The Islamophobia Echo Chamber Discovers Poetry Jihad

The Islamophobia Echo Chamber Discovers Poetry Jihad

by Sheila Musaji

Here’s the basic story and how it morphed, and became the latest cause celebre of the Islamophobia echo chamber.

The Concord Patch reported ‘Muslim Poem’ Read on Sept. 11 at CCHS; Administrators Respond.

...  Administrators at Concord-Carlisle High School are responding to criticism today, Sept. 12, after the school’s acknowledgements of 9/11 have come under fire from some local residents.

According to CCHS Principal Peter Badalament, the poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” was read in acknowledgement of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Pledge of Allegiance was not recited due to a mix-up.

That confluence of events has touched a nerve with some local parents, who feel the reading of a “Muslim poem” in remembrance of 9/11 was inappropriate. Badalament, however, said the poem was meant to provide cross-cultural understanding, and that the daily Pledge was not said due to a coincidental scheduling oversight.  ...  While the poem was an intentional attempt to promote cross-cultural understanding, the lack of a daily Pledge of Allegiance was an oversight by CCHS administrators and the student who typically leads the pledge.  ...

The recitation of the poem occurred later in the day, not at the same time the Pledge had been scheduled according to Tom Lucey, a school district spokesman. 

SUMMARY OF ACTUAL STORY:  On 9/11/13 there was a mixup and the Pledge of Allegiance was not read over the PA system in the morning as it usually was at CCHS, the principal did not notice the omission.  Later in the day, a poem about mutual cultural misunderstandings by a Muslim author was read over the PA system.  The poem was not in place of, or a substitute for, or instead of reading the pledge.  Two separate issues on the same day.  The principal apologized for the misunderstanding with the pledge, and said that the poem was “an intentional attempt to promote cross-cultural understanding”

This particular school has a large number of minority students, many enrolled as part of a METCO program.  “The Metco Program is a grant program funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is a voluntary program intended to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation, by permitting students in certain cities to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate.”

Earlier this year CCHS had an incident where racist graffiti was scrawled in the library of the school.  At that time “Principal Peter Badalament said in a statement to the entire student body that, “This is not a school community that will ignore racism; we all need to stand up to intolerance,”  and he said that he hopes the conversations on race relations will build a “stronger culture at the school.”  Clearly, the school had concerns about racial and cultural tensions and planned programs to address those concerns, and encourage mutual understanding.


This poem was published previously on The Poetry Foundation, TAM and other sites.  Here is the full poem.  My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears by Mohja Kahf:

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
    of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.

Mohja Kahf, “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” from E-mails from Scheherazad. Copyright © 2003 by Mohja Kahf.  Reprinted on TAM with permission of the author.  Poet and scholar Mohja Kahf was born in Damascus, Syria. Her family moved to the United States in 1971, and Kahf grew up in the Midwest. She earned a PhD in comparative literature from Rutgers University and is the author of the poetry collection Emails from Scheherazad (2003) and the novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006).  Her first book of poetry, E-mails from Scheherazad, was a finalist in the 2004 Paterson Poetry Prize

The author of the poem happens to be a Muslim, but that does not make this a “Muslim poem”.  It is a quintessentially American story about the struggle that has been faced in the American melting pot between the society at large and new immigrants in every generation. 

Dr. Mohja Kahf shared with me an email she had written in response to an inquiry from a reader about her views on the poem prior to this incident at CCHS becoming a “news story”:

“Both sides in this poem are a little quick to judge the other side based on some external cues—both have trouble seeing past those externals to what they might share, after all, underneath—so for example, they are so hung up on those externals that they don’t see a) they share gender b) they share belonging to the same generation, as both sides are older women c) they share a certain generation of women’s perhaps over concern with the minutia of cleanliness.

Each may interpret cleanliness in a different EXTERNAL way: Nanna in the poem feels washing your feet many times daily is essential to cleanliness, and the “Midwestern matrons” feel that putting your feet in the sink is just not clean!  Hah! Yes, humor is a key element here - but it’s a humor only the young woman, the “I” or speaker, who’s in between, the granddaughter, “gets” because she’s the only one in the scene who kind of sees both sides.

She can criticize both, and appreciate both.  She’s enabled to see both sides by her combination background - because well, she’s a granddaughter of one, so she’s grown up knowing how to read Nanna’s cues, but then she shares a language and a Midwest with the other women, so she gets their cues too! But she’s like, sigh, this is so hard, to get these two sides, each set in their ways and each a little snotty about it!—to see each other. But at least she, the speaker, can!  Well, but you wonder from her bit of tiredness about it, don’t you, if she thinks it’s a gift, or a burden. Bit ‘o both, yeah?”


In a Business Standard article this became about a “Muslim poem” being read “instead of” the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Washington Times also referred to this as a “Muslim poem”.  A Fox News article claimed the school “nixed” the Pledge of Allegiance “in favor” of a “Muslim Poem. 

The subtle bigotry of these articles provided fuel for the Islamophobia echo chamber to take this story a step further into the realm of pure hatred. 

Bonni Benstock-Intall at Bare Naked Islam posted DISGUSTING! Boston school scraps Pledge of Allegiance on 9/11 for poem about a Muslim washing her filthy feet in a sink at a Sears Department Store

Daniel Greenfield on David Horowitz’ Frontpage Magazine wrote Boston High School Trades Pledge of Allegiance for Muslim Anti-American Poem in which he said: “It goes without saying, that in Arab cultures putting your feet on something is an act of asserting superiority and supremacy. Hence all the shoe throwing.  What message of cross-cultural understanding did Principal Peter Badalament mean to have his students take away from this?  Perhaps the World Trade Center was just our sink and flying planes into it was a Muslim ritual. A way for them to put their feet on our heads. Once we understand that, perhaps we can all learn to shop at a Dubai Sears together.”  To suggest that promoting cross-cultural understanding between American Muslims, and non-Muslim Americans on an issue like Muslims washing their feet in a sink is equivalent to accepting an act of terrorism as a “Muslim ritual” is preposterous and vicious. And, to call this poem “anti-American” is ludicrous.  Greenfield may want to read World Net Daily Discovers Foot Jihad - Another “Secret” Muslim Code for a response to this “putting their feet on our heads” nonsense. 

Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch wrote Concord, Massachusetts: Public school reads Muslim victimhood poem, not Pledge of Allegiance, at 9/11 observance in which he said: “What was the point of reciting this poem, which is an extended whine about how her dignified grandmother is looked down upon by the filthy kuffar (who don’t wash their feet five times a day) for washing her feet in the Sears bathroom sink? The point is clear: 9/11 happened because two cultures don’t understand each other. Westerners have to stop regarding Muslims with distaste and disdain, and accommodate Muslim practices, and then harmony will ensue.”   Spencer includes the entire poem by Mohja Kahf, so it is clear that if he can call this a “victimhood poem” or an “extended whine” about the “filthy kuffar”, his ability to understand a poem written in plain English is in question.  Spencer’s comment about Westerners “regarding Muslims with distaste and disdain” sounds as if he believes that is the appropriate way to view Muslims.

Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs went furthest into the realm of hatred.  She published Boston School Recites Muslim Prayer over Pledge of Allegiance on 9/11 Anniversary… in which she said:

“The Boston bombing wasn’t painful enough. Not enough of a wake-up call for America-hating liberals in Massachusetts? Not enough chidren [sic] died?  They are disarming our children in a war that they have to fight.  If this continues, the war in the streets (below) won’t be one-sided. We are not going to take this.”

  There is no way she could write that a Muslim prayer was recited at a public school with a straight face if she had simply read anything at all about what happened.

The photo she includes “below” is of some of the victims, covered in blood, immediately after the Boston bombing.  Geller’s comments can only be taken as a direct threat towards Muslims.  The reading of the poem by Mohja Kahf is what she is referring to as somehow on a par with the Boston bombing, and a provocation for “war on the streets” between “us and them”.  This would be funny if it weren’t so frightening. 

Here are just a few of the comments posted by readers of these articles who obviously received the hateful message being sent loud and clear:

Geller’s article — carla said… why is no one expecting the muzzies to be TOLERANT OF US???? — Stephen Gash said… I am utterly intolerant of Islam. When the wakeup happens and the revolution is underway, the first to pay will be the quislings. — Rudy Bowen said…If I ever see that in a public restroom I am going to walk up and sucker punch the individual doing it until he is unconscious, and walk out.  I’m looking forward to the day when these scum are hunted.

Spencer’s article — LemonLime said…When the West finally wakes up to its former rationality and definitively discredits and dismantles PC MC, and when as a result of this newfound consciousness it convenes a “Nuremberg 2” to try and to sentence all the influential PC MC idiots to punishments fitting their various crimes, I hope it will not transpire so far into our future that we will not still be alive to have the pleasure of seeing justice done: seeing the likes of Principal Peter Badalamant (who is not our “pal”) and Schools Superintendent Diana Rigby receive ten long, juicy swirlies. 

Greenfield’s article — MarilynA said…Is this per chance their way of agreeing with the Muslim massacre at the Boston Marathon? It’s time for Congress to interfere and stop all federal funding to any school district that degrades our constitution, our founding fathers, defiles our flag and censors the pledge of allegiance. That should stop all this nonsense.

Bare Naked Islam article — Jim Fitzgerald said…The so called poem is an insult to civilized society by a member of a primitive cult. But, School Committee member Philip Benincasa said, “I think what the principal was doing was an attempt to offer young people a glimpse of what binds us together as people.” Benincasa is an idiot. — Ort said…Typical muslime superiority complex. Of course all non muslimes are sooooooo uncultured and ignorant they just don’t “understand”. Bullcrap! Keep your disgusting feet out of MY sinks. MY sinks in MY country. You don’t belong here. This is the 21st century, not the 1st. Go back home, back to your pre-historic, Stone Age countries and wash your feet wherever you like. In America, you do that at home, NOT in a public sink!! Christians and Jews are slapped down, but our government elevates this Godless pig of a “religion”??? — hotcookiemama said…So, she has washed her feet here and there – why did she have to come here? She belongs in the barbaric, heathen country that she was spawned from. Deport her and save Sears!

The comments of the Islamophobia echo chamber about this incident show pure hatred towards all American Muslims.  A minor event at a school has been turned by them into a vicious and truly bigoted excuse to attack American Muslims. 




The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade.  They have a manifesto for spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films.  They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally.   They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”

Currently, the Islamophobia Industry is engaged in a full-scale, coordinated,  demonization campaign against American Muslims and Arabs. In just the past few months we have seen a series of inflammatory provocations:    There was the Innocence of Muslims film Titanic, a German satire magazine plans an “Islam” cover article to be published later this month.   Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine published an issue with inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.   Newsweek published their ‘Muslim Rage’ cover.  Terry Jones held a “trial of Prophet Muhammad”.  SION held a “global” gathering in NYC to plan propaganda strategy.  A group in Toronto publicized a “walk your dog at the mosque” day.   AFDI/SIOA has run a series of anti-Muslim ads on public transportation across the country.   AFDI/SIOA are planning to run 8 more anti-Muslim ads.  There are three more films on Prophet Muhammad in the works by Ali Sina, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Imran Farasat.   They are even bringing their hate messages into public schools.

Daniel Pipes is encouraging publication of “A Muhammad cartoon a day”, and says “So, this is my plea to all Western editors and producers: Display the Muhammad cartoon daily, until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger.”.  Pipes joins Daniel Greenfield (aka Sultan Knish) who published an appeal on David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine Is It Time for ‘Make Your Own Mohammed Movie Month’?.  And, both are following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Pamela Geller, who promoted just such a plan back in 2010 with her promotion of Draw Muhammad Day, even after the cartoonist who drew the first cartoon and suggested the idea, Molly Norris apologized to Muslims and asked for the day to be called off, and American Muslims had issued a defense of free speech.    None of this is surprising as one of the Islamophobes laid out their strategy as “The Muslims themselves have shown us their most vulnerable spot, which is the questionable (though unquestioned) character of the ‘Prophet’ himself. We need to satirise and ridicule baby-bonking Mo until the Muslims fly into uncontrollable tantrums, then ridicule them even more for their tantrums, and repeat the process until they froth at the mouth and steam comes out of their ears.”

The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences.   The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.

Sadly, the Islamophobic echo chamber has been aided by some in the Jewish and Christian clergy, and even by some of our elected representatives, particularly in the GOP.

The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or that nothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence,  are nonsense.  The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist,  or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense

These individuals and organizations consistently promote the false what everyone “knows” lies about Islam and Muslims (including distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and distorting the meaning of Islamic terms such as taqiyya, jihad, sharia, etc.).  Islamophobes falsely claim to see “JIHAD” PLOTS everywhere, particularly where they don’t exist.   They, like Muslim extremists, don’t understand the true meaning of the term jihad.  The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking”, non-existent Muslim jihad plots.

Here are just a few ridiculous claims about nonsensical Muslim plots:

An Eid Celebration for Muslim Special Needs Kids was described as a “stealth jihad”.   A children’s page in a newspaper focusing on Eid was described as a toxic propaganda plot.  Joel Hinrichs (a Christian) had a beard and had walked through the parking lot of a campus mosque thus proving that his crime was an example of sudden jihad syndrome.  Leon Alphans Traille, Jr., the Arlington, Virginia Mall Bomber was accused of possible “sudden jihad syndrome” just because he had a beard, obviously, a case of beard jihad.   
Tyler Brehm who carried out the Hollywood shooting jihad was accused of “sudden jihad syndrome” because he shouted something that one witness from the Philippines said he might have shouted “Allahu Akbar”.  This report was not backed up by any other witnesses.  The awful April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech by a Korean student was also called Islamic jihad because Cho’s father had once worked in Saudi Arabia (before he was married and before Cho was born).    A Muslim doctor had a heart attack and died at the wheel of his car which then crashed into a shopping mall and this was described as “vehicular jihad”.   A Muslim cab driver objected to what he considered pornographic ads on the roof of his cab, and that became a stealth-jihad plot to impose Sharia on America.  Any Muslim who has sued an employer for violation of their rights under the EEOC is engaged in employment jihad, or litigation jihad.  Muslim environmentalists are said to be actually engaged in “civilizational jihad”.  A cartoon series “The 99” aimed at young Muslims was described as “cultural jihad”.  The victims of the terrorist attack of 9/11 included Muslims, they were accused of dying as martyrs in an act of jihad. Muslims hoped to open a Muslim hospital in the U.S. and that was called hospital jihad.

The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking” Muslim jihad plots.  They have uncovered:

bumper sticker jihadThanksgiving turkey jihadpaisley scarf jihadmarriage to important men jihadspit jihad —  fashion jihadspelling bee jihadrape jihaddefacing dollar bills jihadpopulation jihadcreeping Sharia jihad —  mosque building jihadterror baby jihad“creeping Sharia” jihadpedophilia jihadbus driver prayer jihadforehead bruise jihadpostage stamp jihadsoup jihad —  banning alcohol jihadfake hate crimes jihadpiggy bank jihadtv reality series jihadhandshake jihadprom jihadinterfaith jihadArabic language jihadpublic school jihadreligious accommodation jihadCrescent moon jihadChristmas tree tax jihadoath of office jihadimmigration jihad community fundraiser jihadpublic school/madrassa jihadpost office jihadfood jihadpyramid jihadcrucifixion jihad in Egyptfireworks jihadcomputer donation jihadcivic participation jihadOlympic “judo” jihadstealth name jihadpre-violent jihadLove jihadfashion jihad 2#MyJihad ad jihadtalk show host jihadart museum jihadHalloween jihadDNC Muslim Prayer Jihadcat crucifixion jihad in GhanaScottish Muslim women’s stealth jihadanti-democracy jihadun-neighborly Musims in Paris jihadjihad on Christopher ColumbusIranian smallpox jihadMuslim Christmas grinch jihad#MyJihad twitter jihadMuslim takeover of National Parks jihad


Nothing is too trivial to escape the eagle eyes of these “defenders of Western civilization” against devious Muslim stealth jihad plots.  Christina Abraham (a Muslim) has a name that is not recognizably Muslim enough and so we have stealth name jihad. And, if a Muslim somewhere is not doing anything at all suspicious, then they are engaged in pre-violent jihad.

Islamophobes generalize specific incidents to reflect on all Muslims or all of Islam.    Islamophobes consistently push demonstrably false memes such as:  - we are in danger from creeping Sharia, - the Muslim population is increasing at an alarming rate, - 80% of American Mosques are radicalized,  -  There have been 270 million victims of “jihad”  -  There have been 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks since 9/11    - Muslims in government are accused of being Muslim Brotherhood plants, stealth jihadists, and creeping Sharia proponents and should be MARGINALIZED or excluded.  Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or the unindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas, telling American Muslims not to talk to the FBI, of being “Jew haters”, etc.

When Islamophobes are caught in the act of making up or distorting claims they engage in devious methods to attempt to conceal the evidence. 

Islamophobes do not understand freedom of speech or that freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech and they are quick to call for censorship and repression of speech they don’t like.

There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic.  There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)  are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.  There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.  — the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State.  — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry.   There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature.   There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. 

See Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for many more reasons that these people cannot be trusted.

Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989.  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( )