Last month, in the wake of the Fort Hood Military Base shooting spree that left four dead and sixteen injured, conservative filmmaker and Breitbart.com contributor Patrick Dollard tweeted, “If there is even one more act of Muslim terrorism, it is time for Americans to start slaughtering Muslims in the streets, all of them.”
As it turned out, the killer was not Muslim, and the motivations for the assault were not terrorism. But this did not stop the backlash from reaching the Muslim-American community.
Although Dollard received criticism from a few media outlets, his actions were never formally punished. As of this writing, he has neither deleted nor apologized for the tweet, despite being told that several Muslim Americans felt offended and threatened by it. When it comes to online hate speech against Muslims, this is frequently the case. Dollard’s tweet is only the most recent high profile case in a string of online bigotry and violent hate speech against Muslims living in the United States, the vast majority of which often goes unpunished and unaccounted for, even when voiced by public figures.
It’s in this context that Muslim Advocates released a report titled Click Here to End Hate: Anti-Muslim Bigotry Online & How to Take Action. The report breaks down perpetrators of Islamophobic hate speech into three categories: public officials, hate groups and activists, and individuals.
“We have repeatedly heard from community members about their concern about how hate speech spreads online,” Madihha Ahussain, the lead author of the report says. “But they don’t know how to respond or what tools are available to them through Internet platforms to try to counter the hate that is online.”
On the Internet, there are approximately 11,500 websites devoted to anti-Muslim hate, not including isolated posts. In addition to politicians and other public officials using their platforms to advance stereotypes about Islam and sway their constituents’ perception of Muslims and Muslim-Americans, there are several independent hate groups and “Celebrity Islamophobes” with large online followings. Although some of these groups are exclusively online, many galvanize their supporters into offline actions that often have real-life consequences for the Muslim community.
The most notorious example of this is Pamela Gellar’s Stop the Islamization of America, a group that, shortly after forming in 2009, galvanized enough support to oppose the Park 51 “Mosque at Ground Zero” bringing thousands of right wing activists to the streets of lower Manhattan, and Gellar and her organization’s agenda to the national spotlight. These protests, although relatively short-lived, changed the perception of Muslims in the United States. A 2010 Public Religion Research Institute study showed that 49 percent of Americans believed the values of Islam were incompatible with the American way of life, a notable increase from previous studies. Hate crimes against Muslim Americans and vandalism and arson attacks on mosques leapt to an all-time high.
Although Geller has not necessarily made mainstream news headlines since then, her personal Facebook following has exploded from 19,000 to over 78,000 in the past year alone.