Head Scarves, Mosque Hysteria, and the New Antisemitism

File:Martin Kober 002.jpg

Above: a sixteenth century British woman wearing a wimple. Source: Wikipedia Commons. The wimple appears in the King James Version of the Bible as one of the civilizing garments that women wear (Isaiah 3:22). Isaiah suggests that it would be a sign of a woman’s degradation to have it seized from her.

And this brings us to Islam.

There are two things that tend to make Islam visible to non-Muslims in an American community:

  1. you might see traditional clothing markers; or
  2. you might see a mosque or Islamic center.

Muslims are a very small minority in the United States, and demographers don’t see them ever ballooning to large numbers here. At most, over the next fifty years, they’ll represent no more than 1-3% of the American population.

Still, if you think of a Muslim American, not as a complicated citizen individual with universal human reason and inalienable rights, but as a one-dimensional member of an ethnic group that bears collective guilt for 9-11, then the very sight of a Muslim might feel, well, jarring.

And the presence of a mosque in your city might feel downright scary. You might even think of Muslims in your culture, not as immigrants, but as colonizers.

We all recall Adolf Hitler’s visceral revulsion, recounted in Mein Kampf, on seeing an Orthodox Jew in the streets of Vienna:

There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanised in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic antisemitism. Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I carefully watched the man stealthily and cautiously but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?

Hitler presents this moment as a pivotal one in his right-wing political “awakening.” But note the complete lack of argumentation involved: Hitler was persuaded by a look: Jews had to be a problem to German national identity. Just open your eyes.

Hitler then combined this visual “evidence” with his belief that a subset of them—conspiratorial international Jewish elites and financiers—had ruined Germany and its war effort during World War I. Putting together national decline with Jewish visual alieness, he arrived at this: German Jews are collectively guilty for German calamity and cannot possibly be real Germans.

And there are Americans, as we speak, who have become similarly persuaded about the nature of Muslim Americans. They think that the very term has to be an oxymoron, a perverse joke. They look at a mosque going up a few blocks down from ground zero and cannot fathom it; they see a woman at the local Walmart dressed more like a nun than like a Christian (nevermind that nuns are Christians) and say to themselves:

Is this an American?

And so here we are.

In Jacksonville this past spring, a man pipe bombed an Islamic Center. Did you catch the story? I missed it as well. But here’s Joshua Holland, an editor at Alternet, recounting it:

In May, a man walked into the Jacksonville Islamic Center in Northeast Florida during evening prayers and detonated a pipebomb. Fortunately, there were no injuries. (If the man had been Muslim and the House of worship a Christian church, the incident would have garnered wall-to-wall coverage, but while the story got plenty of local press it was ignored by CBS News, Fox, CNN and MSNBC.)

Individual assaults on Muslim Americans also seem to be flaring up. Here’s Joshua Holland again:

In May, an Arab man was brutally beaten in broad daylight in New York by four young men. According to the victim’s nephew, “They used the bad word. ‘The mother bleeping Muslim, go back to your country.’ They started beating him and after that he don’t know what happened.” A Muslim woman in Chicago was assaulted by another woman who took offense at her headscarf. A Muslim teacher in Florida was sent a white powdery substance in the mail. In San Diego, a man in his 50s became so incensed by the sight of an American of Afghan descent praying that he assaulted him after screaming, “You idiot, you mother f**ker, go back to where you came from.”

This isn’t Vienna in the 1920s. This is America. Today.

And now Sarah Palin, a candidate for the American presidency, in her characteristically strained syntax and atrocious grammar, is indulging in dolchstoss allusions directed at Muslim Americans. Here’s what she said in a recent interview with Greta Van Susteren:

“It’s sounds cliché to say that he just doesn’t get it. This is an insensitive move on the part of those Muslims who want to build that mosque in this location. It feels like a stab in the heart of collectively American who still have that lingering pain from 9/11.”

The “he” who “doesn’t get it” is, of course, Barack Obama (whom we all know is a secret Muslim), and the heart stabbers who don’t feel “that lingering pain from 9/11” that every true American does, are, of course, the enemies within, German Jews Muslim Americans.

Welcome to the new antisemitism.

File:Stab-in-the-back postcard.jpg

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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16 Responses to Head Scarves, Mosque Hysteria, and the New Antisemitism

  1. Paradigm says:

    So in spite of the fact that 3000 Americans were killed by Muslim terrorists in 9/11, not a single American Muslim has been killed in a hate crime in the USA, a nation of some 300 million in the following 11 years. That is the new antisemitism?

    The hate and violence is mainly on the Muslim side. You can see it in attacks on synagogues all over Europe, of course in terrorism, and in an overrepresenation in rape and murder statistics that has been adjusted for social background.

    And you have this guy, who may well be deranged, with a pipe bomb and a handful of minor incidents that constitute the “new antisemitism”. Honestly…

    • concerned christian says:

      I will add to that the atrocities committed against Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Iraq and Pakistan are also a sad example of the intolerance of radical Sunnis against the Shiites. In this case bombing Shiites Mosques and Holy Sites are regular events.

    • santitafarella says:


      You’ve set the bar awfully high for what constitutes evidence of a political culture giving itself over to the dark side. Freud, in the early 1930s, quipped that he was pleased to see that the antisemites appeared content to burn his books and not him. And, of course, within a few years, as things escalated, it wasn’t long before Freud, and Jews generally, arrived at the conclusion that they were in mortal danger from what popular politics had unleashed in the culture. What began as rhetoric and symbol transformed. The word became flesh. And I would note that George Bush, after 9-11 and throughout his tenure, was insistent on separating Islam from fighting terrorists. But a rubicon has been crossed with the 9-11 mosque rhetoric, and it is the beginning of an evil inclination in the Republican Party. You can’t attribute collective guilt to a whole class of people and not generate psychological mischief.

      What would Freud say about this? Is it harmless? Is it not akin to 1930s book burnings?:



    • santitafarella says:


      I recognize that in countries where theocratic forms of Islam predominate that there is old-style antisemitism and old-style collective guilt politics: persecution of Christians is an obvious example.

      Do you want tit for tat politics here?

      My critique is that the Republican Party is absorbing the enemy’s prejudices, and matching them. Theocratic Islam is the contemporary enemy, no doubt. But that’s not the only Islam possible, as Muslim Americans make so abundantly clear. And my argument is that we have to retain our nation’s Enlightenment character, and that means not yielding to the Herderite political impulses of other nations (including, historically, Nazi Germany and Iran today).

      You don’t save America by destroying its Enlightenment foundations.


      • concerned christian says:

        You see as you posted so many articles about antisemitism, I started to see the link between pre WWII Germany and what is going on in Muslim world today. Iran and Libya are run by regimes not much different from Nazi Germany, not to mention Taliban and Al Qaeda which are still around. Radical Islamic currents in many Muslim countries are fed by these regimes and also by movements such as Muslim Brotherhood which espouses hardline attitudes towards non-Muslim, similar to Nazi attitudes towards non-Aryans. In the West there are those who are sounding the alarm about this movement, some are doing it intelligently and some are driven by emotion and not logic. On the other hand the feel good liberals who wish that these problems go away through good will alone are repeating Chamberlain mistake. Only time will show who is right and who is wrong, but maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      • santitafarella says:


        I don’t reject the term that Christopher Hitchens coined: “Islamofascism.” I think that there is such a thing and that it is prevelant in countries like Iran.

        But where you and I differ is that you see Islam as fundamentally incapable of really ever being anything but authoritarian and theocratic, and I do not. I think that Muslim Americans demonstrate every day that Islam can be lived out in ways that are compatible with Jeffersonian America. I no more want to make Muslim Americans collectively responsible for theocratic Islam in other countries as I would make German Americans responsible for Nazi Germany. My argument is that you have to make distinctions (as George Bush did throughout his term of office). The current direction of Republican politics is tragic and dark: it is a turning away from Jeffersonian reason and rights and toward Herderite nationalism and collective guilt.


  2. Pingback: When Will the Word Become Flesh? The New Antisemitism, Ctd « Prometheus Unbound

  3. Paradigm says:

    If you think I set the bar high than how about yourself? When I mention the worldwide terrorism, the violent crime stats and various attacks on Jews, you say just a small minority – not culture.

    But a guy with a pipe bomb (who may still be deranged) and a handful of altercations none of which led to anyone getting killed – that is indeed the expression of a political culture. Talk aobut collective guilt.

    Eventually we will of course see more of this sort of thing. The worldwide Muslim aggression will meat with all sorts of reactions. That is not turning to the dark side. It’s self defense.

    • santitafarella says:


      I agree with you that Muslim culture is rife with antisemitism. It’s not a minority thing. It’s a majority thing. And I agree with you that terrorism and violence are completely enmeshed in theocratic Islamic countries like Iran. I just don’t want the same thing happening in the United States as a reaction to them. I don’t want the Muslim American minority in my country to ever be treated in any fashion that is not in accord with Jeffersonian and Enlightenment principles. I don’t want my country taken over by local Herderites claiming to protect me from foreign Herderites. I think that reason can manage foreign threats and that reason can accomodate our Muslim American citizens. We don’t need to become nationalist tea party fanatics to win this battle. Indeed, we are winning. You don’t seriously think that theocratic Islam is a vibrant ideology, do you? A hundred years from now the world will be less Islamic, not more so (if, for no other reason, Saudi Arabia will be out of oil). The broken wheel squeaks loudest. Theocratic Islam is an intellectual, economic, and military basket case. It can hinder the future, but it’s not the future.


      • concerned christian says:

        Now imagine if Hitler manage to infiltrate the Lutheran Church in America, and during WWII we have every few month an act of terrorism traced to one of these churches what would FDR do then?

      • santitafarella says:


        I would hope that FDR would maintain Jeffersonian principles and not make German Americans collectively guilty for the behavior of a few.

        Would you have rounded up German Americans and put them in concentration camps as a precaution during WWII? How about Japanese Americans?

        If Muslim Americans are as dangerous as you portray, what do you want to do with them, exactly?


  4. mary says:

    Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a onetime member of Jemaah Islamiya, an Islamist terrorist group, is a medical doctor and Muslim reformer living in the West, said in an April, 2007 WSJ article:

    “It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the “end of days.” The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.

    “The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts. …

    “Well-meaning interfaith dialogues with Muslims have largely been fruitless. Participants must demand–but so far haven’t–that Muslim organizations and scholars specifically and unambiguously denounce violent Salafi components in their mosques and in the media. Muslims who do not vocally oppose brutal Shariah decrees should not be considered “moderates.” …

    “Tolerance does not mean toleration of atrocities under the umbrella of relativism. It is time for all of us in the free world to face the reality of Salafi Islam or the reality of radical Islam will continue to face us. ”


  5. concerned christian says:

    My main objective is to challenge those who instead of addressing the real danger facing civilization today which is the radicalization and the expansion of Islam to the West, an expansion that takes full advantage of post Christian Humanistic Western societies. You are trying to focus on the reaction of conservative Christians who dare to challenge building a Mosque near WTC. So here is the narrative, 15 Saudi Arabians are part of a demolition team who brought down WTC, an action financed by oil rich radicals. Then Saudi Arabia donates another 100 million dollar to build a Mosque celebrating this victory, and our only problem is those right wing Christians who peacefully reject such a project!
    On a side note, since you refer to Jefferson, maybe we should follow his approach when he responded to Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, remember “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli”?

    • santitafarella says:


      You say that the danger facing civilization today is “the radicalization and the expansion of Islam to the West.”

      I agree with you that radicalized Islam is a very serious problem. We have been rationally fighting it, and we are winning. Radical Islam is intellectually ridiculous and any country that adopts it comes to economic ruin (just as a country that organized itself around fundamentalist Christianity would stall economically).

      There was a time, please recall, when Christian states forbade the lending of money with interest. It was called the Dark Ages.

      But notice your conflation: you didn’t say this: I’m worried about “the radicalization and the expansion of RADICAL Islam to the West.” Instead, you said that you were worried about “the radicalization and the expansion of Islam to the West.”

      In other words, you conflate radical Islam with Islam. And I submit that Muslim Americans do not properly fit the stereotype of radical religionists. They hold jobs, they pay taxes, and they believe nutty and repugnant things—exactly like fundamentalist Christians do. Ask a Muslim American about evolution and you’re likely to hear a stream of science-illiteracy coming from his or her mouth. Ask a Muslim American about Israel and you’re likely to find antisemitic passions expressed. But the world is full of people holding nutty and repugnant ideas without ever translating them into violence (even if there are passages in their holy books urging such violence on).

      And I’d ask you again: what would you do with the Muslim Americans living here in the United States? The Japanese Americans were rounded up during WWII and put into camps along the eastern side of the California Sierras. If Islam qua Islam is as dangerous as you say, then I ask you: are Muslim Americans more of a threat, or less of a threat to America, than Japanese Americans during WWII? What would you do with Muslim Americans who live here?

      My position is that Japanese Americans should not have been rounded up, and Muslim Americans should not be rounded up either. They should be treated as individuals—not as members of an ethnic collective guilty for what happened on 9-11 (or Pearl Harbor).

      Do you think rounding up Japanese Americans was prudent, and would you propose a similar measure for Muslim Americans if, say, an Islamic terrorist group succeeds in setting off an atomic weapon in an American city?


  6. concerned christian says:

    The reason I brought up FDR is to demonstrate how much America changed in the last seventy years and my answer to internment is NO I do not agree with the internment of Japanese American then and I do not agree to internment of Muslims in America today. But I advocate using common sense, a common sense reflected by Jefferson who instead of sending a negotiating team to plead with the Pirates he sent in the Marines. Now for Muslims in America, there are two kinds, those who immigrated after Ted Kennedy’s 1965 changes in immigration quotas, and those who came through the lotteries introduced again by Ted Kennedy and as refugees from Somalia and Iraq over the last twenty years. the first group are mainly professionals who work as Doctors, Engineers and University professors, while the second group are less educated and work in jobs such as Taxi drivers and farmers in central valley. The professionals are more able to assimilate and are more moderate in their views while the second group are more radical. However you never know who will be the next terrorist, so our only defense is continuous surveillance and just wishing that nothing bad happen. BTW even the best educated Muslims can turn into terrorist like this one,

  7. concerned christian says:

    And here’s the second chapter of the sad story of an intelligent but confused Muslim!

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