Sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks and anti-Muslim bigotry is not only alive, it’s thriving. In fact, Donald Trump would likely not be president without it because his demonization of Muslims during the GOP primaries played a big role in securing the nomination. Remember, it was after he proposed his total Muslim ban in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings that he rose to the top of the GOP pack and stayed there.
Trump even candidly acknowledged that ginning up fears of Muslims played well with GOP voters after Ben Carson declared during the primary campaign that a Muslim American shouldn’t be president of the United States. Trump remarked days after Carson’s comment: “He’s been getting a lot of ink on the Muslims… I guess people look at that and they probably like it. Some people thought they wouldn’t like it, but they probably do.”
But the groundwork for Trump and others on the right being able to cash in politically on Muslim bashing was laid years earlier thanks to the work of a group of anti-Muslim activists that is all well-documented in a striking new report released Friday, “Legalizing Othering: The United States of Islamophobia.” This in-depth report authored by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley was like a trip down bigotry lane for me, detailing the concerted campaign by some to demonize, marginalize, and silence American Muslims.
The report details the work of a wide array of the leading anti-Muslim activists, but it does focus on one person in particular for turning anti-Muslim hate into law: David Yerushalmi.
So who is Yerushalmi? The “Legalizing Othering” report explains that he’s “the leading figure behind the anti-Sharia law movement.” Yerushalmi, a lawyer and a “veteran of the right-wing Israeli settlers movement,” has claimed for years that American Muslims want to impose Islamic law.
Of course, in reality the U.S. Constitution protects us against the imposition of any such laws by way of the Supremacy Clause, which expressly states, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof… shall be the supreme law of the land.” And there are zero instances of Muslim-American leaders or politicians advocating the replacement of American law with a system of laws based on the Quran. (Although right-wing Christian politicians have openly championed imposing “Christian Sharia law.”)
But hey, as we all know facts don’t matter when politicians are ginning up fears for political gain. We saw that again this week as Jeff Sessions literally lied four times defending Trump’s rescinding of DACA.
While Yerushalmi is not a flamboyant anti-Muslim crusader like Pamela Geller or Brigitte Gabriel, who both profit personally from spewing hate, he has been effective. Thanks to his work, between 2010 and 2016 there were 194 anti-Sharia bills introduced in 39 state legislatures. Of those, 18 were enacted into law. Unsurprisingly, the primary sponsors of this legislation were from almost exclusively from one party: 373 Republicans to nine Democrats. The party of Lincoln has truly become the party of hate.
But Yerushalmi has done more than just push anti-Sharia legislation, he has also despicably demonized all Muslims with remarks like “the mythical ‘moderate’ Muslim… the Muslim who embraces traditional Islam but wants a peaceful coexistence with the West, is effectively non-existent.”
Yerushalmi, who has no formal training in Islamic law, has also gone beyond Muslim-bashing to spew anti-immigrant and anti-black views as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others have documented (PDF).
In fact, a Mother Jones profile of Yerushalmi titled “Meet the White Supremacist leading the GOP’s Anti-Shariah Crusade” documents how he has argued that “whites are genetically superior to blacks” and suggested that whites are “inherently more receptive to republican forms of government than blacks.” Yerushalmi, who holds a “coveted” place in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Anti-Muslim Inner Circle,” has also served up such racist and sexist garbage as “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.”
And yet despite being Jewish, Yerushalmi has demonized other Jews who disagree with him, using vile blood libels. As the ADL notes (PDF), he has said of liberal Jews that they destroy “their host nations like a fatal parasite” and are “the leading proponents of all forms of anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Christian movements, campaigns, and ideologies.”
Despite all that, Yerushalmi is welcomed with open arms by Republican elected officials in their common quest to demonize and marginalize American Muslims. As the report notes, Yerushalmi works closely with Frank Gaffney “of the neoconservative/anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.” I’ve written many articles about Gaffney, a man the SPLC has labeled “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes,” and his ties to leading Republicans from Trump to Ted Cruz.
The “Legalizing Othering” report notes that Yerushalmi’s anti-Sharia bills have allowed state elected officials to openly demonize Muslims, mainstreaming bigotry. This adds to a toxic anti-Muslim climate that has resulted in a significant spike in hate crimes against the American Muslim community.
Beyond that, the work of the anti-Muslim activists impacted policies championed by Republicans from Trump’s Muslim ban to anti-immigrant and anti-refugee proposals. In fact, Yerushalmi was calling for a total ban on Muslim immigration to the United States years before Trump espoused that view.
Will the emergence of this report documenting Yerushalmi and the other anti-Muslim activists stop Republicans from working with them? Stop laughing. Of course not. Their views line up with at least the 65 percent of GOP primary voters who supported Trump’s total Muslim ban.
Sixteen years after 9/11 our nation is clearly at a crossroads. We can all feel it. The question is will those spewing intolerance and hate prevail or will American values of pluralism and tolerance win the day? It’s unclear but one thing is certain: If the bigots succeed that means the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 have won.