There's a video circulating the Web that shows hundreds of protesters chanting, yelling, and waving placards at Muslim men, women, and children as they enter a building. The protesters are yelling things like "No sharia law!," "Muhammad was a pervert!," "Why don't you go beat up your wife like you do every night?," or, simply, "Go back home, go back home." As Rep. Peter King gets set to open Congressional hearings next week on Muslim radicalization, the ugly scenes have reopened the question of whether American society and public discourse have become openly hostile to Islam.
What's happening here? Last month, the organization ICNA Relief, a Muslim community-building organization based in New York, held a fundraiser dinner in Orange County, California. The dinner was held to raise money for women's shelters, and for programs to combat hunger and homelessness. Hundreds of people showed up to protest the event. The video that hit the Web this week is a compilation of footage from local news organizations and Muslims who attended the event; it was uploaded by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The CAIR video is pretty crazy to watch--especially the parts where Muslim men and women impassively lead their small children past angry crowds with bullhorns. Commentators haven't hesitated to call out the ugliness of the sentiment on display. "People like that," writes Salon's Glenn Greenwald of the demonstrators, "are so overflowing with hatred and resentments that the place where their humanity -- their soul -- is supposed to be has been drowned." In addition to King's hearings, he also links the Orange County protests to what he calls an ascendant attitude of Islamophobia in the U.S., as seen with the furor over the lower Manhattan mosque and the Tennessee bill that would criminalize Sharia law. Gawker's Max Read says the crowd is "insane"; Mediaite's Jon Bershad calls the video "disgusting."
Besides the protesters, the video also shows clips of various politicans speaking at a rally that afternoon, including U.S. Representative Ed Royce, who says, "A big part of the problem that we face today is that our children have been taught in schools that every idea is right. That no one should criticize others' positions, no matter how odious. And what do we call that? They call it multiculturalism. And it has paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens to make the critical judgment we need to make to prosper as a society."
The King hearings have provoked a rally of their own: The Washington Post reports that this Sunday, March 6, people will gather in Times Square for a solidarity protest called "I Am a Muslim, Too." The event is spearheaded by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and a group of interfaith community leaders, and it's being discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #Mar6. In the meantime, you can see the CAIR video above. It's hard not to be struck by a sense of irony watching it, since it takes place at the exact same moment that millions of Muslims in other countries were rising up against oppressive leaders. In Tunisia and Egypt and Libya, people protested because they wanted freedom and democracy; in Orange County, people protested because some other people were attending a fundraising dinner--and they did it in the name of freedom and democracy.