Letter of Response

Zane Razzaq '15

Staff Writer

In response to the Feb. 26 article “Are We Tolerating Intolerance?”

In the article published in the Feb. 26 issue of The Sophian, “Are We Tolerating Intolerance?” Alex Gross ’17 asked, “Why can’t a person raise an issue about Islam without being branded as an Islamophobe?” There were several problems with the piece. I specifically want to critique its use of dubious statistics, its unconvincing example of comedian Bill Maher as a victim of political correctness and the general idea that criticism of Islam is off-limits in the United States.

Gross begins by citing statistics that portray Muslim Americans as a uniquely violent and inassimilable population. But most of the statistics she references come from unreliable sources. For example, she writes, “58 percent of Muslim Americans believe that criticism of their religion should not be protected as free speech.” Gross attributes this statistic to the website Religion of Peace. While Religion of Peace did post the information on its website, the statistic itself originates from a 2012 study commissioned by Joseph Farah, a far-right fringe figure who calls himself the “Birther King” and has been blacklisted from even Fox News.

In a 2011 article titled “Time to Limit Muslim Immigration,” Farah argues for “strict national quotas on immigration by Muslims [because] most Muslims simply do not share our Judeo-Christian worldview.” In other words, a man who believes Muslims pose a threat to American values paid for a study that coincidentally reflected this.

Another statistic she points to, “one in three Muslims in Britain think a person deserves to be killed for leaving the religion,” comes from a 2007 poll by the British rightwing think tank Policy Exchange. Policy Exchange is famous for once accusing British mosques of possessing extremist literature only to delete the report two months later when the BBC published evidence indicating the group had forged the literature themselves.

These rightwing fringe figures and groups have obvious ideological goals and a vested interest in manufacturing fear of Muslims. We should not take the statistics they produce seriously. It’s irresponsible to use these non-credible statistics as a reflection of Muslim populations, especially in light of recent hate crimes against Muslim Americans. Further, relying so heavily on statistics from rightwing organizations in order to make a point about Islam indicates a lack of sophistication on the topic.

If she had included polling on Muslim Americans from non-partisan and non-ideological groups, Gross’s article would have presented a different picture. For example, a 2007 Gallup poll found that Muslim Americans are more likely than any other faith group to reject attacks on civilians. A 2011 Pew poll reports that Muslim Americans reject extremism by large margins. Instead, Gross completely ignored statistics that portray Muslim Americans positively.

Later in the article, Gross asks, “Why is it okay in this country to criticize any religion but Islam?” Here, Gross frames those who criticize Islam in the United States as outsiders. In reality, a negative perception of Islam is not only “okay” in this country but also informs many U.S. policies. It accounts for the New York Police Department illegally spying on mosques, Muslim college students and Pakistani neighborhoods and for the National Security Agency spying on Muslim and Arab civil rights leaders. The deportation of thousands of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians is another instance of negative perceptions of Muslims affecting U.S. domestic policy. We can also see these perceptions shaping U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government frequently links Islam with violence to justify U.S. imperialism. There is further evidence of negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam in American pop culture. One of the top-grossing movies of 2014 was “American Sniper,” where the “hero” is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis and Muslims.

In trying to prove that criticism of Islam is especially off-limits in the United States, Gross uses the comedian Bill Maher, who is often critical of Islam, as an example. She writes, “Do we really want to live in a world where Bill Maher is petitioned out of a commencement invitation at U.C. Berkeley?” However, Gross fails to mention that, though students did protest against him, he ultimately delivered the speech. Maher was never penalized for his views on Islam. It is naïve to believe that it is “okay in this country to criticize any religion but Islam.” Critical perceptions of Islam are mainstream, and negative opinions on Islam permeate U.S. domestic policy, foreign policy and popular culture.

Gross’s article demonstrates that events like last week’s “Vigil for Peace: Responding to Islamophobia” are sorely needed. I am glad Smith is organizing against Islamophobia and hope there are more events in the future. It is clear some students at Smith remain confused on the topic.