The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is putting some of the blame on both the Tea Party and the Republican Party for what it sees as a growing tide of anti-Muslim anger. CAIR officials said the rise in "Islamophobia" stems from the controversy surrounding the Islamic center and mosque that Muslims plan to build a few blocks from Ground Zero.
"We've seen a really strong uptick in Islamophobia recently - primarily sparked by the controversy over the Manhattan Islamic center," Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's chief spokesman, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. "We've seen hate vandalism at mosques in California; in Tennessee, we had an arson attack; at a mosque in Arlington, Texas, we had an arson attack; and something that wasn't even reported nationwide, in May we had a bomb attack at a mosque in Jacksonville, Florida," he said.
Hooper said the attacks could be driven by many factors: "The question is, why? Is it tied to the November elections? Is it tied to the rise of the Tea Party movement? Is it tied to the economy?" he asked. "I think it's pretty clear that it's been sparked...by these hate groups and their opposition to the Islamic community center in Manhattan."
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad was even more direct, saying that the Tea Party and the GOP have given the "green light" to a nationwide campaign to deny Muslims their civil rights and ultimately expel them from the United States.
"[W]e used to deal with individual cases of Islamophobia, harassments, and discrimination against Muslims," Awad said. "Today, and in the past few months - almost maybe one year, we can say one year -- we have seen an organized effort, we have seen organizations built to fight the presence of Muslims in the United States and to deny Muslims' right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and even to be an elected official.
"Unfortunately, this is done, we believe, for political convenience and reasons. The Pamela Gellers and Robert Spencers, they're trying to spool religious hatred against Muslims for obvious reasons - because they do not want Muslims to be in the United States," Awad said. (Geller, a blogger, is executive director of Stop Islamization of America; Spencer, a columnist, is director of Jihad Watch and has written a number of books critical of Islam.)
Awad named the GOP and the Tea Party movement as the groups responsible for the anti-Muslim campaign.
"Secondly, yes it is a mid-term election year, and unfortunately the Tea Party and the Republican Party have given the green light for these people to defame and stereotype Muslims, and unfortunately as we've said, these have led to violence against Muslims."
Awad called on local, state, and federal authorities "to provide extra protection for the Muslim community in the next days and weeks based on the kind of hysteria that we're seeing."
Hooper said the nationwide anti-Muslim sentiment had drowned out any reasonable discussion of the Ground Zero mosque (the Park51 center).
When CNSNews.com asked whether CAIR agreed with Park51 planner Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf that America was an "accessory to the crime" of 9/11 and that Osama bin Laden was "made in the USA," Hooper said that a reasonable debate was no longer possible.
He also called the Park51 project a "test case" for religious freedom. "It's gone way beyond whether you think the project is wise, is a good project, whether you think the sponsors are the best sponsors or they're not -- it's gone way beyond that," he said.
"It's now a litmus test, a test case for religious freedom in America. Whatever questions you would have for the imam, those should be addressed to him - but again, it's no longer limited to the imam or to the sponsors of the project. It's now a test case."
Asked whether there is any legitimacy to the debate over Park51, Hooper repeated his assertion that anti-Muslim "hysteria" had turned the project into a test of religious freedom itself.
Awad, however, called it a "false assumption" that Islam and 9/11 are connected. He said it really doesn't matter where the Islamic center is built.
"We've been asked this question several times, and unfortunately the whole nation has been consumed into this [question] about sensitivities and having a so-called mosque on Ground Zero," he said.
"Well, (a) it is not a mosque; it is not on Ground Zero, it is two blocks [away]. There are so many buildings between Ground Zero and that building...and second, we totally reject the false assumption that our faith, Islam, has to do anything with 9/11. So submitting to this false assumption is really condemning our own faith in the 9/11 attacks and this is really a collective guilt that we do not submit to."