New York: Ground Zero for racist backlash

Anti-Muslim has reached new heights in the United States, on the back of a frenzied right-wing campaign against plans for a new Islamic centre in New York.

The far right Tea Party movement is on the offensive, and Republicans are expected to sweep mid-term elections in November on the back of disillusionment with Barack Obama.

In the face of a severe recession, with unemployment stuck at 9.5 per cent, Obama has done little to take on the vested interests he condemned during his campaign for the presidency. This has left the space open for the right to go on the offensive.

Obama left Bush’s plan to shovel trillions of dollars in bailouts to the bankers virtually untouched. When he has tried to act, on issues like health care, Obama has failed to challenge industry lobbies like the health care corporations and so changed little.

When the Murdoch press, along with lunatic right-wing commentators, discovered that Muslim community leaders were planning to build a new Islamic centre two and half blocks from the twin towers site in New York, they swung into action. Pamela Geller, a right-wing, anti-Muslim blogger, began the campaign, linking the longstanding project to the 9/11 attacks.

The National Republican Trust PAC produced a commercial, showing images of the 9/11 attacks while ranting:

“On September 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate the murder of 3000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous, 13-storey mosque at Ground Zero.”

There was no attempt to conceal the racism—“they” were all Muslims, responsible for September 11 and ripe for attack.

Republican leaders Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the offensive. Fox News went so far as to suggest that the centre had received funding from Iran—part of Bush’s “axis of evil”.

When the left needed to unite in defence of the rights of Muslims, the largest liberal forces were absent at best and compliant at worst.

The Democrats, including Barack Obama himself, have backtracked on initial feeble support for the project, spooked by the march of the far right.

At first Obama seemed willing to defend the rights of Muslims, saying, “I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country and that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan.”

But in the face of a backlash Obama backpeddled, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

Democrats capitulate
This set the tone for a spineless cave-in from the Democrats, who rushed to join in the wave of anti-Muslim hate. Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that, “the mosque should be built someplace else”. Howard Dean, once touted as a potential presidential candidate from the left of the Democrats said the centre would be “a real affront to people who lost their lives, including Muslims,” on September 11.

Across the US, hate attacks on Muslims have spiked. This has had the opposite effect to the one Obama intended—when he failed to stand up in support of Muslims, thousands of people across the country who hoped that he represented change have rightfully pulled their support from the Democrats’ election campaign.

It has been left to the anti-war and anti-racist left to respond. Thousands of demonstrators marched in New York against racism and Islamophobia on September 11.

At just ten days notice at least 3000 people gathered in a counter demonstration against racists targeting the plan to build the Islamic centre—whose 2500-strong crowd was outnumbered.

The chants of “Solidarity and unity are in New York to stay” and “No justice, no peace” showed exactly what response is needed—head on confrontation of the vile racism of the right. 

By Ernest Price


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