Juan R.I. Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, said that immediately after Sept. 11, 30 percent of Americans had a negative view of Islam. But reports published in the Washington Post and USA Today in December 2006 found that 45 percent of Americans held negative views of Islam.
He said such a change "is not natural."
He blamed "the American right wing" and the media for creating this negative view to help win elections.
Cole and Corey P. Saylor, legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, discussed "Exploitation of Islamophobia in Elections," or how they said politicians are creating and exploiting new threatening terms to manipulate public opinion and get their votes. CAIR sponsored the event.
Saylor urged American Muslims to claim their constitutional rights. He said more should seek careers in journalism and government so they could be part of making decisions that affect the country.
Cole praised CAIR for collecting data about civil rights violations. He said about 2,500 incidents were reported in 2006, up 25 percent from 2005, which also had a 25 percent increase from the previous year. In addition, he said CAIR reported about 200 hate crimes in each year.
Cole said President Bush and other Republicans, including some of the current presidential candidates, have used the term "Islamofacism." He compared it to an old political tactic. "They used to make them afraid of the Communists, now they are making them afraid Muslims," he said.
Most people would find such a term applied to other religions to be "highly objectionable," Cole said. "Nobody talks about Christofascism, and they should not."
While fascism is an old, hierarchical, elite system that is based on discrimination, he said, "Islam is none of these things."
Noting that Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who briefly ran for president, suggested blowing up the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina if there were another attack on the U.S., Cole asked what the U.S. response would be if Iranian leaders suggested blowing up the Vatican. He called ideas such as Tancredo's "crackpotism of the highest order."
Both Cole and Saylor said Muslims in the U.S. today face similar problems of other minorities, including Japanese-Americans during World War II and African Americans.