Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

The Rise of Hate and the Battle for Understanding

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Those of us who follow the news will be no strangers to the controversy surrounding the proposed Park 51 Community Centre in Lower Manhattan.  Also known as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ (despite being neither a Mosque nor located at ‘Ground Zero’), the project has led to numerous claims that its a signal of the ‘victorious Islamic take-over of America’.  Given it’s true nature, the project is  naturally supported by President Obama; or has a member of the Tea Party Nation likes to call him as a result the “Muslim crypto-commie usurper”.

Emotions are running high this week as Saturday marks the 9th anniversary of the 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks, which so painfully defined the last decade.  To the mark the occasion a small Florida church known as the Dove World Outreach Centre (DWOC (an ironic title as we’ll see)) has propelled itself into the media spotlight by holding an ‘International Burn a Koran Day’; after all little invokes the image of doves and outreach quite like a good old book burning, just ask the Nazis!

Their intentions have rightly sparked a sense of horror and disapproval from many Americans, with General Petraeus stating that the action “could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort [of American foreign policy]” (BBC).  Sadly, along with the Park 51 project and the rising levels of ‘ hate crimes’ like the Jacksonville Mosque pipe bomb perpetrated in the US, this action appears symptomatic of the wider issue of Islamophobia which fails to go away.  As a direct result of the DWOC’s plans the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have recently launched a new campaign to battle what it terms as the “growing anti-Muslim bigotry in American society”. This ‘bigotry’ is indeed widespread amongst a vocal minority and is increasingly backed up by elements of America’s right-wing media outlets, politicians and fringe religious organisations.

In the current issue of Transactions, Dr. Nick Megoran details how the ‘Reconciliation Walks’  project has acted to transform the “deeply entrenched geopolitical understanding[s]” (2010:395) of those who participated in them. Furthermore, it demonstrates how just the simplest acts of genuine outreach and understanding work to easily destroy pre-existing feelings of fear and mistrust.

As many geographers with an interest in politics and religion would argue, both are often inseparable.  Indeed religious groups can act as a positive force as Dr. Megoran’s paper implies; but I feel its equally important to remain mindful that the opposite is often just as true as the DWOC so shamefully demonstrates.  Furthermore, I suggest that our work is largely wasted if we don’t in some way conduct some ‘outreach’ activities ourselves, in order to help end these circles of hate, lies and fear.

For more information on Park51:

For more information on the DWOC:

For more information on CAIR:

N, Megoran, 2010. “Towards a geography of peace: pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian crusade apologies”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (3). pp. 382-398.


  1. A recent FBI report said “anti-Muslim crimes have declined over recent years” and that there are more hate crimes against “Jews, lesbians, gay men and Caucasians” than Muslims.

    There is a fringe out there including the pastor of that Florida group but these post goes to the extreme to tie in the Tea Party and other groups to make it appear there is a growing epidemic.

  2. Thank you for your comment ‘Catholicgauze’. Naturally, I disagree on several of your assertion and believe the issue to be more complex than your post implies.

    Firstly the post was in relation to contemporary events like Park 51, DWOC etc, which are of course not covered by the most recent FBI statistics, which only account for 2008 and before. As a result, it would be ineffective to quote them as an opposing view. After all, as the CAIR quote in the story you linked to suggests, “hate crimes generally go in spurts, and are often in relation to international or domestic events”. As such 2008 statistics would obviously fail to account for 2010 events, especially those in the passed few weeks to which of course the post was in reference too.

    My assertion is based on the extensive research I’ve conduced with several American Muslim organisations and media experts that I’ve interviewed and studied over the last few years. Naturally opinions vary, but there is a definite sense and logic that the events of recent months will lead to a jump in the final stats and the American media is currently replete with varying disturbing incidents. There is little doubt that there has been a recent spike. Time of course is the only real test to see if the official figures are affected as Ibrahim Hooper suggests in your link.

    Secondly there’s the issue of the stats themselves. Obviously they can only account for those crimes which are reported (in all cases). Naturally these fail to include minor events which went unreported for whatever reasons. Those I’ve spoken to (and you’ll appreciate confidentiality prevents me from posting details) suggests that the actual figures are far higher than official stats suggest. In many cases this stems from some people’s fear of the institutions of the state, but that’s well beyond this discussion. It also relates to definition and how they are counted, after all in what column would the FBI count the abuse which was allegedly suffered by two Egyptian Christians near the Park 51 site a few weeks ago, by those who believed them to be Muslims? It’s hard to say, even in principal.

    Thirdly, I don’t agree that there being officially less attacks against Muslims than other groups is an argument that the attacks against Muslims are somehow unimportant or less significant. I happen to think that one is too many and the fact that others also suffer is hardly a reason to ignore the problems of who are, be they Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Furthermore, for obvious reasons it’s an unfair comparison to include racial or sexuality stats in with religious.

    Finally my passing reference to the Tea Party was hardly extreme in my view. After all as a member of both the Tea Party Nation and the Tea Party Patriots I’m well aware of the views which are advocated there in. My reference did not imply that they are to blame, but the way the site is used to popularise groups like JihadWatch and SIOA is worthy of study and there have been numerous reports of Tea Party members at Islamophobic demonstrations. However, it’s critical for us to remember that they are not representative of the majority of their members, after all as I said it really is a vocal minority.

    What I find most impressive about the whole incident is how vocal the majority have been in supporting Park 51 and denouncing the plans of the DWOC, from churches to NATO people have stepped up to the plate. It doesn’t cure the problem, but I hope it helps.

    Drop me an email if you have any further points has this format doesn’t lend itself to such an extensive discussion.

  3. Alexander ,
    I looked for your e-mail but was unable to find it so I will reply here.

    While not all hate crimes are reported and there has been rise is media reported crimes (and I personally would say that there probably been an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crime) numbers do matter. One is too many but I feel the post goes too far in imply the problem is wider spread than it is. Is the recent rise that big is a real question as what was the original base as these reflect the size of the problem. If, according to the best numbers we can get, Islamophobia was a small problem (compared to other hate issues) and the rise is small overall then the wider issue of Islamophobia can be said to be ebbing overall (a very good thing). Racism against Blacks still occurs but it is alot less of problem than in the 1960s or the horrible 1920s.

    “Thirdly, I don’t agree that there being officially less attacks against Muslims than other groups is an argument that the attacks against Muslims are somehow unimportant or less significant.”
    A Muslim’s rights are just as important as anyone’s rights. But statistics do matter. I have been the victim of anti-Catholic actions. However, the Ethiopian community nearby where I live is the victim of many more anti-Ethiopian actions. While are rights are of equal value the problem of anti-Ethiopianism is much more significant than anti-Catholicism where I live.

    The Park51 debate is very complex. While there has been anti-Islamic statements by some to say the overall movement against it, which 68% of Americans are against (, is based on Islamophobia is more than a stretch. The Qu’ran burning on the other hand is pure anti-Islamic because it is aimed at the faith. Being against Park51 can legitimately be opposed because of pro-terrorism (Hamas) statements by the head imam and other reasons.

    The vocal minority bit was separate from your tea party comments. It seems to be a general smear against any center-right, right, right wing movement. As does claiming “right-wing politicians” are spreading Islamophobia. What candidate on the right of any credibility is spreading Islamophobia? The DWOC episode brought everyone of credibility on the right and left together. I think it was great to see just how publicly unacceptable Islamophobia is.

    Bigotry is a problem. However, taking on pet groups and using hatred as an excuse to lash out at political opponents does not help create a discussion to solve the issue.

  4. Hi ‘catholicgauze’, and once again than you for your comments.

    Firstly I’ll assume you agree with all the points you did not address, which is a nice way to start. It’s also good to see that you now agree that there has been a rise. Numbers can be important, but the 2008 figures remain ineffective when talking about the events of recent weeks and months, if anything they are likely to make the recent rise we agree upon (implied by the rise in events found by the media and reported to organizations) more apparent; we’ll see upon final publication (ignoring the obvious issues surrounding definition naturally). As your original post’s link made clear, the numbers of Islamophobia acts committed (which naturally include ‘hate-crimes’) have a tendency to be related to current events.

    I still strongly disagree with your tendency to attempt to make light and almost dismiss Islamophobia has a minor and therefore insignificant issue in America today. Not only does it seem highly illogical to me given recent events, but I can’t help but find it harmful. If we’ve learnt anything this summer it’s clearly that these feelings are far from an ‘ebb’. Similarly I still have issue with the direct comparison of religious incidents to racial ones; to me this comparison is deeply problematic given differences which are inherent to them, and lacks the rigor one would expect.

    While I agree that the Park51 debate is complex the project itself is a simple one. I would suggest that the well quoted poll you linked too has been somewhat biased by the miss-reporting of the project by various sources from Sarah Palin and Fox News who seem to be completely (and if we respect their intelligence) knowingly misleading people with their statements. Going back to the polls there is an interesting layer of further complexity which has only just been exposed. A recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found that 66% opposed the project. If we look further into that poll we can see that 14% (which equates, according to the Post, to around 9% of all Americans or around 28 million) would oppose “such building anywhere in the country”. A very disturbing statistic indeed if accurate. Furthermore, the internal dynamics of the poll demonstrate a link between people who have an unfavourable opinion of Islam and their opposition to the project. So much so in fact that the paper is willing to claim it as “clear evidence that there’s a direct link between public anti-Islam sentiment and public opposition to the construction of Cordoba House”. Those are strong words indeed and a direct link is obviously hard to prove either way IMO; but it’s undeniably clear that there was a potent anti-Islamic sentiment amongst those who were asked. Given that there is no rational reason for people to fear Islam itself its very interesting to investigate why. With regards to comments allegedly made by Imam Rauf, I can only suggest that you investigate it further as many comments have been intentional taken out of context or simply debunked, after all his work to prevent terrorism and aid relations under Presidents Bush and Obama are well documented. In truth I’ve yet to find any legitimate reasons to oppose the multi-faith project.

    With regards to a general smear I can’t help but think your reading something different from what I’ve put; I clearly state ‘elements’ and ‘fringe’ which hardly implies generalities. Some politicians are indeed spreading Islamophobic comments; be they anti-Islamic directly or simply making underhanded comments or reproducing mistruths for political gain (see the resultant Ramadan et al letter to the GOP). Moreover, it would be fair to say that the majority of these would be classically defined as right-wing. From Sarah Palin’s idiotic claim that the Park51 project is ‘much like’ Qur’an burning, to the lies spread to generate support and fear from politicians like Rick Scott and Carl Paladino. Not to mention claims made in political adverts funded by groups like the AFF. Like I originally stated it’s only a vocal minority, but they have proved themselves to be extremely vocal and influential in recent months and I would seriously ponder the credibility of anyone who doubts their existence.

    It’s also true than many have acted against Islamophobia, in all its forms, on the right; although it has sometimes backfired (see John McCain). But to deny its existence and fail acknowledge its threat and significance requires one to reject too much evidence for my liking. I can only hope that common sense wins out and the community centre is built and no Qur’ans are burnt; both of which seem likely to occur at the time of writing.

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