American Muslims Face Growing Prejudice

The Terrorist Next Door
American Muslims Face Growing Prejudice

By Ullrich Fichtner

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, America's Muslims have become the country's internal enemy. Conservative forces have seized upon the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" as a rallying point. Amid all the hate, Americans have lost sight of the real problem: the fact that their country has become paranoid.

Even on hot summer days in Virginia, Brigitte Gabriel receives visitors looking as if she were dressed for the opera. She has her hair teased up, copious amounts of pearls adorning her neck and arms, and her feet clad in rhinestone-studded sandals. This is her uniform in the war against what she sees as the barbarians of radical Islam. On three occasions, Gabriel has been the subject of declarations by al-Qaida, she says, and her name is probably on various death lists. Indeed, Gabriel, who emigrated to the US years ago from Lebanon, is America's siren on all things Islamophobic, and her speeches are one indication of how the country may have changed since the attacks of September 11.

Gabriel's position can be summarized as follows: The US is suffering from terminal cancer and is infected with rampant Islamist cells that are eating away at the country, its liberties and its constitution. "Our enemy," writes Gabriel, "is not an organization of people living overseas plotting to attack. Our enemies are the neighbors next door, the doctors practicing in our hospitals, and the workers who share our lunch break. Our enemies are terrorists driven by a dangerous ideology and clothed in deception who operate under cover and laugh about the advantages our sensitivity training, gullibility, and political correctness give them."
Some 300,000 copies of Gabriel's first book, which contains these sentences, have been distributed. TV stations now set aside ample airtime for her and her ideas. She has been invited to give presentations to US Senate committees, the FBI, the US Special Operations Command, the Joint Forces Staff College, the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement and Christian conferences. Brigitte Gabriel, who pronounces her name as if it were French, is an idol in the conservative half of America's deeply divided society -- but remains a reviled figure in the other half.

On the Death Lists

Speaking face-to-face, she seems much nicer than the woman who she is on TV, where her interviews often sound like fanatical yapping. The interview with SPIEGEL took place in a palatial home on the Atlantic coast, with windows that look out over a finely manicured lawn.

She is staying here with friends, she says, but it feels as if she has invited us into her own home. The living room matches her style, with cathedral ceilings and expensive furniture made of chrome and leather, but the question of where she lives remains open. Her whereabouts have to be kept secret, she says, because of al-Qaida -- and the death lists. A man with a revolver is standing guard at the door.

By way of introduction, Gabriel recounts the story of her childhood. It is the story of a Christian family that survived the mayhem of civil war in Lebanon. She talks about the ordeal of a young woman who watched helplessly as her home fell into the clutches of Muslim fanatics. She recounts how Lebanon, which once had a Christian majority, became a Muslim country. Her point is that the same thing cannot be allowed to happen to America.

Gabriel contends that until Sept. 11, 2001 she was an apolitical woman who wanted to enjoy life. But the attacks of that day reopened old wounds, she says. "I was sitting here," she recalls, as her eyes turn a steely gray, "in America, 8,000 miles away, 20 years later, and I had to answer the same question from my own children that I had asked my father: Why are they doing this to us?" Her father's answer, slightly modified, became the title of her first book: "Because They Hate."

She founded the organization ACT! for America, which was initially called the American Congress for Truth. Today, she says, it boasts 170,000 members across the country: "We are the largest grassroots movement for national security." Local groups are encouraged to take action against overly politically correct teachers, excessively tolerant members of Congress and local newspapers that publish "derogatory" articles about the US or Israel. ACT! for America, says Gabriel, is a rallying point for "people who are fighting to save America."

Asleep at the Wheel

There is no shortage of such people. Republican Tom Tancredo from Colorado is one of them. He ran for president in 2008 on a platform that included the idea of thwarting future terror attacks by threatening to carry out retaliatory air strikes against Mecca and Medina. Saxby Chambliss, now a senator, is also one of these fighters. During his election campaign, he voiced support for arresting every Muslim right at the border of his home state of Georgia. The list also includes Newt Gingrich, the perpetual contender for the Republican nomination to the White House, who deliberately uses unfortunate choices of words to equate Islam and Nazism. Leading the struggle against Islam is Fox News' star presenter Bill O'Reilly, the most venomous pundit on the American right, who appears to see the Koran as nothing more than a type of "Mein Kampf."

To support her ideas, Gabriel jumps from the 7th to the 21st century and back, from the suras of the Koran to Europe's transformation into "Eurabia," from the Islamic militant group Hezbollah to American textbooks, and from the Crusades to the massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics (which she seems to think took place in 1971, rather than 1972). She juggles Hitler and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and explains why each and every devout Muslim is a potential terrorist, and how all the pieces fit together in one grand scenario of doom: America is being infiltrated. Sharia law is coming soon. The government is looking away. Government agencies are asleep at the wheel.

The problem has less to do with the fact that nothing, or next to nothing, of what Gabriel and her disciples are spreading among the American people is actually true. The problem is that many Americans -- perhaps half, perhaps the majority -- see the world today in a very similar way. This is an ideological delusion that often surfaces in countries where there are rampant fears of social decline and economic crises are underway.

Scapegoats are needed. It is necessary to invoke America's powerlessness to more energetically rally the people to action. But the mere assertion that the US government and its agencies are unprepared to meet an Islamist threat is a grotesque piece of misinformation, one which is constantly repeated by America's conservatives. In fact, the opposite is true. America is actually running the risk of becoming a police state.

Growing Apparatus

In its series "Top Secret America," which was published in July 2010, the Washington Post has done remarkably meticulous research that shows how the government has expanded the US domestic and foreign security apparatus since 9/11. The newspaper reported that 263 new agencies have been created over the past decade to help fight the war on terror, and that today a total of 1,271 government organizations are more or less directly involved in protecting the country against attacks. This has resulted in an apparatus with 10,000 branches throughout the country that employs 854,000 people and occupies three times more office space in Washington than the Pentagon.
Working in close cooperation with the CIA, the New York City Police Department has established a type of intelligence service, which is right on the verge -- or beyond -- of what is legally permissible because it specifically targets Muslims in surveillance operations. In neighborhoods with large Muslim populations, undercover agents have been placed to keep their ears open in bookstores, mosques and even ethnic beauty salons, without any prior suspicion that preparations are being made to commit a crime. This means that the simple fact of being a Muslim constitutes just cause for suspicion these days, at least in the eyes of New York's finest. That is a far cry from the good old America that liked to see itself as "the land of the free and the home of the brave," in the words of its national anthem.

It seems almost embarrassing to have to point out that Muslims in America are doctors and taxi drivers, waiters and mathematicians, dancers and soldiers, ice cream vendors and teachers. They have families, take picnics in the park on Saturdays, and only want the best for their children. Many of them are fans of the New York Yankees or ardent supporters of the Boston Celtics. Miss USA 2010 was Rima Fakih, a Muslim woman in a bikini; she is also a good indication that the world might be very different from what Gabriel and her followers imagine.

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Part 1: American Muslims Face Growing Prejudice
Part 2: The US's Long Muslim History
Part 3: Peace Is Nowhere in Sight