State-sponsored hate: How Islamophobia shapes US support for Israel's actions in Gaza

State-sponsored hate: How Islamophobia shapes US support for Israel's actions in Gaza
Opinion: Systemic Islamophobia underpins US support for Israel's war in Gaza. Without a reckoning genocide may not stop and American Muslims may never feel safe
5 min read
20 Dec, 2023
(Photo by Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

From television screens to the halls of Congress, Americans have been drip-fed a steady diet of genocidal rhetoric about the people of Gaza. Thousands of dead children dismembered limb to limb by the US-funded war machine of Israel, Americans are told, had it coming.

At the heart of this dehumanisation lies an insidious bigotry in the United States and the Western world over the past several decades, now deployed once again to delegitimise any sympathy, let alone solidarity or intervention to stop the war: Islamophobia.

Ever since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, there has been an unprecedented spike in Islamophobic, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian rhetoric in America. And it appears the megaphone of hatred is state-sponsored.

From the hundreds of members of Congress who refuse to call for a ceasefire to the Biden administration's unequivocal and unconditional support of Israel, it is the very individuals elected to protect citizens and uphold the law that are fanning the flames.

Turn Gaza into a 'parking lot', proposed Rep. Max Miller. Palestinian civilians are Nazis, suggested Rep. Brian Mast. "Level the place [Gaza]", Rep. Lindsey Graham said and "bounce the rubble", said Rep. Tom Cotton Israel. On November 7, when Florida Representative Angie Nixon delivered an impassioned plea for a ceasefire, asking how many dead Palestinians would be enough for her colleagues to act. Representative Michelle Salzman shouted, "All of them."

War on Terror's legacy

US media networks, such as CNN and the New York Times have repeatedly failed to uphold the most basic journalistic standards, ignoring the vital contextual history of the violence, including Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and siege of Gaza. In many instances, these networks act as tools of state propaganda by presenting the Israeli claims as facts, without any critical engagement.

In the rare instances that a Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim is brought on, they're immediately met with the "Do you condemn Hamas?" line, while pro-Israel spokespersons are given the mic to continue airing their unhinged desires to slaughter millions of Palestinians.

The "terrorism" discourse that, over the past two decades, has shaped the dominant narrative is key to understanding the dystopian system that exists today.

Post-9/11 witnessed the construction of the "Muslim terrorist," the ultimate boogeyman and woman existing beyond the realm of rational explanation and responsible for all things evil. This dangerous stereotype relegated all Muslims as inherently violent and prone to violence and constructed the religion of Islam as the source and driver.

Islamophobia, or simply anti-Muslim racism, came to define what many Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, experienced in the post-9/11 climate. It was this bigotry that laid the groundwork for the Trump administration in 2016: the most domestically Islamophobic government to date.

But the clock didn't start with Trump: Muslims around the globe had been targets of America's military for decades, under both Republican and Democratic governments.

In the 1990s, the Clinton adminsitration placed debilitating sanctions on Iraq. In discussing the horrifying consequences of the sanctions, namely the deaths of over one million Iraqis, Professor Deepa Kumar noted that for the administration, "Iraqis were marked by a vulnerability to premature death, through a deeply racist logic." When asked if the sanctions were worth the lives of half a million dead Iraqi children, then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright said without hesitation, "We think the price is worth it."

This same racist and dehumanising logic is at work when it comes to the killing of over 18,000 Palestinians in Gaza in the past two months.

Without a reckoning and accountability about Islamophobia, past and present, US leaders and elite will continue to cheer and enable genocide in Gaza

Genocide and dehumanisation 

Islamophobia involves homogenising Muslims, constructing them as one mass of nameless, faceless figures with inherently menacing traits.

Today, Islamophobia has become so embedded within the Western psyche that even the live coverage of Israeli atrocities from brave Palestinian journalists like Motaz Azaiza, Bisan Owda, Hind Khoudary, and Plestia Alaqad, of fathers collecting the body parts of their dead children, of mothers weeping over their babies, of children carrying decapitated bodies, of traumatised toddlers, of decomposed bodies of premature babies, there is still an unwillingness from those in power to do the very minimum of calling for a ceasefire.

It is the Islamophobic narrative that has allowed for the framing of Palestinians as terrorists and, therefore, as justified military targets.

Dehumanisation is needed to carry out mass genocidal campaigns. The Hutus described the Tutsis as "cockroaches" and "snakes", before murdering over half a million in Rwanda, the Nazis described Jews as "rats" and "parasites," before murdering millions in death camps across Europe, the Myanmar military depicted Rohingya as an "invasive species" and went on an ethnic cleansing rampage killing tens of thousands in 2017, the Serbs described Bosnian Muslim as "vermin" and "filth" before murdering thousands in the 90s.

The rhetoric coming from Israeli leaders over the past weeks falls in line with this, with words like "human animals," savages, "rats," and "children of light versus children of darkness," being used to describe millions of Palestinians living in an open-air prison for the past 16 years. Throughout Israel's 75 years of occupation of Palestine, Israeli leaders have used dehumanising rhetoric, including describing Palestinians as "a cancer", "vermin", calling for them to be "annihilated".

And annihilation is happening. In late October, the Gaza health ministry announced that at least 825 families had been completely wiped off the registry. 825 lineages entirely obliterated from this earth. If that isn't genocide, I don't know what is.

Western governments who claim to uphold democracy and human rights have given the Israeli government a carte blanche to unleash this violence. In tandem, Western media have served as propaganda outlets to both hide Israel's mass murder campaigns targeting Palestinians and, on those occasions where it can't hide the truth, justify Israel's inhumane and unimaginable levels of terror and violence.

Without a reckoning and accountability about Islamophobia, past and present, US leaders and elite will continue to cheer and enable genocide in Gaza, as they enabled mass atrocities unleashed by the US on Muslim countries; and Muslims, including Americans, will never feel safe in America.

Mobashra Tazamal is the Associate Director of The Bridge Initiative, a research project on Islamophobia, at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.

Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.