Of Anti-Islamic Myth-Making In American Popular Culture

The August 25, 2010 installment of The Daily Show featured an interview with Laurie Cardoza-Moore, president and founder of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to the support of Israel, and producer and narrator of the film, The Forgotten People: Christianity and the Holocaust, which not only chastises Christian communities of the 1930s and 40s for failing to acknowledge or respond to the reality of the Holocaust, but also asserts numerous historical and ideological connections linking Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the contemporary Islamic world. Most recently, Cardoza-Moore has played a central role in local attempts to block expansion of a Islamic community center in the Nashville area.

What struck me about the Daily Show interview (hosted by Asiff Mandvi) was Cardoza-Moore’s utter certainty regarding what she thought she knew about Islam; indeed, she took considerable pains to point out to Mandvi (a self-identified Muslim) what his religious commitments must be, e.g., that Christians and Jews, as infidels, were to be killed. Within the U.S., she further explained, are some thirty-five “training centers” intent upon turning out radicalized American Muslims, and Tennessee is itself home to a “huge terrorist network,” whose “mother ship” is most likely the Islamic Center of Nashville. While some American Muslims certainly want to live peaceful lives, she has elsewhere conceded, the overwhelming presence of violent extremists within their ranks prevents them from exerting significant influence within their communities. When asked (by Mandvi) for the sources for her knowledge, she explained that all one needs to do is look to the internet.

Obviously, the “Islam” Cardoza-Moore has constructed invites utter deconstruction not only in terms of factual content, but the social-political interests it serves. At the same time, the stories Cardoza-Moore tells play an important role in the reality constructed and lived by a significant portion of the American public, as manifest in cable news channels, nascent political movements, and creative forms of popular entertainment (e.g., Trade Martin’s “We’ve Got To Stop the Mosque At Ground Zero”). As such, this sort of cultural production begs for analysis under the wide range of categories and methodologies religious studies has to offer, perhaps as much, if not even more so, than the explicitly religious activity (i.e., Islam in America) that such social movements purport to understand.

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