Orange County Tea Party rally highlights pervasive Islamophobia in American politics

Last month, attendees of a charity function in Orange County were harassed by throngs of protesters waving American flags and chanting “Go back home!” Entire families (small children included) were shouted and cursed at via bull horns as they came and went from the fundraiser in Yorba Linda, CA. Deborah Pauly, Villa Park city council member and self proclaimed ‘Tea Party-er’ headlined the February 13 protest which drew hundreds of supporters. It was sponsored by such groups as ‘We Surround Them OC 912’ – a local tea party organization, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Chabad – Yorba Linda, ACT! For America and others.

 

Speaking at a rally before the protest, Pauly labeled the charity event as “pure, unadulterated evil.” U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller joined Pauly on stage to offer their support of all that Pauly was doing at her rally. What, exactly, was Pauly doing at her rally you might ask? Pauly was propagating the neocon and neoliberal myth of “creeping Sharia,” profiting off of a technique that induces a belligerent reaction formation from supporters.

 

Pauly’s supporters probably weren’t even aware that the fundraiser they were disrupting was organized by ICNA Relief, an American Muslim relief organization that was attempting to raise money for women’s shelters and programs to curb hunger amongst the homeless. The would-be patriots who think it their duty to malign a fellow Abrahamic faith were probably never informed that Islam requires regular charity and service to the community with special focus on the poor and orphaned. In essence, what Pauly and company were doing was picketing a Muslim institution for no other reason than it being a Muslim institution.

 

The highlight of the event came during Pauly’s keynote speech. After minutes of factually aberrant and debasing talk comparing Muslim traditions with those considered more conventionally “American,” the councilwoman issued a veiled threat to the fundraiser attendees. After announcing that her son was a United States Marine (a statement that roused the crowd) Pauly said that she knows “quite a few Marines who would be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise,” sending the crowd into a frenzy.

 

It was a scene eerily reminiscent of interactions between Jim Crow activists/suporters and African-American citizens of the 1950’s. But this time the discriminated party is not receiving support from any major political movement. The Left favors government protections of groups, just not religious ones, while the Right is quick to say they protect individuals, just not those who read the Qur’an. Maybe centrists can talk reasonably amongst themselves about the dangers of ethnic and religious scapegoating, but their failure to really speak out and draw a line is tantamount to acquiescence.

 

It’s not just a matter of skewed priorities, it’s a matter of skewed perspectives. Unfolding before our very eyes is a new phase of institutionalized racism which has found inroads into the American psyche through a perverted spirit of nationalism and the ever present urge to defend “Western Democracy.” The former is food for conservatives while the latter protects this apartheid mentality from rational criticism by liberals.

 

Interestingly, the anti-Muslim sentiment espoused by Pauly and her ilk is curtailed by ethnic boundaries. Neocons and those in the Tea party who are taking up the torch of jingoism don’t even attempt to factor into their ideal social equation the hundreds of millions of Near Eastern, African, Eastern European, Indonesian and Asian Muslims who have always cohabited peacefully with peoples of other faiths and traditions. No, only the Arab variety need be demonized, feared and labeled as terrorists for expedient political purposes. Apparently anti-Semitism is only unconscionable in America if the object of one’s hate chooses to wear a Yarmulka rather than a taqiyah (Yes, Arabs are Semites).

 

I can only imagine that the generations before me experienced the same misplaced zealotry when they were told to fear the Red Man, then to fear the blacks, then again fear the Reds (of the communist variety). Every minority has, in turn, received its stamp of disapproval by officialdom. But never does the greater society of America stop to reflect on why this cycle continues unabated. It’s too busy buying into divisive political platforms based on fear of the unknown, fueled by a media that is too busy cherry-picking the most sensational, and thus the most profitable facts. That is if they feel the need to produce any facts.

 

I’m hesitant to say that political discourse has devolved into this moment. In reality, I think it never evolved past the goal of immediately gratifying the needs of the mob. These needs, increasingly manufactured by hollywood, Madison avenue, cable news networks and political think-tanks, will continue to steer Americans on an anxiety-ridden loop back through the darkest parts of human history.