Senator Russ Feingold Takes on Islamophobia

Today is the beginning of a two-day conference co-sponsored by Inside Islam, Islam and Democracy, to be held in Madison, Wisconsin. Although Senator Russ Feingold is not expected to speak at the conference, at an event earlier this week, he highlighted issues that will be discussed in detail at the conference. Islam and Democracy will feature over 30 speakers, including keynote addresses by John O. Voll and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. See the conference website for more information.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). Photo:

Nayantara Mukherji is a journalist, editor, Inside Islam radio producer, and a recent addition to our writing team.

Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is known for taking on monumental challenges. In 2001 he was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. These days, Feingold has turned his attention to another cause—US foreign policy. At a talk in Madison, Wisconsin, about his new book, While America Sleeps, Feingold argued for increased American engagement with the rest of the world. He said 9/11 highlighted the importance of engaging and understanding the rest of the world, and criticized Democrats and Republicans alike for failing to heed the message.

In making his case, Feingold, a Jewish-American, did not lose sight of domestic issues, pointing out the impact 9/11 had on the lives of Muslim Americans. He likened the situation to Japanese internment during World War II.

In the last couple of years, there have been a number of incidents where people have used the issue of alleged Muslim extremism in this country to justify things like outlawing a mosque in Southern Manhattan, the burning of Qur’ans and most despicably, hearings held by Peter King in Washington specifically focusing on so-called Muslim terrorism, as opposed to the terrorism phenomenon in general.

Feingold bemoaned the fact that the post-9/11 era has made Muslims feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

Their hope is that they can once again someday feel like they’re not strangers in their own country. … Naturally, it must be very frustrating for Muslims to have their religion characterized in a way that is essentially wrong. Islam is not a religion of the kind that’s described by the political opportunists in this country.

Feingold also argued against the characterization of Islamic values as contrary to democratic values. He recounted his experience meeting with the Madison-area Muslim community after 9/11, but long before the Arab Spring.

The thing that really angered them was that we spoke of the virtues of democracy and human rights and women’s rights, and yet we supported despots throughout the Islamic world who did just the opposite. … Even though it’s not specifically about the religious element, it’s a very significant thing in terms of the way American Muslims and Arabs think about our international policy

What do you think of Feingold’s characterization of the post-9/11 Muslim American experience? Do you think having a popular public figure who is also Jewish talk about Islamophobia will bring more awareness to the issue? Will it make a difference? Please comment below.

7 thoughts on “Senator Russ Feingold Takes on Islamophobia

  1. Salam Alikim, Thanks for such an amazing article. Please also see other articles about Islam here.


  2. I am an anti-dumb-war (support post-9/11 response to root out Al Queda, and still oppose our invasion of Iraq) progressive who used to subscribe to this nonsensical meme of “Islamophobia” (which is used, in reality, to suppress any and all criticism of Islam) to and other Islamist/Leftist tropes about Islam. A couple of years ago, I almost serendipitously happened to take a closer look at the history of Islam, and only then did the truth dawn upon me that Islamic Jihad is a very real phenomenon that has been an inseparable part of Islam since its inception.

    I do not mean or intend to disparage all Muslims, as many of them do practice their faith peacefully and non-aggressively (in which case their practice is no different from, and not inferior or superior to, any other faith or non-faith), but the political (Islamism) and militant (Jihad) components of Islam are real and present threats to non-Muslims (as well as Muslims who happen to be of the wrong sect in the wrong place: ask the Shias and Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and the Sunnis is post-Saddam Iraq), human civilization, and democracy and associated freedoms that we have come to take for granted in our free, open and democratic nations.

    The left in the west. especially that in the US, needs to wake up to the reality of radical Islam and Islamic Jihad.

    Please go over the material (including the extensive archives spanning many years) at Jihad Watch

    with an open mind to see a part of what I came to see about Islam.

    Thank you.

  3. In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

    Islam is Guidance from our creator just like the guidance of the Torah and Injeel (bible) were.

    Jihad Watch is an organization who believe they’re doing good work but are in fact prejudice against things they don’t understand, in this case Muslims.

    If you ask the average American what the word “Jihad” means you’d probably hear the term “holy war”.

    Jihad means “struggle”. Any struggle is a jihad, the struggle to wake up and get to school on time, the struggle to make ends meet, the struggle to control your anger, all of these are definitions of Jihad.

    The Jihad that most uninformed Americans think of and most often quote and discuss has to do with the fighting associated with the Prophet of Islam and his disciples during the early days of Islam when there weren’t safe guards like our constitutions freedom of religion.

    There was a time when people weren’t allowed to practice freely. A time when business went bankrupt because someone had a belief. A time when people were tortured & executed because they wanted to believe in “one god”.

    There was a time when wars were waged because a small band of rebels were going against the traditions of a corrupt system.

    During that time & in that context fighting was prescribed to the young band of believers in order to protect & defend themselves and their right to worship in the way they felt was appropriate.

    That struggle against oppression is the type of minor jihad that most people today want to talk about however the major jihad, the major struggle against yourself and you base desires is the more accurate definition.

    The idea that islam spread by the sword is nonsense. There is no compulsion in religion, God doesn’t accept someone simply saying they believe because they had a sword or a gun to their head. This isn’t what Islam teaches.

    Islam spread so rapidly in the early days because of the etiquette and manners of the people who were practicing their beliefs. Islam spread so rapidly because of the fair trade practices of Muslim merchants who weren’t acting out of greed but knew they were being watched by their creator and were going to be held accountable for their behavior.

    Now having said that, we can’t deny what we are seeing and hearing about today being done by those who believe they’re acting in the name of Islam.

    This issue I have is with groups like “Jihad Watch” that take the most vile and disgusting acts performed by Muslims and then trying to say that the behavior is taught by the religion. NO. that behavior is happening because people are failing to live up to the standards that Islam teaches us. If we were to use that strategy when looking into Christianity then I would be free to assume that Christians are doctor killing, child abusing, prejudice zealots who can’t accept scientific evidence. However that is totally inaccurate although there are some who do behave that way. Similarly there are some Muslims who don’t behave like Muslims, that’s true.

    There’s a difference between religious beliefs and cultural misconceptions.

    There’s a difference between religious beliefs and political motivations.

    There’s a difference between religious beliefs and individual practices.

    There’s a difference between what Islam ACTUALLY teaches and what “Jihad Watch” or Fox News want you to believe.

  4. @SeeTheTruth

    Your source (Gee had Witch) needs a serious evaluation.

    Cherry picking sources that suits your warped desires is not the reality.

    If common sense should prevail among you two, one with some form of rationality would wonder if the 1.4 billion Muslims suppose to do what Robert Spinster would like the gullibles to believe, then by his own twisted mentality, you all should be dead or have the Gee Had on you.

    Seems to me the only Gee Had being done is on your limited thinking capacities and Robert Spinster’s bank account.

    Robert, got to give it to you man, like the war mongers, fear sells! 0~

  5. I think this is wonderful! He gets my full support, great article too, shared:)

  6. @ SeeTheTruth, Islamphobes do not just critize Islam; they deliver a hateful, bigoted message filled with deception and lies. Your resources are biased and don’t subjectively talk about things; rather, they take issues and situations out of context. I suggest you broaden your research to include materials from authors who are not known to deliver a message filled with hate and bigotry.