign from his position at Tea Party Express and stop representing himself as a spokesman for the Tea Party movement.

It’s a good statement, and I will sign it, but would like to ask why, when the focus of the hate speech was primarily Muslims and Arabs, no one spoke up.  And, why this statement says nothing about Islamophobia, Arabophobia, and anti-Semitism, all of which are increasing.

The opening page of the NAACP website says “We are one nation.  We are one people”.  Does that include Muslims and Arabs?

American Muslims are a part of “we the people”.  We are Americans.  We are not going anywhere.  And, I believe that it is well past time that other Americans begin standing up against this demonization of Islam and Muslims.  It would be nice to know that this sort of bigotry is not shared by most of our fellow Americans. 


CAIR has backed the NAACP statement.  Their press release includes this statement by Ibrahim Hooper

“If the Tea Party wishes to be taken seriously by mainstream Americans, it must repudiate all those who express or promote extremist, racist or bigoted views while claiming to be affiliated with the movement.

Hooper noted the NAACP’s list of racist incidents tied to the Tea Party movement and cited similar examples of Islamophobic incidents, including:

*  Extremist anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller was invited to speak about “The Threat of Islam” at a Tea Party convention last May in Tennessee. Along with her claim that “Hitler and the Nazis were inspired by Islam,” Geller has offered rhetorical support to accused Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and slain Apartheid-era leader Eugene Terre’blanche. She has in the past posted images on her blog that include a fake photograph of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in a Nazi uniform, another fake image of President Obama urinating on an American flag and drawings purporting to depict Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a pig. In a June 25 blog entry, Geller posted a video claiming that Muslims engage in bestiality. Despite this history of bigotry and extremism, convention organizers refused to drop Geller as a speaker.

* In March, Tea Party opponents of health care reform targeted Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), one of two Muslims in Congress, and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a leader of the civil rights movement, by chanting “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times” as they left the Cannon House Office Building. Protesters also reportedly spat on and shouted bigoted slurs at other lawmakers.

* Tennessee congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik recently claimed that the construction of a new mosque poses a threat to that state’s “moral and political foundation.” Zelenik says she is a leader in the Middle Tennessee Tea Party movement.

* In January, members of a Pennsylvania Tea Party group called the Valley Forge Patriots interrupted a public lecture on Islam to ask “offensive questions about the faith.” (Philadelphia Tribune)

The National Republican Trust has authored an anti-Muslim attack ad opposing Cordoba House.  NBC and CBS have refused to air the ad.  You can see the ad here.  Mark Silk rightly points out that “Now in my book opposing Cordoba House does not necessarily make you a bigot. You could take the position that, given that the al-Qaeda bombers were acting in the name of Islam, it’s just too sensitive a matter to locate even the most irenic, inclusive Islamic Center that close to Ground Zero. Just as locating a Catholic convent on the grounds of Auschwitz was seen by the Jewish community as offensive.    But the NRTPAC ad is equivalent to the Jewish community equating all Christians with Nazis: “They sent us to the death camps, and now they want to build a church on sacred ground? Where we weep, they rejoice. Join the fight to kill the church!” The NRTPAC ad is Islamophobia red in tooth and claw.  ...  But what’s insidious about the NRTPAC ad is its use of American civil religion—the “sacred space” of Ground Zero—to justify its antipathy to Muslims. To its credit, the Bush Administration was at pains to make clear that the “war on terror” was not a war on Islam.  Let’s see if there are any prominent Republicans who have the guts to act similarly, and denounce the NRTPAC ad for what it is. “


Anatomy of Racism, Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/anatomy_of_racism/
As Race Debate Grows, Obama Steers Clear of It http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/us/politics/17obama.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&ref=politics&adxnnlx=1253183238-nQfv0mf3t+Ixm4sEAeXGXw
Attacks on Obama Highlight Racism and Islamophobia , Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/obama/
Boy, Oh Boy, Mauareen Dowd http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/opinion/13dowd.html?_r=1
Jimmy Carter racism charge triggers next US race debate, Patrik Jonsson http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/09/16/jimmy-carter-racism-charge-triggers-next-us-race-debate/
Carter Adds His Voice to Race Debate After Wilson’s Outburst http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/09/16/carter-adds-his-voice-to-race-debate-after-wilsons-outburst/
Carter’s Racism Charge Sparks War of Words, Kate Phillips http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/carters-racism-charge-sparks-war-of-words/?hp
Conservative Activist Forwards Racist Pic Showing Obama As Witch Doctor http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/07/conservative_activist_forwards_racist_pic_showing.php
Cordoba House:  Hope From the Ashes of Tragedy, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_cultural_center_and_mosque/
Cosby agrees with Carter racism claims, Jordan Fabian http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/59201-cosby-agrees-with-carter-racism-claims-
The Death Spasms of American Racism, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_death_spasms_of_american_racism/
Drudge, Limbaugh, and the Sad Return of “Racial America”, Will Bunch http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-bunch/drudge-limbaugh-and-the-s_b_287939.html
Eliminationism in America, David Neiwert http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/eliminationism_in_america/
Facing up to what lies beneath, Anne Davies http://www.theage.com.au/world/facing-up-to-what-lies-beneath-20090918-fvcy.html
The Favor Jimmy Carter Did Us All, Eugene Robinson http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/17/AR2009091703566.html?hpid=opinionsbox1
Pamela Geller Attempts to Make a Point, Muslims Shrug, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/pamela_geller_attempts_to_make_a_point/
Head in the sand, Clarence B. Jones http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clarence-b-jones/head-in-the-sand_b_291225.html
Is Conservative Obama-Bashing The New Racism?, Bakari Kitwana http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bakari-kitwana/is-conservative-obama-bas_b_279775.html
Islamophobia Machine Targets American Muslims, Nihad Awad http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamophobia_machine_targets_american_muslims/ 
“Islamophobia’s” roots in anti-black racism, Tariq Nelson http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamophobias_roots_in_anti_black_racism/
Islamophobia and Arabophobia: Laying The Groundwork - Us vs. Them, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamophobia_laying_the_groundwork_us_vs_them/
Islamo-Obama Phobia: The Latest Update, Dr. Robert D. Crane http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamo_obama_phobia_the_latest_update/
Rush Limbaugh segregation comment heats up racism debate http://www.examiner.com/x-19632-Salt-Lake-City-Headlines-Examiner~y2009m9d18-Rush-Limbaugh-segregation-comment-heats-up-racism-debate
Mainstream Racism Only Becomes An Issue When It’s Convenient, Ray Hanania http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mainstream_racism_only_becomes_an_issue_when_its_convenient/Obama Speech Controversy Is About Socialism? (Guess Again), Mary C. Curtis http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/09/07/obama-speech-controversy-is-much-ado-about/
Obama and Racism - Part II, Robert Salaam http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/obama_and_racism_part_ii/0017546
Obama and the Politics of Race, M. Shahid Alam http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/obama_and_the_politics_of_race/
The only acceptable racism left: Islamophobia, Abdul Malik Mujahid http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_only_acceptable_racism_left_islamophobia/
President Carter is Right: We Do Have a Racism Problem in America, MPAC   http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/president_carter_is_right_we_do_have_a_racism_problem_in_america/0017563
Race Issue Deflected, Now as in Campaign http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/16/AR2009091601802_2.html
Race issue back to the forefront of American politics, Sheldon Alberts http://www.canada.com/news/Race+issue+back+forefront+American+politics/2009254/story.html 
Racism and War: Overcoming Us and Them, Ramzy Baroud http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/racism_and_war_overcoming_us_and_them/
Republican Critics of Obama’s School Speech Stoke the Fires of Bigotry in America, Mario Almonte http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mario-almonte/republican-critics-of-oba_b_279533.html
Racism and President Obama http://www.theweek.com/article/index/100661/Racism_and_President_Obama
Marvin Scott vs Andre Carson:  Another Political Campaign Based on Religious Hatred, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/marvin_scott_vs_andre_carson_another_political_campaign_based_on_relig/
Social Networks Help Republican Racism Go Viral (with slideshow) http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2009/07/obama_racism.html#photo=10
Lynn Torgerson vs Keith Ellison: A Congressional Campaign Based on Religious Hatred , Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/lynn_torgerson_and_keith_ellison/
Western Racism Will Cost It Money, Farish A. Noor http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/western_racism_will_cost_it_money/