The Islamophobia presidency
Islamophobia is on the rise in the United States. A statement that probably doesn’t come as a big surprise was backed up last week by the results of a new survey from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a non-profit organization that advocates for American Muslims. But it’s worth noting that not all Americans see Muslims unfavorably.
Hispanic Americans, Jews, and, not surprisingly, Muslims, all rated low on the survey’s Islamophobia scale. A majority in these three groups said they view Muslims in a positive light.
White evangelicals, on the other hand, were found to hold the most negative attitudes about Muslims. And it wasn’t close. In fact, as the survey shows, white evangelical views of Muslims drive American Islamophobia.
Those views may also help explain why white evangelicals remain President Donald Trump’s strongest base of support. In Trump, white evangelicals have found a president willing to tap into rather than tamp down some of their greatest fears and strongest bigotries.
Evangelical attitudes towards Muslims are often explained away, especially by insiders, as a product of their religious beliefs and, especially, evangelicals’ steadfast support for the state of Israel. But the ISPU poll found that religiosity, whether measured by individual religious engagement or by group loyalty, did not determine anti-Muslim attitudes, even for evangelicals. As the report concluded, Islamophobia is “clearly more political and ideological than theological for most Americans.”
That conclusion looks most apparent in the survey’s findings about American Jews’ mostly positive attitudes towards Muslims. As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall pointed out, “A huge amount of our public debate in this country, a lot of it driven by the GOP and particularly white evangelicals, portrays Jews as locked in some sort of deep or even existential contest with American Muslims.”
That contest clearly doesn’t show up in the numbers.
Yet that hasn’t dissuaded evangelicals — and the GOP more broadly — from using concerns about anti-Semitism and the state of Israel as cover for a whole host of conservative policies and goals most American Jews oppose, including anti-Muslim laws.
With Trump, however, there has been little need for that cover. Indeed, his unabashed Islamophobia, on full display from the so-called “Muslim ban” to his recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), may be a big part of his appeal. It also stands in marked contrast to the “Islam is Peace” stance George W. Bush promoted following 9/11. Though not always consistent, Bush sought to distinguish Islam the religion from the threat of Islamic terrorism. For a time, white evangelicals tended to play along.